By Meghan Peterson, PhD
Editors Note: When official minutes become available, they can be viewed at www.haddam.org. When video becomes available, residents can also view the meeting in its entirety at http://www.vsctv.com.
The Board of Selectmen (BOS) held its first regular meeting of the month on Monday, Feb.12, 2018 at 6:30 p.m., at the old Town Hall building. All members of the Board – First Selectman Lizz Milardo, Selectman Larry Maggi, and Selectman Melissa Schlag – were present. Assistant to the First Selectman, Joann Ricciardelli, took minutes. About a dozen residents attended, including this author.
The meeting was called to order, the Pledge of Allegiance recited, and meeting agenda approved. The Board approved minutes from the Jan. 8 meeting, with changes to names on those minutes mentioned by Selectman Schlag. Approval of the other meeting minutes from Jan. 9, 16, and Feb. 5 minutes were tabled until the next BOS meeting.
During the first public comments period, Ed Schwing, Haddam resident and Editor of the Haddam Bulletin inquired whether residents would not be able to enjoy the recently-acquired property on Chatham Lake. Milardo responded said yes, but that there is no trespassing – and was not aware of an access point for residents to get down to the Lake. Milardo said that at this time, there could be safety hazards, but that as long as residents do not trespass on private property, she does not see why they could not. She emphasized that there is a homeowners’ association with deeded rights.
Neal Perron of Haddam Neck noted that the sandpipe was taken out by the ice dams and inquired about the Town’s willingness to put a 10,000-gallon holding tank for the fire department to use on Injun Hollow Road. Milardo recommended that Perron relay this information to the Haddam Neck fire chief and then that he could work with the Town on the matter.
The Board went through and approved tax refunds: $32,326.98 for real estate; no personal property refunds; $1,677.24 for motor vehicle refunds; and $77.28 for motor vehicle supplements. The Board went through various municipal reports: Animal Control, Municipal Agent for the Elderly, Senior Center, and Social Services.
Daun Kowalski, the Animal Control Officer, received 18 calls, with lots of loose dogs noted, for the month of January. Eleanor Farrell, Municipal Agent for the Elderly, assisted 42 individuals during the month of January. She helped five people with energy assistance applications as well as assisted veterans with health benefit applications. For the Senior Center report, Center Director Shannon Morrison Buganski indicated that the report on Senior Van mileage will be included in the February report. 176 meals were ordered in January with CRT, the Center’s meal provider; and the Center averaged serving 10 Seniors a day. The Center was open 18 of the 31 days in January; closures were due to some holidays and snow days. The Girl Scout Troops have been coming in. The AARP offered a fraud prevention class. And the Seniors have been working on different crafts. Milardo said that according to the report, there were several new members in January as well. Jessica Condil, the Social Services Coordinator, provided information in her January report on the Food, Fuel, and Clothing banks. The Food Bank served 40 adults and 16 children for the month. The Fuel Bank served 9 families – 6 electric; 3 oil. The Emergency Clothing Bank served 4 families; 7 adults, and 4 children. Social Services also has magnets with emergency number references to hand out to Seniors. Milardo said these magnets are available at the Town Hall, Senior Center, and Social Services.
There was no old business to discuss.
Under new business, Milardo said that she would like to appoint an Infrastructure Committee. She explained that the Committee would study and work on infrastructure opportunities in Higganum Center – to see if there is an opportunity to bring sewers to the Center. Milardo added that there are lots of vacant buildings in the Center, and that the Committee needs to look at bringing infrastructure there. She said that Mike Fortuna, who was part of the Economic Development Commission, has worked on it in the past. The Committee would have people with different backgrounds in sewers and wastewater management, which is important, Milardo said. Milardo cited the following names of individuals she has asked to serve on the Committee:
Mike O’Brien (away at time of BOS meeting)
Bill Organek (away at time of BOS meeting)
Eric Jarbo (declined)
Bob Scully (away at time of BOS meeting)
*Individuals with asterisks are those who have already indicated acceptance of the position.
