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Matt Knickerbocker: What Is a “Shovel-Ready” Project Policy?

“Shovel ready” is a nickname for a policy governing how major construction projects are funded and managed. The policy is designed to prevent unexpected price changes from causing construction projects to run over budget.

Although this concept is a centerpiece of my opponent’s campaign this election, voters should know it was adopted unanimously over a year ago by the Board of Selectmen.

What is it, why is it needed, and how will it help?

Major projects are usually funded through the use of construction estimates. Typically, an architect is hired to create a design concept and cost estimate. A referendum is then held based on the concept and estimates.

If the project is approved, only then does the work begin to turn the architectural concepts into actual blueprints and publish bid invitations to obtain real costs. This process can sometimes take more than a year following the referendum.

Recently, we have seen a great deal of volatility in construction pricing. Labor and material costs have risen sharply, pushing project costs higher than the amount approval. Unfortunately, this has affected nearly all of our projects in recent years.

When this happens, there are only two possible solutions. The first is to reduce the scope of the project, a process called “value engineering.” The building might be reduced in size, or cheaper materials chosen, or certain features removed completely. Voters end up getting less than they thought they were getting, sometimes much less.

On occasion not even aggressive value engineering is enough to overcome severe pricing changes, and then the only option is to seek additional funding. This occurred with the police station project as well as the Bethel library, whose entire upper floor was left vacant and unused for seven years before funding was available to complete it.

How can this problem be prevented?

The obvious answer is to stop using estimates in referendums, and instead use actual bid costs. The shovel-ready plan asks voters to approve the project in two votes instead of one. The first vote is to provide money to create a complete shovel-ready project, including all blueprints, engineering specifications and bids; a second vote would then be held based not on estimates, but on actual bid documents. This eliminates the danger of using estimates that may be stale in a few months.

Taxpayers’ interests are protected using this method. Prices cannot change, because they are based on formal, bonded bids, rather than estimates. Taxpayers are also guaranteed to get exactly the building they approved, instead of one shrunken with compromises and reductions due to unexpected cost changes.

While this method is a bit more complicated, I believe this is the best way to avoid unexpected cost changes that threaten the integrity of our construction projects.

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“MOVING BETHEL AHEAD”

OUR VISION OF BETHEL’S VIBRANT FUTURE

 

Bethel has become one of the most desirable and livable towns in the State of Connecticut. With your help, Bethel has been on a winning path since Matt and Rich first took office in 2009, recently being named one of the 16 most charming towns in Connecticut.

With the support of this community, we’ve built outstanding public schools, recognized nationally and regionally for academic and programmatic excellence.

We have successfully addressed roads, buildings and other infrastructure needs.

We have brought new efficiencies to town government to improve service to our residents. We have corrected serious deficiencies from past financial practices, earning the town a highly coveted AAA bond rating, which only 29 out of 169 towns have achieved. We have improved the public water system with a bold 30-year capital improvement plan and put utility department finances back “in the black” after years of mismanagement.

But we’re not done. Not even close. Here is an outline of the top goals for our town for the next two years.

Boosting Economic Development 

Clarke Business Park Expansion: Unlike other parts of our state, Bethel is financially strong and growing. Our unemployment rate is below the state and national averages, and Bethel is attracting young families.

To keep this momentum, we must continue to expand opportunities for new businesses to locate here. In 2017, we applied for, and won, a state grant to resume the development of Clarke Business Park. The grant covered design and legal costs of further expansion, and today, four new industrial lots are ready for development and under negotiations with potential buyers.

Property Tax Incentive:  The Board of Selectmen worked with the town’s Economic Development Commission (EDC) for over a year to develop our first property tax incentive to help bring new businesses to Bethel. It was carefully crafted to help current businesses stay in Bethel and move to larger facilities as they grow. The Board of Selectmen recently approved the very first new development using this innovative new incentive.

Plank #1: We pledge to continue this success by working with our EDC to bring more businesses to Bethel.

 

Creating Government Efficiencies

We have a strong record of revitalizing delivery of public services. Bethel was one of the first towns in the state to begin combining internal town operations with our school board operations to reduce costs and improve service. We installed powerful new software budgeting packages to improve efficiency and visibility to the public.

