Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Mayor Timothy O'Brien State of the City Address 2013


President Trueworthy, Leaders Bielinski and Pabon, members of the Common Council, and, most importantly, people of New Britain, I am pleased to report that our city is moving forward. Our city is stronger and in better position than it was one year ago, and the progress in that one year has been significant.

In a time of national economic uncertainty that still challenges so many of our residents, families, and businesses, we have remained focused, and committed to creating jobs, improving the quality of life in our-neighborhoods, supporting quality education and maintaining public services while not raising taxes.

And from day one we have made bold decisions to move forward on a path of progress, fighting the difficulties of a global recession and inherited budget deficits to build our economy, renew our Police Department, and address blight in our neighborhoods and build a better quality of life for every resident.

Our job now is to build on the progress of the last 16 months because, as we all know, there is more that needs to be done.

During the first year of this term, my administration has been focused on the things that need to be done to build a brighter future for our city:

  1. Economic Development & Job Creation
  2. Ensuring a good quality of life in our neighborhoods
  3. Supporting quality education, and
  4. Maintaining public services while not raising taxes.

I am happy to report, that in this relatively small period of time, we have made noticeable progress in all of these areas.

We’ve moved New Britain forward by aggressively pursuing economic development opportunities. I cannot recall a time in recent memory when there has been nearly as much construction in our city than is occurring now.

My number one job as Mayor is job creation for the people of our city and building our city into a brighter and more prosperous future. Everything depends on our economic success, from the economic security of individual families to our ability to fund the public services that provide for a good quality of life, good paying jobs and a vibrant economy.

Since I became mayor I have been unyielding in my commitment to increasing development for our City. Looking back on sixteen months of progress I want to thank the many state leaders, like the Governor and his team, our state delegation in the legislature, business leaders, the Chamber of Commerce and so many others in our community for their shared commitment to continuous economic growth in New Britain.

Since the first day I took office I have fought day-in and day-out to retain jobs we already have and to create new ones.

The numbers speak for themselves.

In December Aerospace manufacturer Polamer Precision broke ground on a 150,000 square-foot state-of-the-art facility which will open in October 2013 and bring 72 good paying jobs to the city and promises to create 50 more by 2016. This is the first solid business development at Pinnacle Park, and it is exactly the kind of high-tech jobs of the future we need. I am proud of working with Polamer to make this development possible.

With city and state assistance, 25 new jobs will be created at Peter Paul Electronics Co. over the next five years. This is an example of how a long-time New Britain manufacturer can grow and create jobs and build on their New Britain tradition of success to continue to advance as a leader in the global market.

B&G Design will be moving 40 jobs to New Britain and plans on hiring 5 new employees.

Varsk Machine LLC added over 16,000 square feet to their operation and look to hire 6 new employees.

The COSTCO project is on track and is expected to result in 220 jobs and approximately $500,000 annually in tax revenue.

The construction of our police station is complete with the first commercial tenant chosen and second under negotiation.

The $100 million investment in neighborhood revitalization at Corbin Heights and Pinnacle Extension that I and former Senator DeFronzo Worked so hard to achieve is under construction, with a number of units already complete.

The Hospital of Central Connecticut broke ground on a $40 million, 70,000 square-foot state-of-the-art cancer center that will combine all cancer services into one convenient location and allow for future expansion of cancer care.

New Britain has seen an additional $20 million of private investment in the last sixteen months and we are not stopping. We will continue to move forward. We are assisting manufactures who have been the engine of economic growth for decades.

And I will soon be rolling out a manufacturing employment initiative that will enhance employment and training programs within our city. This will not only improve the employment prospects for individual workers, but more than that, it will send a message to manufacturers that New Britain is a city that takes our manufacturing economy seriously. It sends a message that New Britain is great place to grow and build new high-tech manufacturing.

This is our future and we are moving forward.

We are going to continue to build on the progress of the CTFastrak construction. Downtown and its immediate radius offer a substantial market within the proximity of this future rapid bus transit terminal for future investment. Within a half mile radius, you’ll find professional offices, restaurants, Walnut Hill Park, the New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain's largest retail plaza, downtown merchants, La Quinta Inn, and a multi-storied municipal parking garage.

In 2013 our downtown will continue to see transformation, and we will, as promised, move forward on construction of our new downtown streetscape and “complete streets,” project. This project will not only beautify our downtown but will provide pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, improve connectivity to the CTfastrak station and leverage private investment in our downtown.

But, New Britain’s economic resurgence will not be tied solely to large commercial development. Small business development is an essential part of our economic future and I want to reaffirm my commitment to helping New Britain businessmen and businesswomen prosper.

