While surrounding towns have struggled to make ends meet through economic decline, losing businesses and seeing declines on their grand list in recent years, Southington has been able to make continued progress.
But the town is not out of the woods just yet.
There are many tough challenges ahead, members of the said Thursday night, especially as the town looks to strengthen it’s infrastructure, upgrade technology and balance costs to be well prepared to move forward when the economy turns around.
“It hasn’t been easy, but we have survived. With that said, there’s still a lot of work to be done,” said Council Chairman Edward Pocock III. “It’s time for us as a community to step up and say ‘Southington is open for business and we want you here.’ We can come out of this stronger as a community and we will work to continue to make this happen.”
The message from Pocock was one shared by every member of the council Thursday, regardless of party, as all nine members spoke before a full room at the Chamber of Commerce’s Third Annual “State of the Town” dinner at the Manor Inn restaurant.
There is plenty for local residents to be proud of in recent years, council members including Dawn Miceli, John Dobbins and Chris Palmieri said. The town has built strong partnerships with the community including the development of the Southington Town-wide Effort to Promote Success – STEPS unveiled their new video during Thursday’s dinner, which was introduced by Susan Saucier – and is moving forward with plans to renovate the middle schools. STEPS has been essential in the short-time it's been in Southington, council members said.
But council members warned that there is still a lot to be done while still trying to balance the needs of keeping the mill rate low for families who are struggling to make ends meet.
“I have always considered myself lucky to be in a town like Southington; a truly great place to have a business, to live and raise a family,” said Councilman John Barry. “The truth is, however, this is not the Land of Oz or a utopia. We do have challenges ahead, tough decisions that we need to be ready to face.”
The town already has $62 million in outstanding debt and will soon add an additional $48 million as a result of the middle school renovations, Barry said. With the town about to embark on a long-range capital improvement plan, that number will only continue to rise in the coming years.
When it comes to infrastructure, the town is looking at the need to begin repairs to the sewer system and Water Pollution Control Facility in the near future, Dobbins said. This will include upgrades to meet new phosphorous standards being set forth by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection – an unfunded mandate that could come at a cost of $20-$30 million for the community.
Pocock said although there are challenges, the town remains in a strong position to not only ride the wave, but actually come out stronger in the end.
While addressing these key needs, Pocock said the town would continue to explore ways to expand economic growth in a responsible way. This will include developing a long-range plan for the West Street corridor and continuing to work with the town’s Economic Development office and Coordinator Louis Perillo III to further build the grand list.
The town has positioned itself financially to begin moving forward, ending the 2011-12 fiscal year with an $805,000 surplus and earning . The town is also positioned well this year, having spent just $284,000 of its $850,000 contingency fund while maintaining a $13.5 million reserve, or rainy day fund.
More recently, the town moved forward in hiring a consultant to assist in providing an aggressive, but efficient investment policy.
“We will continue to look at innovative ways to combine efforts and bring in new business. It won’t be easy, but we are in a great position to really make Southington thrive,” Pocock said.