Town Hall looks at the achievements of 2012

The Economic Development Commission, Wilton Commons, Storm Sandy, capital bonding projects, town infrastructure improvements, wellness initiatives, and the Yankee Gas and fiber network projects were among the items front and center on First Selectman Bill Brennan’s desk in 2012, and many will carry over into this year as well.

“Yankee Gas is a major initiative,” Mr. Brennan said in an interview last month with The Bulletin. He expects the company to break ground on the 12,000- to 15,000-foot-long project in May or June, based on the state permitting process.

The project began as a strategic initiative to offer a more affordable alternative to oil for heat and hot water.

“We could see oil potentially hitting $300 a barrel,” Mr. Brennan said. “We had to court Yankee Gas to extend their pipeline,” he added.

The project will take the natural gas pipeline along River Road and then to the schools.

“We are working with members of the energy commission to figure the costs of converting the [school] boilers to natural gas,” he said.

The project has been delayed because of easement issues, but Mr. Brennan expected them to be worked out before 2012 ended.

Opening road pavement to bury the gas lines will afford the town the opportunity to bury fiber-optic cables as well, to link schools, town buildings and Wilton Library with a state-of-the-art communication network.

The project ran into some rough seas last year when it was first presented as a capital bonding project as part of the fiscal year 2013 budget process. The project was withdrawn, but after being endorsed by the Board of Selectmen, Board of Education and library Board of Trustees, it is ready to move forward. There is not enough time to wait for the budget process, so Mr. Brennan said officials will take it to a referendum in March.

“We can’t wait until the May Town Meeting,” he said. “Time is of the essence.”

Once the system is hooked up, Mr. Brennan said, there is the potential for joint projects between the schools and town.

“It’s the way to go,” he said of using fiber-optics for communications, something most of Wilton’s neighboring towns do already. “We’re not breaking new ground.”

Last year also saw the implementation of another major project championed by Mr. Brennan — road restoration.

“Since July 1, we’ve done eight miles of roads,” Mr. Brennan said. Twenty-one roads were involved in the repaving. That tripled the number of miles the Department of Public Works usually does in a year, he said.

Mr. Brennan said DPW should get two to three more miles done in the spring, bringing it well within the goal of 10 miles over a 12-month period.

“I haven’t had any road complaints” since the project began, he said. “We’ve been hot-patching as well.”

Fiscal year 2014 will see the second year of the road program with a goal of 10 more miles repaved.

2012 highlights

Mr. Brennan outlined several other accomplishments in the past year:

•    Wilton Commons broke ground.

•    Economic Development Commission formed.

•    Mill rate increase kept below 1%.

•    Wilton received excellent interest rate on capital bonds.

•    Wilton designated a Tree City USA for third year in a row.

•    Wilton designated a Heart Safe Community.

•    Outdoor fitness center dedicated.

•    Town hall and the flagpole painted.

•    New curbing and sidewalks on River Road.

•    Wolfpit Road sewer project 55% complete.

•    New finance software installed at town hall.

•    Security cameras installed at town hall.

•    Capital projects moving ahead.

The forward momentum finally achieved — after a decade in development — by Wilton Commons “was an enormous accomplishment,” Mr. Brennan said.

The affordable senior citizen housing project, which was the subject of a public vote several times to extend lease options, came down to the wire.

“During the last six to seven months I was running the project team meetings” to keep it on track, Mr. Brennan said. “It was not going to come back to the town” for another vote, he emphasized.

Progress was impeded a number of times because of red tape involving several agencies that were part of the public-private enterprise.

“We were still getting signatures while the governor was driving down,” he said. Gov. Dannell Malloy joined in the groundbreaking ceremony in April.

Plans are under way now to expand the 51-unit facility with a second 23-unit phase.

Local economy

The Economic Development Commission last year embarked on its mission to develop a credible economic development plan.

“The group of guys on it is really top talent,” Mr. Brennan said. “We think they’ll do a very good job.”

Their mission is to encourage established businesses to stay in Wilton and call on major corporate citizens to see what’s needed to expand.

On a related topic, Mr. Brennan said he is seeing signs of new life in the residential real estate market.

“Westport is just booming,” he said. “Sooner or later that will come up to Wilton. I think we’re starting to see some of that and it’s exciting.”

While Mr. Brennan was pleased the fiscal year 2013 budget kept the mill rate increase under 1%, he was really pleased with the interest rate offered the town for its capital bonding projects.

“We had the bond within 24 hours,” Mr. Brennan said. “We had eight to nine firms bid on the bonds, and when we got 1.932% for a 20-year bond, it was beyond our wildest dreams.”

The previous week the town of Fairfield received a rate of 2.4%, he said.

The reasons given for the favorable rate were the town’s strong management, healthy finances and good reserves, Mr. Brennan said.

Looking ahead

One of the major projects on the horizon is the Miller-Driscoll capital project. The original construction was solid, Mr. Brennan said, allowing the town to do a renovation project instead of replacement.

“We will add space for pre-K and improve the outside,” he said.

The Statement of Objectives is being finished and the Statement of Requirements is being rewritten, he said.

“Then we will form a building committee to hire the architect,” he said, adding that officials are looking for potential committee members with architectural and building expertise.

With budget season right around the corner, Mr. Brennan is setting his sights on a cost-effective budget.

“We are pushing for better facilities and energy management,” he said.

“The way we operate is if it fails we fix it. We need to anticipate.” To that end, he said, officials will “proceed with facilities and energy management. We have a $2.4-million energy bill now. We want to save 5% a year.”

Storm Sandy

Mr. Brennan was pleased with the town’s performance in the aftermath of Storm Sandy in October, and he attributed that to pre-planning.

“We start preparing for storms months in advance,” he said. “We were one of the first communities in the state to conduct a drill.” The town actually participated in two drills over the summer.

There have also been upgrades to the town’s Emergency Operations Center, with the addition of phones and computers at each station to improve communication and determine power outage locations.

“We can put out 9,000 (Code Red) messages in 15 minutes,” Mr. Brennan said. “We have an intensive communications outreach program.”