For Southington to maintain success well into the future, officials will have to maintain a laser focus on providing financial stability, promoting economic growth and establishing a strong infrastructure that will serve to help the community grow.
The message was direct, but clear on Thursday evening as members of the Southington Town Council expressed thoughts on how to ride the wave of economic downturn during the Fourth Annual State of the Town dinner hosted by the Southington Chamber of Commerce.
The town remains in good financial standing, but with the state economy continuing to flounder and Connecticut experiencing a financial cliff of it’s own, Town Council Chairman John Dobbins said these goals will be as important now as they’ve ever been.
“We need to continue our focus on what has worked so well to this point,” said Dobbins.
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The town is in good financial position with a AA+ rating from Standard & Poor’s and a designated fund balance at $16.1 million, or 11.9 percent, but state funding is likely to decrease and maintaining that financial stability is as important as ever, he said.
To do so, Councilman John Barry and Councilwoman Dawn Miceli said officials will have to “get creative” in order to avoid any considerable tax increases that exceed the communities ability to pay.
Barry said the town has already taken on $225 million in commitments for spending as it relates to infrastructure and capital improvements in the community, but it may be time to take a closer look at what the community can afford moving forward.
“The grand list this year is as low as it has been in 10 years and our mill rate is now as high as it’s been in the last 10 years,” he said. “We are going to have to be cautious moving forward this budget year.”
The town has seen increases in financial liabilities in other areas as well, with health care costs going up more than 9 percent in the upcoming budget year and those costs expected to continue to rise in the coming years as the nation implements the affordable health care act.
Despite these challenges, however, Dobbins said the town is positioned well to maintain stability – as long as they don’t lose focus on infrastructure improvements and economic growth.
The grand list increase – just 0.45 percent – does not reflect developments already in the works and by continuing to work towards improving “an already business-friendly environment,” Dobbins said. He noted that businesses including Connecticut Online Computer Center, Greenway Commons, Homewood Suites and more are preparing to open their doors in the coming years.
This will allow for additional tax revenue that the town should use to maintain and improve its assets, including roads, enhancing efforts to promote a virtual town hall and in supporting the middle school renovation project.
But the town must be prudent, he said, and also work to find ways to reduce costs and maintain existing services by sharing these services within town through partnerships with groups like the Southington Board of Education, as well as looking to regionalize services when possible.
Southington Town Manager Garry Brumback said his job, and the job of the town’s staff, will be to work closely with the council and other local officials to help implement these policies.
“They’ve sent a message that they want us to be strong stewards of our financial resources, to improve customer service and to keep an eye on the needs and desires of the community,” Brumback said. “Success comes through a series of partnerships and we need to be good partners.”
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