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Brookfield officials approve tax abatement for Branson Ultrasonics

Branson Ultrasonics has made an application under Brookfield's Business Incentive Tax Ordinance for a deferral of assessment increases from any improvements to 101 Park Ridge Road.   The company plans to relocate its Danbury headquarters plant into a 13 acre parcel of Berkshire Corporate Park located in Brookfield.  The Board of Selectmen adopted the Tax Abatement Agreement with Branson Ultrasonics earlier this month.  First Selectman Steve Dunn says the company will be a great corporate citizen for the town.  He notes that if Branson was fully taxed, it would generate $1.2 million a year in taxes, a significant portion of the town's typical $20 million budget.  The Connecticut Innovations business assistance fund previously approved $1.4 million in sales tax exemptions for purchases supporting the move.  The company, owned by Emerson Electric, makes precision custom welding machines.  They plan to employ 220 people at its new headquarters.


Improvements along Danbury roadway planned by DOT

Intersection improvements on Newtown Road in Danbury between Old Newtown Road and Plumtrees Road are still in the works.  The state Department of Transportation is looking to provide safety improvements between Eagle Road and Industrial Plaza Drive as well.

Proposed work consists of widening Newtown Road from the Public Works Complex to Plumtrees Road.  There would be two through lanes in each direction and exclusive left-turn lanes at the two intersections.  The widening would also incorporate a raised median between Old Newtown Road and Plumtrees Road, wider shoulders, and upgraded pedestrian facilities.  The islands are proposed to prevent people from making left turns, which the DOT says has led to a high crash rate in that section of road.  The intersection at Old Newtown Road would be normalized and a new driveway providing access to the Public Works Complex and future commercial development is proposed on its south side. 

Michael Calabrese, a Project Manager of the Highway Design Unit of the DOT, says the work will also include turn around movement at the intersections of Plumtrees and Old Newtown which will allow people to access those businesses.


Newtown officials correct record on turning private road public

Lakeview Terrace in Newtown is mostly a private road, but the upper portion is slowly being accepted in to the public road system.  About three years ago the Board of Selectmen voted to take the road public. But Selectman Herb Rosenthal made the motion as Lakeview Drive, which isn't the proper name.  There's a project on the street so the current Board had to redo the motion and correct the record, even though there is no Lakeview Drive.  First Selectman Dan Rosenthal joked not to blame him and said he gave his dad a hard time about it.  The correction was made earlier this month for land record purposes.


Bills on paid family leave, expanded broadband service advance out of committees

The state Labor and Public Employees Committee has advanced a paid Family Medical Leave to the Senate.  Danbury Senator Julie Kushner says under the program, all employees in Connecticut would have .5 percent of  their weekly paycheck put into a state-run trust fund, so the employee could be paid during approved leave.  

The governor’s proposal called for an employee earning 90 percent of their typical wages, up to $600 per week, for anyone making around $15 an hour and 67 percent, up to $900, for workers earning more than that.

A proposal to increase competition in the broadband market in order to bring lower prices and better products to Connecticut has been advanced out of the Energy and Technology committee.  Kent Representative Maria Horn backs the bill. 

Comptroller Kevin Lembo says this moves toward the state's ultimate goal of universal access to ultra-high speed internet service at affordable prices.  The measure would give municipalities more control over the types of services available to their residents and implement regulatory changes that will help new companies enter the marketplace.


Local lawmakers weigh in on work by Environment Committee

A local lawmaker is calling on the Environment Committee to take action on a bill, which was up for a public hearing earlier this month.  Bethel Representative Raghib Allie-Brennan cosponsored a bill Prohibiting the Sale of Transfer or Dogs, Cats and Rabbits at Pet Shops that are not from animal welfare organizations. He says the measure is needed to cut off the pipeline of pets bred under inhumane conditions and prevent pet stores from profiting off of cruelly bred animals.  Allie-Brennan says there are 12 pet stores in Connecticut that will be affected.

A proposal to prohibit the distribution of unsolicited marketing flyers has been advanced by the legislature's Environment Committee.  The measure, aimed at preventing litter and the blockage of catch basins, was placed on the House calendar for further action. 

Meanwhile, the Danbury City Council is looking into similar measures.  An ad hoc committee questioned whether the City's current litter ordinance is strong enough or if a new law is needed.  The group says a stiffer penalty for disobeying the law could act as a preventative measure.  Some Council members are concerned that unsolicited materials are a blight issue, others see it as an environmental concern.


