by Matt Knickerbocker, October 20 2015
Since taking office in 2009, Rich Straiton and I have focused primarily on putting things back in order. We launched an aggressive plan to completely rebuild over a third of Bethel’s roadways. We secured millions in state grants to fund major portions of road and sidewalk renovation. We reinvented the Bethel utility department, stopping the financial losses, repaying a debt of more than one million and launched a multi-year capital improvement plan that will increase capacity and improve water quality. We established new fiscal policies that moved our town’s bond rating from AAA “negative watch” to a solid AAA rating, the highest possible, a benefit that will save Bethel taxpayers millions in future interest costs. We completed the library renovation, which had been stalled since 2005, without the need for additional tax funds, as well as completed the remaining renovations of Bethel High School.
Perhaps most importantly, we have remained committed to keeping town government small. The improvements listed above were accomplished with no new staff. In fact, town hall today has fewer full-time staff positions than it did in 2009. We’ve also tackled the upward spiral of health insurance and retirement costs. This summer, most of our unionized employees agreed to new high deductible health insurance plans, which will provide significant cost relief to taxpayers. They also agreed to 401(k)-type retirement plans for new employees, which will eliminate future costs associated with traditional pensions.
But no matter what we’ve accomplished, elections are about the future, not the past. We are looking ahead and setting goals for how we can make Bethel an even better place to live and raise a family. Here are the priorities that we envision for our town:
Neighborhood safety. It is time to launch a multi-year plan dedicated to connecting Bethel’s neighborhoods and make them safe for walkers, moms with baby strollers and kids on bikes. Most of the grant money we have obtained to date has been applied to road construction. As our road plan 2 reaches completion and settles back into a normal maintenance schedule, it’s time to shift our priorities toward making more of our neighborhoods safe for walking. Our town has grown a lot in the past 30 years, but most of our streets still lack safe places to walk. It’s nearly impossible for most kids to safely walk to school. Many of our neighborhoods are isolated by dangerous roads. This can be fixed, and it’s time to start making it happen.
Economic development. Unlike many neighboring towns, Bethel does not have an incentive to attract new businesses. I will work with our Economic Development Commission to develop a workable incentive plan to address that issue. New development increases our Grand List and holds down taxes.
Update our downtown Streetscape. Our original Streetscape project was completed about 15 years ago, and it’s showing its age. The light poles are being repainted and benches are being replaced this fall, but the decorative sidewalk paving blocks need to be refreshed. Grant funding was recently obtained to expand the scope of Streetscape. We must seek additional funding to help refurbish our Streetscape, including burying the overhead utilities. Improvements to our charming village center is an important for the “walkability” needed to attract new retail businesses.
Replace our cramped, aging police facility. It is essential that we provide a modern, secure facility for the men and women who ensure our safety. Our officers are crammed into a 1960’s era cement block station that now sits in the middle of a flood plain and subjects the staff to sewage backups with heavy rains. It is incapable of supporting the heightened homeland security requirements of today. We support building a facility that is done right the first time, rather than repeating the mistakes of the past.
Rich Straiton and I are a highly qualified team with a proven record of accomplishments. Rich is a professional tradesman with decades of experience in construction, maintenance and utility operations, and his expertise has been invaluable in solving many of our toughest challenges. I bring over 30 years of business experience in both private business and public administration. We have loved every minute of serving you, and we sincerely hope you will allow us to continue for another two years.