The next step is to finalize an online permitting system which will vastly improve the permit application process for the Health, Building and Land Use departments. This will speed service and cut overtime costs. The permitting system is in the installation phase now.

Plank #2: We pledge to introduce cost-saving “eGovernment” solutions to improve government efficiencies, reduce costs and speed delivery of essential services.

 

Support for Renewable Energy

Bethel was one of the first towns in the state to seek and win approval to construct a solar farm. The facility became operational in 2018 and currently generates over 1 million kilowatts of power each year, saving Bethel taxpayers thousands of dollars in the annual town budget. We are currently exploring the feasibility of more renewable energy installations, such as solar car ports in other areas of town. We are also studying the potential cost savings in fuel and maintenance by converting the town hall auto fleet to electric or hybrid vehicles, where appropriate.

Plank #3: We pledge to continue to develop clean, renewable energy systems that will cut the town’s energy costs and reduce carbon emissions.

 

Support for Recreation

Except for two small practice fields, Bethel has not added to its recreational facilities for decades, yet the town population has grown by about 20% since 1980, putting a serious strain on our children’s opportunities to participate in sports and other recreational activities. In 2018 the Board of Selectmen began a study of our current inventory and is currently preparing a ten-year park improvement plan.

Plank #4: We pledge to present to Bethel voters a long-term, affordable parks improvement plan to increase recreational opportunities.

 

Support for Our Outstanding Schools

We are proud supporters of the Bethel Public Schools. Over the past decade, we have worked hand in hand with our school board to provide the resources that help our children excel. We championed the referendum to fully renovate our oldest elementary schools, Rockwell and Johnson, and we supported and worked closely with the generous donor who is constructing the multimillion-dollar track and field house on our school campus.

Plank #5: We pledge to maintain excellence in our public schools and to ensure on-time and on-budget completion of the school renovation projects.

 

Quality of Life

There is a reason Bethel is one of the most desirable towns in Connecticut: this is a wonderful place to live and raise a family. From our excellent schools, to great Park & Recreation programs like the free family movie nights on the Municipal Building Lawn, to the children’s room at the Bethel Public Library, to Food Truck Friday and the free Sunday concerts in the summer months, Bethel is the place to be.

Plank #6: We pledge to continue to make Bethel the best, most welcoming community it can possibly be.

These goals will be accomplished, as we have always done, with openness and bipartisan cooperation. We strongly believe that when it comes to public service, politics stops at the door. Meeting the needs of our town’s people comes first.

Sincerely,

Matt Knickerbocker and Rich Straiton

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Matt Knickerbocker and Rich Straiton Appeal to Voters for Another Term

Dear Friends,

Rich Straiton and I are running for reelection to the positions of Selectman and First Selectman in the upcoming November election. We sincerely thank you for the trust you have placed in us, and we wish to continue working on your behalf.

A lot has been accomplished over the past few years. We have resurfaced more than half of all town roads. We have made significant improvements to our public water department. A system that once suffered from neglect and was losing money is today one of the best public water suppliers in the state.

We have strongly supported our nationally recognized educational system and helped launch the long overdue renovations of our two oldest schools, Rockwell and Johnson. We supported the wonderful donation to construct the new track and field training center at Bethel High School and walked it through the legal process to make it a reality. We completed the expansion of our beautiful public library, at no additional cost to taxpayers. We secured grants to add new sidewalks for safe walking routes to schools and downtown shopping areas. We built one of the first municipal solar farms in the state to cut energy costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A very significant improvement was bringing a higher level of fiscal discipline to town government. When Rich and I first took office, we discovered a “hand to mouth” budgeting system that held no regard for future planning. Our General Fund balance was dangerously low, our town’s pension plans were underfunded, and our bond rating had been downgraded to “negative watch” due to the town’s weak financial health.

We quickly introduced a ten-year forward planning cycle and update it annually. Our bond rating is now AAA, the highest possible, a level only a handful of Connecticut towns have achieved. When Bethel sells a bond, the best investment firms in the nation line up to bid. Because of Bethel’s strong financial position, we consistently earn the lowest possible interest rates. Our General Fund balance and pension funds have been restored to health.