That is why we are renewing the city’s business loan program, to help small businesses to grow.

And we are moving forward with our Arch Street Planning Committee in creating a new plan to renew Arch Street and help build a vibrant commercial and cultural neighborhood our city’s Latino community can be proud of.

We are continuing to work with the leaders and businesses on our already vibrant Broad Street to continue to build on the success of our state’s center of Polish culture and commerce.

Building success for our city’s central commercial corridor must mean having an active and resourceful marketing strategy. New Britain has a wealth to offer residents and visitors, alike — from theaters and museums to restaurants and shops. But the wonderful things that are in and are happening in our city will not result in the vibrant future that it can if people do not know about them.

That is why I am working with community leaders to announce, in the coming weeks, a new marketing plan to parley our great assets into a successful downtown, and vibrant commercial center.

Part of this, you can already see in motion. We have already used the community notification system put in place under my administration to bring people together for cultural events and community activities. From the new downtown Halloween celebration, which we will be doing again, to festivals and other events, we have been and will continue to use this resource to bring the community together to activities that make our downtown and community a more vibrant place.

And my administration will continue our work to help community groups create festivals and community activities. Enjoyable activities help build our community and our local economy.

In the upcoming week, we expect to announce a new and exciting development for the Shaws site on West Main Street. In the upcoming weeks, we will be announcing additional new businesses here in New Britain.

In addition to job growth and economic development we’ve seen renewed energy for the arts, and We’re secured funds to back up our community’s enthusiasm. In the past year, New Britain’s arts and culture programs have attracted new funds and world class art in our downtown. The arts will continue to play an integral role in building a more vibrant downtown and community.

In just one year, we have accomplished so much. We are justifiably proud of what we have accomplished. For the future that our community needs and deserves, we need to accomplish so much more. That is why economic development is the most important part of my work as Mayor.

You don’t have to have a child in public school, to understand that our children hold the keys to a brighter future for the entire community — an investment in them is an investment in all of us.

That is why, last year with the support of the Common Council I increased the city’s funding to the Board of Education’s budget — reversing a multi-year trend of flat funding.

And we must prepare our children to be successful in the jobs of the future, including the medical profession. That is why it is so important that we broke ground on the new 145,000 square-foot Medical Professions and Teacher Preparation Magnet School. This is our city’s first interdistrict magnet school in New Britain, and it complements the wonderful Health Academy program we already have at New Britain High School.

Quality education is at the core of a successful future economy for our city. For future workers, it means having skills to do the jobs that pay enough to lift families into the middle class. For our city, it means having a workforce that makes our community an attractive place to locate or expand a business and create jobs.

Quality education is a moral imperative - the moral question of whether the kids growing up in our city deserve the same shot in life as youngsters growing up in more affluent communities.

And, while we increase the priority of education, we must also act on the reality that the quality of learning is as much affected by the experiences of children outside of the schools as in. That’s why I have heavily prioritized community initiatives designed to improve the quality of life in our young people.

I believe very strongly that all the people of our city deserve to be able to live in neighborhoods with a great quality of life. Ensuring that quality of life includes addressing the very real problems of abandoned, dilapidated and poorly maintained buildings — in other words, blight.

We all understand it takes more than strong ordinances to fight blight — it takes political will, enforcement, and it takes persistence. Of all the challenges we face as a city, addressing blighted buildings is the one in which we have the greatest authority to make a meaningful difference for the people of our community. But that does not always happen. In fact, in the history of our city, it usually has not — for the same reason it is usually hard to ask vested interests to change for the better.

But the time has come for our city to act for the betterment of all of the people of our city, and not accept the proposition that New Britain’s residents, especially people of humble means, must be made to live in substandard conditions and in neighborhoods made tougher to live in because of blighted buildings. The people of our city deserve better than to be treated that way, and it is our responsibility — the leaders of our city — to stand up for them.

I refuse to back down from this important Work. There is too much at stake.

Gone are the times of it being acceptable for blighted properties to sit vacant — neglected and in disrepair, casting our city’s neighborhoods into landscapes of urban decay. Gone are the times of inaction. Our residents have spoken.

Fighting blight is about improving the quality of life in our neighborhoods. It is about improving health and public safety and turning around years of neglect. I am determined in my efforts to build safer neighborhoods, reduce blight and with it crime.

Residents should feel free to call my office directly to report blight. We are here to work for you. We are here to make your community a better place.

Across our city, properties are being cleaned up and the ones that remain problem properties will continue to face our tough enforcement policies. Our anti-blight policies have already had a significant positive impact.