The Board discussed the committee, with Selectman Schlag stating that traditionally, the BOS appoints committees by approaching individuals from both parties as well as unaffiliated voters. She said that she would like more time to ask additional people to serve and said that she thinks the scope of the committee is very narrow. She added that she would like to see members of the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) and Board of Education (BOE) on the committee. Milardo said that a lot of things are coinciding now – that with the possibility of a Regional District #17 school closing, this committee will be useful in studying the issue so that the townspeople can make a decision on what they want to do in Higganum Center. She noted that Peter Sonski is a BOE member and serves on the committee studying the school closure. Milardo said that most of the individuals she is asking to serve have either shown interest and/or have a level of expertise on this matter. She added that she is not opposed to appointing other people in addition, but said that she didn’t think “we can wait,” as the school is moving forward with its plans, and the timing of this happens to coincide very well and is something the Town needs to do. Schlag said that she would prefer to the BOS provide the committee with a mission statement, and then the committee could tweak it. Milardo said that she had not even considered party affiliation next to the list of individuals’ names but rather, that this is a working group and just wants them to work for Haddam. Selectman Maggi asked if the Board can add more people later on as desired. Milardo said yes. Maggi said that the Committee should get started. Milardo noted that the lack of infrastructure in Higganum Center has been going on way too long and wants the Committee to address it. Milardo and Maggi approved the individuals who have indicated they want to serve, voting Aye, with Schlag voting Nay.
During the second and final public comments period, Myles Crete of Higganum voiced concern over the proposed school closure and asked if there could be a referendum on the topic. Milardo explained concerns over declining enrollment and appropriate utilization of the school buildings. She explained that she received a call from Peter Sonski and met with the Regional School District #17 Superintendent Howard Thiery as well as the committee studying the school closure on January 16. Liz Glidden, the Town Planner, and Barbara Bertrand, the Finance Director, were also present. Milardo said they were told that the study had been done and that one of the elementary school in Haddam was being looked into for closure – something that had been studied for awhile, she noted. During that meeting, the question posed to Milardo was: is the Town interested in buying Haddam Elementary School (HES) and move the municipal offices there. Milardo said that her response was that as much as I think it would be wonderful to have Town offices located in the center of Haddam, the Town does not have the resources to purchase it; moreover, Milardo said that then the Town offices at Field Park Drive would present another vacant building in that situation. Next, another question during that meeting was whether the Town had ideas on how HES could be used – discussion centered on possibilities of Senior housing, a Senior Center, or a shared community space. Milardo said that the end of the day, the decision is up to the BOE, as RSD #17 owns the building. She clarified for the record that the Town is not in favor of having an empty building in the center of Town – and emphasized that the village district is very important. Milardo added that they have finished working on getting clean water for Tylerville approved. She said that Tylerville Water is on the State Bond Commission agenda for Friday, February 16. In addition, Milardo said that they are tying all the pieces together with a master plan and studies for Higganum Center. She emphasized that she is extremely sympathetic to the concerns families have over a school closing and recalled how her own family was affected by re-districting. Maggi said that this is a hard thing for the BOE to do, but that is why the BOE is holding hearings. Milardo said that it is going to be tough, but that the studies have been done showing declining enrollment and that moreover, the State is cutting back on funding. Finally, Milardo stated that according to Joanne Nesti, the BOE Chair, the Board will look to make the closure in the Fall of 2019 in order to take time to make the decision.
Dick Haase inquired about the Animal Control Officer addressing repeat calls. Milardo said that the ACO issues tickets after two warnings. This author commended the Board for approving the Infrastructure Committee. Steve Bayley asked if the ACO report could include the number of tickets issued for infractions each month. Milardo said that the ACO does put that in to the report to the Finance Director at the end of the month, and that if he would like to see that information included, she will ask Kowalski to include it. Sean Moriarty thanked the Board for the Infrastructure Committee and wants the Board to come up with a mission and statement for it. This author noted the net addition of 84 business to the Grand List. Ed Schwing commented about infrastructure and pointed to East Haddam as a town that implemented infrastructure but taxes went up, the mil rate went up, and no new businesses came into that town. Ed Munster pointed out that he thinks a relatively recent business (the Julia Company) employs around twenty people in that town – and that business and economic development should be noted as a positive thing. The meeting was adjourned.
The next BOS meeting is scheduled for Monday, February 26 at 6:30 p.m., at the old Town Hall.