Perhaps most important is the fact that these goals were achieved through bipartisan cooperation. Rich and I truly believe that public service means working with all parties for the betterment of our town.

This is work that requires substantial public management experience, creativity and leadership. Experience matters. It cannot be learned in a few months. It requires in-depth knowledge of municipal management, knowledge that can only be gained through training and experience.

Rich and I have that expertise. We also have a vision for our future, and these goals are at the top of our list:

  • Increase development of Clarke Business Park to bring new jobs and accelerate growth of the Grand List to hold down taxes.
  • Seek new opportunities to add clean, renewable energy systems to lower costs.
  • Complete the original road reconstruction schedule, now in its tenth year and nearly finished.
  • Seek another round of grant funding for further improvements of Reynolds Ridge, our senior housing complex.
  • Ensure successful completion of our Johnson and Rockwell school renovation projects, on time and within budget.
  • Finalize a new ten-year improvement plan for our town parks and recreational facilities, within budget parameters set by voters.
  • Modernize our recycling center to provide more cost-saving waste disposal and recycling options for our residents.
  • Continue to pay down old debt to protect our excellent financial position and ensure sustainable budgets in the future.

 

Rich and I are ready to continue our work for you and everyone in our town. We humbly ask for your vote this November, and we pledge to continue to work hard for you.

 

Matt Knickerbocker                                           Rich Straiton

First Selectman                                                   Selectman

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First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker’s Letter to Bethel Voters

Dear Friends,

Rich and I are honored to accept the nomination for Selectman and First Selectman in the November municipal election. We thank you sincerely for the continued confidence you have placed in us.

A lot has been accomplished over the past few years, with your help and with the support of our voters. We have rebuilt or resurfaced more than half of our roads. We have upgraded our public water system using grants and low-interest public health loans. A system that was once almost $2 million in debt, losing tens of thousands of dollars per year and failing to meet state standards, is today one of the best public water systems in the state.

We have supported our nationally recognized public schools and helped launch the long-overdue renovations of our two oldest elementary schools. We secured grants that allowed us to complete the renovation and expansion of our beautiful public library, at no additional cost to taxpayers. We secured grants to add new sidewalks for safe walking routes to our schools and to our downtown shopping areas. We built one of the first municipal solar farms in the State of Connecticut to cut energy costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But perhaps the most important accomplishment was bringing a new level of fiscal discipline to town government. When Rich and I first took office, we discovered a “hand to mouth” budgeting system that held no regard for future planning. Our General Fund balance was dangerously low, our town’s pension plans were underfunded, and our bond rating was downgraded to “negative watch” due to the town’s weak financial health.

Today we use a 10-year forward planning cycle, updated annually. Our bond rating is AAA, the best possible, an achievement that previous Bethel administrations believed impossible. When Bethel sells a bond, the best investment firms in the nation line up to bid. Because of Bethel’s strong financial position, we consistently earn the lowest possible interest rates. Our General Fund balance and pension funds have been restored to health.

Some people seem to think Selectmen should be changed for the sake of change, like a pair of socks. They could not be more wrong. That belief simply reveals how little they understand about the reality of running a complex, multifaceted municipality of nearly 20,000 residents.

The position of First Selectman, especially, requires substantial public management experience, creativity and leadership. It cannot be learned in a few months, or even a few years. It requires in-depth knowledge of public finance practices, public health regulations, engineering, labor law, and effective negotiation techniques – knowledge that can only be gained through experience.

Rich and I have that expertise. We also have a vision for our future, with many challenging goals for the upcoming term:

  • Complete the original road reconstruction schedule, now in its tenth year and nearly finished.
  • Ensure successful completion of our school renovation projects, on time and within budget.
  • Finalize a new, 10-year improvement plan for our town parks and recreational facilities, within budget parameters set by voters.
  • Modernize our recycling center to provide more cost-saving waste disposal and recycling options for our residents.
  • Continue to pay down old debt to protect our excellent financial position and ensure sustainable budgets in the future.

 

Rich and I are ready and eager to continue our work for you and everyone in our town. We humbly ask for your vote this November, and we pledge to continue to work hard for you.

Thank you for reading.