During the period of November 2010 through October 2011, the city filed no liens and collected no fines for severe blight. But, since I assumed in November 2011, $1.2 million in liens have been filed and $15,000 collected for severe blight. From 2010 to 2011, the city issued only 497 citations for general violations but the following year we filed 787 citations. Enforcement of New Britain’s anti-blight ordinances has been greatly increased and are making a difference.

The evidence of success can also been seen by looking at some of the most notoriously blighted buildings in New Britain. The Berkowitz Building, located in the heart of New Britain’s economic corridor, was left vacant for more than 15 years until thousands of dollars in fines, due to enforcement of the anti-blight ordinance, caused the Staten Island property owner to turn the building over to the City of New Britain for a small amount. Since we have taken ownership, we have received two exciting proposals from private development companies to turn the top floors of the building into apartments and the ground level into retail stores.

Another example of the positive impact of the ordinances is 25 Gilbert Street, a neglected house that will be demolished and converted to homes by Habitat for Humanity.

For some property owners, the strengthened anti-blight ordinance has been an incentive to renovate their existing properties to avoid hefty fines. That is why the old Burritt Bank, a prominent building on Main Street in downtown New Britain had repairs to its windows and other broken parts.

Blighted properties are a drain on city budgets. They draw away from the quality of life, as well as the economic opportunities, of those living around them and severely diminish the value of properties in the community. These neglected or abandoned properties are more than just eyesores — they are detrimental to the safety, health, welfare and economic growth of the community.

Blighted and abandoned buildings are assessed for taxes at a reduced amount because they are in disrepair. That means less funding for our local schools and other services. Abandoned buildings result in unfair higher taxes on people who actually live in New Britain. This is unfair and wrong — I will work tirelessly to end it.

With the success we have had in addressing the problems with blighted buildings in our community, we must also turn our attention to the proactive investments that we need to be making to ensure a good quality of life for the people of our city.

We must be investing in quality housing in our neighborhoods. That is why my administration has implemented a new forgivable housing loan program — the Grow New Britain Home Ownership Program — to invest in our neighborhoods, while helping people to afford the dignity of homeownership.

That is also why, in coming weeks, I will be proposing a new program to help strengthen neighborhoods and create jobs by investing in quality housing.

And we need to be acting to improve the quality of community life in neighborhoods. That is why my administration is rolling out a new Community Gardens program. Community members have been meeting and working together to set-up the first three community gardens in our city places where people in a neighborhood of all ages can come together, grow vegetables and plants and, in the process, grow a stronger community. There will be community gardens this summer on Chapman Street, Lawlor Street and West Main Street.

But we need to do more. We need to be investing in improvements that make our parks and public places quality places for people to enjoy together.

That is why, very soon, I will be proposing new investments in our public parks. One of the things I will be proposing will be field improvements at Chesley Park — where the Junior Hurricanes have made their home for their athletic programs for kids.

I will also be proposing investments to restore our city's war memorials that have been shamelessly vandalized. The brave people who gave their lives for our country should be honored and remembered. Our monuments should be honored memorials for them — not blank scars of malicious vandalism. Let's invest in making these improvements.

Of course, the public places that we use the most are our roads and sidewalks. We may not think about them unless they are in disrepair, but whether they are in good condition affects our neighborhood quality of life very directly. This basic infrastructure not only affects how our neighborhoods look to ourselves and visitors, but it also affects our city's economic prospects — telling prospective investors whether our community is a place in which they want to invest. We are wise to invest in our roads, sidewalks and infrastructure.

That is why I will shortly be proposing a new, expanded program for road and sidewalk improvements — to pave and improve miles of roads and many sidewalks that are in dire need of this important work.

And there are some specific projects that deserve our investment, especially for the economic reasons that I said. That is why I will be proposing new investments that will:
  • Complete the Broad Street reconstruction.
  • Ensure that the downtown streetscape project will be complete, and
  • Improve the South Main Street corridor.
Of course, another important investment in a good quality of life in neighborhoods is having an active and professional police force.

Despite the financial challenges we faced when assuming office, we have already been able to move forward with the process of putting additional police officers on the streets.

But the Police Department I inherited faced tough challenges. The department was down more than 40 officers from the full strength of 165, and faced difficult challenges and bad news that harmed morale for a department filled with qualified and dedicated officers.

We now have new and strong leadership at the helm — and new officers on the way. I could not be more proud of our men and women in uniform and the leadership of Chief Wardwell. They have endured through some challenging circumstances, while simultaneously yielding impressive results.

What has been achieved is striking.

Crime is down, overall, this year — and down 4% since 2010. But for the more serious crime, it is even more impressive. Crimes against persons in the past two months are down 45% from the same period last year.  Our new Shooting Task Force, increased traffics stops, more efficient administrative procedures and community policing have made New Britain a safer place to live and do business.

