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Speaking on the wet concrete floor of a dark ex-factory from the World War II era, Gov. Ned Lamont and New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart proclaimed that the building will soon be the first stage of a cutting-edge energy and tech project.
“What this is going to do for the city of New Britain is transformative — a few hundred jobs to start, thousands of jobs when it’s completed,” Stewart said.
“This center is going to become one of our largest taxpayers virtually overnight,” she predicted.
At its construction groundbreaking, EIP LLC said it is spending $100 million to bring 44 Connecticut-made fuel cells to the building. By the end of 2020, the plant will produce nearly 20 megawatts of power for the local energy grid, the company said.
Lamont said the project represents the best of entrepreneurship, and predicted that an attached data center — planned as a later stage — will draw the biggest names in technology.
"This will be the data heart for Google, Amazon and Microsoft. It’s amazing, this is ‘the cloud,’ " Lamont said, looking around the spartan industrial building of bare pipes, tubes, conduits and girders. “I thought ‘the cloud’ was more heavenly than this.”
The state this summer agreed to $55 million in tax credits for the project, which developers said would make Connecticut competitive in the drive to land high-tech, data and green energy businesses.
Mark Wick, a partner in EIP, acknowledged that the company doesn’t yet have contracts with companies such as Amazon, which require massive amounts of digital data storage that’s both secure and accessible. The data center is also a later stage of the planned multi-year, $1 billion project.
The plan is to remodel a few long-vacant Stanley factories and build several new buildings on what was a huge industrial tract along Myrtle Street. The land is still owned by Stanley Black and Decker, successor to the Stanley Works, once the centerpiece of New Britain’s hardware-manufacturing industry. Stanley will lease space to EIP.
The company plans “a high-performance computing center, data center, microgrid powered by Doosan fuel cells manufactured right here in Connecticut,” Wick said. The first phase is the fuel cell center on Curtis Street.
“This facility in this building will become the largest indoor fuel cell installation in the world,” Wick told a crowd of city officials, state lawmakers and business owners.
EIC next year will be moving Doosan fuel cells into the vintage 45,000-square-foot brick building, which was once Stanley’s hardware stamping plant. “We expect to have many people back at a ribbon-cutting at the end of 2020 when we’re commissioned and putting 20 megawatts out into the grid.”
Stewart acknowledged that the project created ill will among preservationists last year because it entailed demolishing more than a half-dozen Stanley buildings from the turn of the century.
“Every one was talking about getting rid of historic property and what that means to a community,” she said. “But to see this historic site being reused into something that’s going to absolutely benefit not just New Britain or the state of the Connecticut, but the entire region is going to be an incredible thing.”
A recent report from the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities offered welcomed news for city taxpayers, while property owners in other area cities and towns may be displeased with the findings.
According to the CCM, property tax rates increased in nearly 80 Connecticut municipalities for fiscal year 2019-20, according to an analysis released Aug. 26.
However, the Hardware City saw no property tax hike, while those living in the neighboring communities of Berlin, Newington and Bristol did not escape a tax increase.
Property tax hikes took place in 79 municipalities across the state; 59 of those 79 towns had tax hikes greater than the latest 1.6 % inflation rate reported for Connecticut.
The following are the changes in mill rates seen the area:
. New Britain’s mill rate remained the same at 50.5.
. Bristol’s mill rate increased from 36.88 to 38.05, a 3.17 % increase
. Berlin’s mill rate increased from 32.5 from 33.93, a 4.4 % increase
. Newington’s mill rate increased from 38.5 to 39.45, a 2.47 % increase.
. Plymouth’s mill rare increased from 39.69 to 40.63, a 2.37 % increase.
. Plainville’s mill rate increased from 33.84 to 34.62, a 2.30 % increase.
. Southington’s mill rate increased from 30.48 to 30.64, a 0.52 % increase.
“The need for adequate state aid to achieve significant property tax relief - along with other diversified local revenue sources and greater authority to contain local costs - is undeniable,” said Joe DeLong, CCM executive director and CEO. “Nearly 100 towns and cities were forced to increase their property tax rates because of cuts in some state aid programs, and in spite of sustained state aid in others areas for local governments.”
Thirty towns were able to sustain the same mill rate and 13 towns were able to slightly reduce their mill rate.