Gov. Lamont addresses tolls, taxes, welcome centers in speech to Danbury Chamber

Welcome Centers in Connecticut will be open for the summer. During Governor Ned Lamont's keynote address to the Greater Danbury Chamber of Commerce this morning in Danbury, he asked the crowd a rhetorical questions about what kind of welcome is it for people to find porta potties and locked buildings.   

Lamont also talked about Danbury being the gateway to Connecticut along I-84 and the impact of tolls and says he understands the risks to the Danbury-area economy.  He is calling for a public-private partnership.  Lamont believes if private entities are involved in tolling it could further prevent raids of the Special Transportation Fund. 

Lamont is trying to differentiate himself from his predecessor and came off more friendly and less combative.  As a businessman, he touted the business people put in place to run various agencies.  In response to a suggestion that he make 10-percent cuts across departments, Lamont noted that it could be even more because of the expertise he's brought in.  Lamont tapped a former IBM employee to head the agency reviewing all IT in Connecticut. 

He says the income tax is a line in the sand for him and that residents can't afford another hike.  As for his proposed sales tax changes, he is open to negotiations.  Lamont also talked about proposed changes to DMV operations, a debt-diet for the state and bond rating agencies upgrading the outlook for Connecticut, but not yet the bond rating.  Lamont also wants more teachers hired across the state to reduce class sizes.  He suggested more people of color to reflect student populations, and also more men entering the field.  12 companies have already pledged that if Connecticut college graduates stay in Connecticut. they will offer jobs and student loan forgiveness. 

Lamont took questions for about an hour and then stayed after the event to meet with business leaders who wanted to talk further. 


Friends of the Library book sale in New Fairfield this weekend

The Friends of the Library are holding their semi-annual book sale this weekend in New Fairfield.  On Saturday there is an early bird sale from 9am to 10, with a $10 fee.  Regular hours are from 10am-4pm tomorrow through Monday.  On Sunday a bag of books is $10. On Monday all books are free, though donations are accepted.  All proceeds from the book sale benefit the library. The Friends sponsor programs, buy equipment/furniture not funded by the town and support the library in other ways.


25 people displaced in Danbury apartment fire

There was a two-alarm fire on Main Street in Danbury overnight.  Firefighters responded to a report of smoke on the 2nd floor of a building.  First responders suspected a fire in the wall and crews were able to quickly extinguish a fire in the floor and wall of the second floor apartments.  Damage was kept to a minimum, but 25 people were displaced for the night.  The Red Cross responded assisting the residents. No injuries were reported. The Danbury Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating the cause of the fire.

(Photo: Rob Fish)


Sherman man charged with murder

A Sherman man has been arrested and charged with murder.  State Police responded to Church Road early Wednesday morning on a report from 65-year old James Maharg that someone living in his home fell and hit his head on the countertop. 

Due to suspicious circumstances, the Western District Major Crime Squad and Danbury State's Attorney were called to the scene.  An arrest warrant was then granted, also charged Maharg with tampering with evidence.  The warrant was carried out yesterday. 

Bail was set at $2 million.  He is due in court today.


Accidental death in Southeast

Putnam County Sheriff officials responded to a welfare check Wednesday morning and found the man deceased.  Sheriff Robert Langley says the family of Matthew Meyer were unable to contact him and called for assistance to his Old Route 6 home in Southeast.  Sheriff Deputies located the 55-year old man dead in the home.  The Putnam County Coroner says Meyer’s death was accidental in nature.  No further details were released.


New Milford man sentenced for tax evasion

A New Milford man has been sentenced for tax evasion.  50-year old William Anderson was ordered to 18 months in prison followed by two years of supervised released. 

Anderson owns a Danbury-based landscaping and excavation business and other related companies.  The U.S. Attorney's Office says he failed to pay more than $1.2 million in federal income taxes on nearly $4 million in income from 2007 through 2014.  According to court documents, Anderson used business income to purchase cashier’s checks to keep income out of his accounts and made misrepresentations on a form that was filed with the IRS about his business checking account. 

Anderson is required to cooperate with the IRS to pay all outstanding taxes, interest and penalties, which total more than $1.7 million.  He is free on bond and was ordered to report to prison on April 24, 2019.


Proposal to have local reps on Siting Council advances out of Committee

The legislature's Environment Committee has advanced a bill requiring local representation via nonvoting members of the Siting Council for certain projects.  Some Greater Danbury area municipal officials have raised concerns in the past about not being able to have a say in the decision on cell tower placements. Bethel Representatives Raghib Allie-Brennan and Stephen Harding cosponsored the bill.  In Danbury several years ago, there was a proposal for a rooftop cell tower on an existing apartment building and the company petitioned for a ruling that no Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need was required.  New Milford officials have filed an appeal with the Connecticut Siting Council over their ruling to allow Ameresco's 20-megawatt solar farm on Candlewood Mountain to go forward.