 

Matt Knickerbocker

     First Selectman

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BDTC Annual Picnic on July 28!

The Bethel Democratic Town Committee invites you to its Annual Picnic on Sunday, July 28th, 2019, from noon-4pm.

Bennett Memorial Park, 14 Shelter Rock Road, Bethel

Great Picnic Menu ~ Children’s Activities ~ Raffles from Local Businesses!

First-Time Attendee Discount!

Join the Fun! Meet Our Local and State Officials.

Sign up now! Purchase tickets HERE.

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Matt & Rich Announce Re-election Bid

Matt Knickerbocker (second from left) and Rich Straiton toast with their wives, Adrienne Thompson (far left) and Sharon Straiton, after announcing their campaign.

Saturday, April 6 – BETHEL, CT

 

On Saturday evening, at the conclusion of the annual Bethel Democrats fundraiser banquet, Matt Knickerbocker and Richard Straiton took to the podium to announce to the 130+ supporters in attendance that they were officially beginning the campaign for their sixth terms as First Selectman and Selectman, respectively. “We love what we do, and there is no greater honor than serving the wonderful people of Bethel, as we have done for the past decade,” Knickerbocker said.

 

The crowd applauded the announcement, as they raised their glasses to toast the two Democratic town leaders. “We’re at a crucial point not just nationally or at the state level, but locally, too. Experience matters. Voters want to know that their country, their state, and their community is in capable hands during uncertain times,” Knickerbocker added.

 

Nick Vitti, chairman of the Bethel Democratic Town Committee, added, “The quality of life in Bethel, and the improvements that we all enjoy, are directly attributable to the leadership of Matt and Rich, their willingness and abilities to work across party lines, and their commitment to always putting the interests of the people of Bethel ahead of all else. We’re ecstatic they’re committed to running. The party is behind them 100%.”

 

“I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished so far, and excited to continue our work for another two years,” Straiton said.

 

The municipal election will be in November. While that is several months away, please remember to vote on Thursday April 11 on the 2019-2020 Bethel Budget. Polling places will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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The Blue Wave Surges in Bethel

 

 

If you’re anything like me, you are still energized by the Democratic triumphs that took place last night.

 

Voters in Bethel spoke loudly about the leadership they want for our town, and the people they trust to best represent their values. They rejected reckless rhetoric and misinformation, and reminded everyone of who we are as a community.

 

Together, we supported and elected candidates that represent the best that Bethel has to offer.

 

Congratulations to ALL of our candidates for running successful campaigns that engaged and energized the electorate. We re-elected Matt and Rich to their fifth terms, and they will continue to move Bethel forward. We also gained four Democratic seats on the Board of Finance, in addition to re-electing Bob Manfreda to the board, making five of the seven members Democrats. Wow! And there are numerous other accomplishments from the top of the ticket down.

 

Our candidates, volunteers and supporters (many of whom were engaging in this process for the first time) did the work, made the calls, knocked on the doors and got the job done. The national events of November 2016 have certainly provided America with one notable positive outcome: the mobilization of a grassroots movement of doers who are willing to work as hard as possible to achieve their goals.

 

Even with these successes, there is still so much work to do! 2018 will be a crucial election cycle. Let’s stay energized, motivated, and encouraged.

 

But for today, take a moment to relax, regroup and reflect on the hard-fought victories from last night… We’ll need your hard work and commitment more than ever in the coming months.

 

Thanks for everything you did to make last night possible.

 

Raghib Allie-Brennan, Vice Chairman
Bethel Democratic Town Committee

 

2017 Bethel Municipal Election Winners:
First Selectman, Matt Knickerbocker (2,935) D
Selectman, Rich Straiton (2,652) D
Selectman, Paul Szatkowski (1,983) R

 

Town Clerk, Lisa Bergh (4,617) D

 

Treasurer, Pat Smithwick (2,446) D

 

Board of Finance:
Wendy Smith (2,453) D
Robert Manfreda (2,363) D
Dalene Foster (2,270) D
Robert Palmer (2,271) D

 

Board of Finance 2 Year Seat – Automatic Recount
Claudia Stephan (2,257) D or
Bill Slifkin (2,244) R

 