“We are proud to be among the handful of towns who were able to keep taxes down this year,” said Mayor Erin Stewart in a statement. “Balancing a $242 million budget and keeping services intact as residents have come to expect them is no easy task. It requires strong leadership, planning, sound fiscal management, and the ability to negotiate and work with a variety of parties. We will continue to pursue the creation of new revenue streams to help keep the tax rate down in the future. “
Statewide, local property taxes now total more than $11 billion, an increase of at least $500 million since 2017. That exceeds the state’s largest source of revenue, the personal income tax, which yielded nearly $10.8 billion in 2018 (the latest year for complete data).
“Some enhanced state aid enacted over the last several state legislative sessions has enabled some already high-tax communities to hold the line on property tax increases, or in some towns, to actually reduce taxes,” said DeLong. “Despite this, some communities still have extraordinarily high property tax rates. Relying on the property tax to continue to fund local government is unsustainable.”
The per capita property tax burden in Connecticut is $2,847, almost twice the national average of $1,518 and the third highest in the nation.
The property tax in Connecticut is depended upon to raise 72 percent of all local revenues.
State aid to municipalities in Connecticut still represents only 23.4 percent of municipal revenues; that is well below the national average of 32.9 percent, and ranks Connecticut 40th in the nation in state aid to local governments, the CCM reported.
And, Connecticut is one of only 15 states that limits municipalities to raise revenue only from the property taxes.
The New Britain Common Council voted 13-0 Wednesday night to authorize $57 million in bond authorizations for renovations at Chamberlain Elementary School and roofing projects at Slade and Pulaski Middle Schools.
Though the project was approved by the City, it still requires confirmation from state officials on whether they will reimburse the project, which is typically around the 80 percent rate. The cost estimate for Chamberlain is $49 million. Other costs include $1 million for temporary classroom space, $3 million for the replacement of a roof at Pulaski, $3 million for a roof replacement at Slade, and $1 million in financing costs.
“I’m proud to support this additional, substantial investment in our schools and children,” said Mayor Erin Stewart. “It is important that our children are provided with a safe and adequate learning environment. A special thank you also to state Rep. Robert Sanchez, Co-Chair of the Education Committee, for helping us make repairs to our aging infrastructure.”
The “renovate as new” Chamberlain project will address deficiencies in building space, program needs, site safety issues, community needs, and code compliance considering both present and future needs. Building spaces will be modernized with technology equipment in areas such as the media center and all instructional spaces including mobile computer carts, wireless access points and computer lab. Contemporary classrooms will be built with interactive whiteboards. The Chamberlain Campus also includes a 40-year old temporary portable building which houses four classrooms that will be demolished and incorporated into the main building.
The Chamberlain project will also involves making improvements to the site traffic pattern and adding additional parking spaces. An addition to the existing school will also be added to create new space for a school based health center and family resource center.
Chamberlain was originally built in 1952 and much of the original construction materials are still present in the classrooms; renovations and additions were made in 1993.
The funding request comes as work is wrapping up on a $48 million renovation of Smalley Elementary School in the North Oak area. The school will be completed in time for students this fall.
The Mayor states that the projects will not move forward until the City has received reimbursement from the state for the Smalley Elementary School renovation.
Standard & Poor’s Global Ratings Service (“S&P”) has affirmed the City of New Britain’s “A+” rating on both its new and underlying debt. At the same time, S&P has affixed its top short-term rating of “SP-1+” to the City’s short term debt obligations.
“Once again, Standard & Poor’s – the top rating agency in the nation – has graded our City ‘A+’ to the market at large,” said Mayor Erin E. Stewart. “When I took office back in 2013, we had been downgraded to ‘BBB,’ which was one step above junk bonds. In five years we have not only brought our rating back, but we have been consistently affirmed as being a strong ‘A+’ credit with a ‘Stable’ outlook. That is something in which I, and all of our residents, can take great pride.”
The report from S&P cited several factors contributing to the “A+” rating, including:
“Strong management: We view the City’s management as strong, with good financial policies and practices.”
“Very strong liquidity: In our opinion, New Britain’s liquidity is very strong…In our view, the City has strong access to external liquidity if necessary.”