Bethel Board of Finance trims proposed budget for coming year

The Bethel Board of Finance has trimmed the proposed budget for the coming fiscal year.  After hearing some concerns at the public hearing earlier this week, the Board cut $119,000 from the municipal portion of the plan.  The money is coming from proposed allocations for legal fees, the library, police salaries and other items.  Overall, 250-thousand dollars was cut from the schools original proposal.  The budget still includes a spending increase of nearly 5 percent, with a proposed tax hike of 2.2 percent.  The $78.3 million budget will go to a town meeting on April 1st.


Western Conn. school officials continuing to look into shared services

Another proposed bill involving school services regionalization has been referred to the legislature's Education Committee.  The measure requires the Regional Education Service Centers to report on best practices for regional cooperation and the sharing of services and develop an inventory of goods and services offered by each. The Council of Small Towns, led by Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi, supports the measure.  The goal of the proposal also deals with purchasing instructional or other supplies, testing materials, special education services, health care services or food or food services.

Bethel Superintendent of Schools Dr Christine Carver says they've always had some capacity to do joint purchasing, and local districts have recently expanded that to include technology.  They're exploring other areas, because towns can get better rates on higher volumes of goods or services.

Special Education services for students, in particular outplacement, is costly.  In Bethel, 23-percent of Carver's proposed budget for the coming year is for those services.  In Redding, she estimates it's as high as 29-percent of the budget.  The Superintendents are looking into how to offer programs at the district level to create fiscal efficiency and provide better special education services.  Their informal group says transportation for outplacement can be as much as 300-dollars per day per child.  Carver suggested ride sharing, if for example Bethel and Redding are each sending students to a school in Trumbull. 

But Carver cautioned that these proposals are complex because of different labor contracts for bargaining units in each town.


Putnam County Executive address opioids, legalized marijuana in State of the County address

Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell focused part of her State of the County address this month on New York's consideration of the legalization of recreational marijuana.  She believes relying on marijuana to solve the state’s fiscal issues is financially unsound and socially irresponsible. 

Odell says Colorado's predicted revenue windfall was short of what was promised and that the cost to mitigate the effects of legalization outpaced tax revenue taken in.  Odell said the  number of fatal car accidents in Colorado increased by 40 percent from 2013 to 2015.  And drivers in fatal accidents testing positive for pot rose by 145 percent during that time. 

Odell reported that in Putnam County, opioid deaths dropped from 24 in 2017 to 18 last year.  There have been 71 deaths from overdoses in the past four years. Odell noted that by comparison there were only six deaths from vehicle accidents in 2018 and a total of 21 deaths over the past four years in Putnam County from vehicle accidents. 

She says there were fewer deaths from opioid overdoses last year, in part because of the distribution of 676 Narcan kits, which help reverse the effects of opioids when given to someone who is suffering from an overdose. Emergency and law enforcement personnel are trained in Narcan administration as well as librarians, school officials and many community members as well as family members and friends of many people who have a known addiction. 

Putnam County is involved in a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors.


Sandy Hook Cemetery awarded grant for repairs, maintenance

The state Office of Policy and Management has awarded a $2,500 grant to Newtown for repairs to Sandy Hook Cemetery on Riverside Road.  The Newtown Bee reports that the neglected Cemeteries Grant Program funding will be used to make some tilted or fallen tombstones vertical again.  The cemetery doesn't have an association so the town performs routine maintenance.  The 2.3 acre fenced-in burial ground was active from 1813 through 1942. Newtown officials are seeking competitive bids from masons and landscapers for the improvement work, which should be completed by the fall.


Kent Center School Scholarship Fund reports record donations

The Kent Center School Scholarship Fund is having its best fundraising year in several years. To date, 185 donors have contributed a total $30,406.  The Fund Drive officially runs until June 30th.  Over the past 58 years, the Fund has awarded 1,289 scholarships for a total of $1,435,974.  The Fund continues to receive memorial donations, and now has 25 named scholarships, which honor many former Kent residents.


Connecticut tolls clear first legislative vote of session

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut lawmakers voted Wednesday to advance legislation that could lead to electronic tolls on some highways, but it remained unclear whether 2019 is the year tolling legislation will finally pass the General Assembly.