Board of Education:
Jen Ackerman (2,487) D
Melanie O’Brien (2,417) R
Jen Larsen (2,355) D
Nick Hoffman (2,209) R

 

Board of Assessment Appeals:
Will Duff (2,352) R
Fern Blair Hart (2,233) D
Gary Passineau (2,143) D

 

Planning and Zoning:
Patricia Rist (2,377) R
Kitty Grant (2,358) R
Steve Deuschle (2,356) R

 

Planning and Zoning Alternate:
Penny Kessler (2,369) D

 

Zoning Board of Appeals:
Richard Lawlor (2,445) D
Jay Streaman (2,425) R
Eileen Freebairn (2,243) D

 

Zoning Board of Appeals – 2 Year Seat:
Bobbi Jo Beers (3,417) R

 

Zoning Board of Appeals Alternate:
Cyndie McGuire (2,158) D

 

Inland Wetlands Commission:
Laura Ferguson (3,140) R
Peter Samardak (3,029) R
Ken Stevens (2,403) R

 

Inland Wetlands Alternate:
Lou David (3,071) D

 

Police Commission:
Kevin Cleary (2,540) R
Anthony Rubino (2,387) R
Richard Kolwicz (2,244) R

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Democratic Board of Finance Candidates’ Joint Statement

Bethel is facing a perfect fiscal storm and the Democratic team of candidates for the Board of Finance—Dalene Foster, Bob Manfreda, Robert Palmer, Wendy Smith and Claudia Stephan—possesses the business, financial and municipal expertise necessary to weather the storm and to move Bethel forward.

 

The next budget cycle not only requires Bethel’s Board of Finance to wrestle with the typical issues involving the annual operating budget, but will also require important decisions on both the police station and school renovation projects. Specifically, the town must bond $14.5 million for the new, approved police station, for which construction is underway. The town is also faced with either renovating “as-new” (estimated net cost, $40 to $42 million) or patchwork repairing (estimated cost, $29 million) our Johnson and Rockwell schools. The successful town referendum was an important first step to renovating as new, but now Bethel must wait on the State’s final approval of its grant request.

 

The State of Connecticut’s budget troubles make the Board of Finance’s job more difficult. These budget woes have and will continue to result in less support from Hartford, jeopardizing funding the Town has relied upon in its immediate past. Given these realities, the Bethel Board of Finance cannot conduct business as usual. We are no longer merely managing a checkbook.

 

Rather, to successfully navigate the coming fiscal storm, the Bethel Board of Finance members must possess the financial expertise necessary to know how best to use the fund balance while maintaining the town’s AAA credit rating; the financial acumen to assess the interest-rate environment for purposes of paying back $12 million of short-term debt not related to the police station, issuing less-expensive new long-term debt and, possibly, re-bonding expensive existing debt; and the financial foresight to plan for what may come, such as establishing sinking funds for large critical purchases like fire trucks.

 

The Bethel Democratic candidates for the Board of Finance possess this expertise. We, the undersigned, are the team that will ensure Bethel successfully weathers the storms to come. Please support expertise in financial management by electing the Democratic team for the Bethel Board of Finance. Vote Row A on November 7.

 

Dalene Foster, Bob Manfreda, Robert Palmer, Wendy Smith and Claudia Stephan

Democratic Candidates for Bethel’s Board of Finance

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Chairman’s Statement on Social Media Attacks Targeting Democratic Candidates

Social media is an amazing tool that, when used properly, allows people to interact with each other and their elected officials. It allows for the expression of differing views and opinions among the members of our community, which benefits us as a whole. For the most part, participants in online forums engage in very strong debate and hash out differences of opinion and policy, but with a sense of respect for each other and a general sense of decorum. Unfortunately, there is always an exception to the rule.

Recently, two of our candidates for local office were subjected to mean-spirited personal attacks that, in my opinion, cross the line of what is acceptable in productive engagement and discourse. These attacks even went so far as to target the candidates’ child – something that no responsible individual would do. That’s not who we are here in Bethel. Let’s remember that our kids are watching how we conduct ourselves. And let’s make sure the example we set is worthy of them.

Nick Vitti, Chairman
Bethel Democratic Town Committee

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