At several points in their report, S&P cited the fact that the City has spent the past five years returning the budget to structural balance, taking into account many of the difficult – but necessary - decisions that have been made during Mayor Stewart’s administration, including: reducing City expenditures, reducing the size of the City’s workforce, finding or creating efficiencies where possible, hedging against downturns in state aid, hard-nosed negotiating with our partners in labor, close monitoring of expenses, and only raising revenues as a last resort.
“For five years I have made it clear that my first priority was, is, and always will be keeping our City on a path to fiscal stability,” the Mayor continued. “Every day we are working to increase both private and public investment in New Britain, continue the positive growth in our grand list, create an environment that is both attractive and predictable for families and businesses alike, and maintain the number and quality of services we provide to both.
“That’s certainly not to say everything is rosy. Returning a City this size to solvency requires striking a delicate balance day-by-by, month-by-month and year-by-year. Yes, we have made some difficult choices to restore stability and predictability to our finances. But many more tough decisions lie ahead. Whether it’s the uncertainty of a potential recession on the national horizon, or the uncertainty of the state’s financial position - along with a new administration and legislature in Hartford. But I am committed – and I believe our Council is as well – to making those decisions if they will keep us on a course to a brighter future, both in the near term and in the long term.”
Lori Granato, Director of Finance, said, “S&P acknowledges the City’s diligent work in order to meet the necessary services for our residents and our labor force. It’s not easy and involves a lot of difficult decisions. Collaboration continues to be the key so that the city continues to grow and prosper.”
Going forward, S&P stated: “The stable outlook reflects our view that New Britain’s reserves will remain strong, despite projected drawdowns, aided in part by a growing tax base. We also recognize that management has improved its budgetary assumptions over the past several years, which we expect will continue to lead to predictable performance. We do not anticipate changing the rating within our two-year outlook horizon as we believe it is likely that the City’s budgetary flexibility will remain strong and that the City will continue to pursue the goal of structural balance.”
Mayor Erin E. Stewart on Wednesday presented to the Common Council a$237.72 million budget for 2018-19 that calls for no tax increase and an overall reduction inspending.
The $237,729,089 budget represents a 1.58 percent decrease from the current year’s $241.53million budget. The Mayor received the Board of Finance and Taxation’s budget proposal onMarch 8. Under the Mayor’s plan, $13 million in changes were made, including $1 million incuts to the City side of the budget.
“This is a budget that preserves public safety, keeps education spending intact, retains an $18million fund balance, and maintains the services and quality of life that residents and businessowners have come to expect. It’s a budget that builds on our mission to find intradepartmentalefficiencies and guides us through a period of financial uncertainty at the Capitol in Hartford,”said Mayor Stewart. “I’d like to thank the Board of Finance and Taxation for all their hard workover the last several months. During that time, they heard in detail from department heads anddeveloped a proposal that aimed to strike a balance between funding our obligations andkeeping the mill rate down for taxpayers.”
The Mayor’s budget includes no layoffs or reduction in services, fully funds the City’s pensionobligations, factors in a 10 percent reduction in state aid, provides level funding to the Board ofEducation, and features an estimated savings from restructuring debt. Savings also come in partfrom the City’s 2017 Grand List increasing more than 5 percent.
“The Board of Education will receive the same amount of money from the City as they did lastyear, which is in line with the state mandate. While we realize this is not ideal, we are beingrealistic with the money we expect to receive from the state,” the Mayor stated.
The budget provides $125,700,000 in funding to the Consolidated School District of NewBritain. The school system was able to reduce its initial budget request by $1.64 million due to areduction in transportation costs related to going out to bid. The school board’s major requestedincreases included $1.40 million for salary increases and $2.1 million for increases in insurancecosts and fringe benefits.
“We understand that Superintendent Sarra is in the process of a massive restructuring of theschool district that will help save money,” Mayor Stewart said.
The budget proposal also accounts for more than $1 million in cuts on the City side, whichincludes:
A reduction in overtime in the Fire Department budget now that they are at fullstaffing levels
A reduction of four vacant patrol officer positions at the Police Department, nowthat the federal grant is no longer available
A reduction in apprentice positions within the telecommunications division
Trimming nearly every department’s budget to average historical funding levels,allowing the City to provide uninterrupted services