During a closely watched vote, Republican and some Democratic members of the Transportation Committee voiced varied concerns about the three tolling bills up for vote and how their constituents would be impacted. Each bill cleared along party lines, 23-13, with Democrats in support and Republicans in opposition.

“At the end of the day, we’re talking about some of these people’s bottom line,” said Rep. Travis Simms, D-Norwalk, who voted in favor of the legislation Wednesday, but reserved the right to vote no later in the session.

Each bill awaits further action in either the House of Representatives or Senate. But lawmakers said they expect various parts of each bill, which would toll both cars and trucks on Interstates 95, 91, 84 and sections of Route 15 possibly as soon as 2023, will be crafted into one cohesive proposal. Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont’s tolling proposal was among the bills that cleared the committee.

“At the end of the day, it’s about narrowing to come up with the best plan possible, if one exists, to move forward,” said Sen. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, the committee’s co-chairman.

Opponents vowed to step up the political pressure on lawmakers in hopes of derailing tolls yet again. Patrick Sasser, founder of the grassroots organization Say No to CT Tolls, said the focus will now be on legislators in districts where they “barely have made it” in the last election.

“We’re going to start hammering on the areas where the working class, where this really affects them. This is going to be our next movement after today’s vote,” said Sasser, whose group has collected more than 86,000 petitions opposing tolls. He said his group plans to hold protests, knock on doors and educate people about the legislation. He said many taxpayers don’t realize the extent of the proposals, which involve dozens of tolling gantries.

The final number and locations of gantries remain unsettled and the state would still need federal approval before tolling could occur. The various plans include discounts for state residents and off-peak drivers.

Whatever the final bill looks like, advocates stressed how Connecticut needs a new, reliable revenue stream dedicated to addressing the state’s aging transportation infrastructure, which everyone appeared to agree must be fixed.

“We cannot wait on the feds to act in order to come in and save the day, so to speak,” Leone said, adding how Connecticut has a “desperate need” for the new transportation revenue. “We cannot allow our public safety to be at risk, for bridges to fall or for someone to get hurt.”

Leone noted how out-of-state drivers help pick up the tab, estimating 30-to-40 percent of the revenue would come from out-of-state drivers, a figure questioned by some Republicans.

Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, complained that lawmakers still don’t know what they’re actually voting on.

“There is not a concrete proposal in this bill,” she said. “I don’t know how many tolls I’m voting for, where they’re going to go, how many of them, what they will cost, what they cost people to drive through, how they will be priced, what it cost to operate them, let alone install them and what exactly will they bring in.”

The issue of tolling has been debated in the state legislature for numerous years. Proponents are hopeful this could be the year something passes, especially considering Lamont has been an outspoken supporter of tolling.

On Wednesday, the new governor urged members of the business community to “stand up” for the concept, arguing that transportation infrastructure is crucial to improving the state’s economy.

Lamont, who took office in January, had campaigned on truck-only tolls during the recent election. But he is now pushing for the wider-ranging tolls, arguing that truck-only tolls would not generate enough revenue. His administration estimates truck-only tolls would raise $200 million annually while tolls on cars and trucks could generate about $800 million annually.

Lamont on Wednesday also noted how a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit Tuesday over Rhode Island’s new truck tolls, finding that the court lacked jurisdiction and the case should be brought in the state court system. Lamont had hoped to get some clarity about the constitutionality of truck-only tolls from that case.

“I think this is going to be locked up in the courts in Rhode Island now for years to come,” he said. “That doesn’t help us.”


Danbury Spring Leaf Pick-Up program to being next month

Danbury’s Spring Leaf Pick-Up Program will begin on April 15th.  The collection will run for 6 weeks through May 24th.  Only leaves bagged in Paper Leaf Bags with no tape should be left curbside for the city’s Highway Department to pick-up.  Branches will be picked up separately.  They must be shorter than 4 feet and no larger than 4 inches in diameter.  Branches must be bundled with twine, no heavier than 35 pounds.  No large debris, grass, rocks, dirt, garbage or animal waste will be collected. Ferris Mulch Products accepts leaf bags, tree, and organic yard debris from Danbury residents at their Plumtrees Road facility.


Putnam County Sheriff's Office member graduates from FBI National Academy Program

A member of the Putnam County Sheriff's Office was among 250 law enforcement officers who graduated from the FBI National Academy Program at Quantico.  Road Patrol Captain Harry Tompkins III was part of the 275th Session of the National Academy.  It's ten weeks of advanced communication, leadership and fitness training for selected officers, who on average, have 21 years of law enforcement experience.  The Putnam County Sheriff’s Office now has 8 active members and 21 past members who have graduated from the FBI National Academy.


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