We have not had a murder in nearly a year — down from 3 the previous year. This happened because of the good work of our Police Department and because of the importance we have placed on revitalizing the department and restoring morale.

The significant financial challenges we had 16 months ago — the deficit, the unfunded costs of the new police station, redundancy and inefficiencies in what was then 22 city departments, have shaped many of the decisions we have had to make.

But the budget that I proposed and the Council approved maintained public services in our city without raising taxes. We achieved this through the most sweeping and significant reorganization of our city government in our city’s history. We consolidated 22 city departments — often with redundant and overlapping functions — into six departments.

Since the Council enacted the reorganization ordinance, much work has been done to make these departmental consolidations a reality in the actual operations of the city. Many efficiencies have already been realized and many more are still being achieved.

In the new Public Works Department, workers who used to repair vehicles and equipment in different city departments now work together and are doing a better job together. And the recent blizzard disaster our city went through showed the value of having workers who used to be part of four different city departments working together to serve the public.

Under the new Finance Department, the public has one place to go, rather than different places, to pay taxes and water bills. And financial management is done in one department, rather than being divided, as it used to be, among three different departments.

Among the ways that these consolidations have achieved savings for the taxpayers has been by allowing fewer workers to be able to maintain the services that a larger number of workers used to provide. The early retirement incentive that I instituted during my first year as Mayor, and the savings it achieved, was made possible because of this.

There is certainly more work ahead in bringing the departmental consolidation to fruition in all of the new departments, but we have already accomplished much.

Another problem my administration faced was that the Police Station project was millions of dollars underfunded. Unless we acted, the construction of our new state of the art police station would have come to a grinding halt. I proposed and the Council approved the funding that finished the construction of our new Police Station.

And right now our police station is the envy of surrounding towns — and we’re finally updating the city’s emergency radio system, a project decades overdue.

There’s much more work yet to be done. We can say, though, that because of our actions over the past 16 months, we are headed in a better direction.

We are new again in the process of creating next year’s budget. As I said last year, let me be clear about this coming year’s budget: We will not raise property taxes. Last year, We did not raise taxes, and this year, in the budget I propose, the amount of tax revenue will not be increased.

Often, elected officials look at just two approaches to balancing a budget — raising taxes and cutting services. We proved a third approach exists. My administration reduced the costs of government by millions of dollars a year through consolidations and increased efficiencies. The budget we approved last year actually decreased the amount of spending below the level of the budget I inherited. All the while we are focusing on the long term benefits of growing our economy and growing jobs.

In order to see meaningful and continued progress, We’ve had to change the ways things have traditionally been done. Much of the work wasn’t easy — change often isn’t as convenient as it is necessary. Collectively, and for our future, we have made tough and important choices to benefit all of New Britain.

Our common efforts have already produced positive results, and I thank the Common Council for their efforts and their collaboration.

But there is so much more that needs to be done. The challenging times that we live in are exactly the moment when we need to be rolling up our sleeves to do the things to build a better tomorrow for ourselves and coming generations.

Too often, people choose difficult times as the moment to stick their heads in the sand, cower and hope for the tough times to pass. They look at tough budget challenges and say that we must do less to maintain and invest in their communities. But I believe that communities that adopt a head-in-the-sand policy during these times will find that their belief in doing less will only result in falling further behind.

We cannot allow that to be New Britain’s course.

That is why we have to have the courage to invest in a stronger economy that creates good paying jobs and makes for a more vibrant community. That means that we need to invest in our infrastructure and parks. And it means that we have to invest in our next generation by investing in education. It means that we need to have the courage to insist on a good quality of life in our neighborhoods and not allow our residents to be used and abused.

It means that we have to be creative, bold and forward thinking. It means that we have to try new ideas and innovate. It means that we have to challenge old assumptions and ways of thinking.

If we have the courage to be bold during troubled times, our community can prosper into the next generation and beyond.

Our city can be a world leader in high-tech manufacturing and other business, with the prosperity and prestige that comes with it.

All of our neighborhoods can be welcoming places to live and nurturing places to raise children — and our schools can be among the best in the state.

Our city can take its rightful place as an important center of community life, arts and culture.

All of these things are possible for our city, if we have the vision and exercise the will and hard work to make it happen. That is the course that I will continue leading this city toward. And, with your help and support — and the common effort of all of New Britain’s people — we can achieve it.

So, tonight, I say to you, the state of the City of New Britain is one of renewal and progress — of moving forward. While there is still much work ahead, now is the time that, together, we will make the future of New Britain brighter for everyone.

God Bless you, God Bless the City of New Britain!