Infrastructure and continued fiscal stability headed the list, as , looking festive in a holiday-colored tie, this week spelled out his agenda for his sixth term.
Seated away from a desk already strewn with papers, DaRos conceded there are some matters his administration needs to finish, such as construction of the . for the new $12.5 million fire department headquarters, which is slated for completion by the middle of next year, took place in April.
“We want to take a look at and see how that’s coming out,” he said, adding that he expects a decision on the choice of the much-debated location at some point in January. One of the locations is the town-owned parcel by Tabor Drive, and the second is a parcel on Northeast Industrial Road.
The DPW project, he noted, can then go onto the books as a capital project in the FY 2012 budget.
What engages his enthusiasm as the number one item on his to-do list, however, is an inventory of town-owned properties—an inventory that the town began to conduct in earnest this week.
Said DaRos of the inventory: “I’d be looking to use these buildings a lot more efficiently than they are being used now, and somehow reduce the footprint a little bit. I think that we have a lot of buildings that we just own for the sake of owning.
“I think we can do a lot better,” he said of the properties that will undergo a soup-to-nuts examination, including the compilation of a file on each that will consist of such information as when and why the town acquired them, the cost of any repairs, parking availability, Americans with Disability Act compliance and energy-efficiency.
“Is there a better way of doing things?” he asked rhetorically. “That’s what we want to know. We may be combining departments or services and take a look at, are the buildings really adequate for what we expect out of these buildings”
As an example of a building’s suitability for its needs, he cited which he termed a great shelter for a storm. “The only problem is,” he said, “the road to it gets flooded, and you can’t get to it.”
“Those are the things we need to know and want to know,” he said.
When asked if the town would consider leasing space in the buildings should excess capacity be found, he replied, “Sure. Absolutely. Yes.”
He observed that, although the decision was not his to make, in his mind, the Depression-era, former U.S. Post Office just off the Green that the announced recently it will vacate would make a great location for retailers. And, although the purpose of the inventory is not, as he put it,to throw anybody out, he remarked that the town already leases a number of buildings.
“They’re certainly not moneymakers for the town by any means, because they’re being leased out at a dollar per year,” he said, “to organizations that basically contribute to the quality of life in Branford,” He put the space occupied by on Kirkham Street and , which provides care to senior citizens and their families, in that category.
Other infrastructure projects in his mind’s eye include working with the state to complete a full , fixing the bridge on School Ground Road and taking a good look at the intersection of School Ground Road and Rt. 139.
And as for the oft-discussed development of land by exit 53 off interstate 95, he acknowledged, once again, that he would like to see the design of the entire exit changed. He noted that, by moving one road over, the town would have one set of lights instead of the present three at that stretch. Then, he said, development by that exit would make sense. Conceding that securing monies from the state would take years, he said he would like to see the costs of the changes paid for by private enterprise.
“Private enterprise would have a road put up there in no time,” the First Selectman said.
DaRos noted that, while Branford is out actively promoting itself—for instance, by placing advertisements in the journal New England Real Estate—infrastructure plays a role in the town’s economic development.
“All we can do is make sure that our infrastructure is up to par when people come in here and look at the town as a whole—that they come in and they see what’s here. We’re a full-service town; we’re one of the few on the shoreline that is, that has its own water, power and communications, highway access, transportation access—and sewers. Not a whole lot of shoreline towns can say that. And those are the things that are important. That’s what we do as a government,” he said.
Also important during his sixth term, DaRos said, is the maintenance of the town’s fiscal health. In addition to noting the town’s AAA rating by Moody’s, he said that, while the grand list—the total valuation of real estate, personal property and motor vehicles—grew by less than one percent in 2010, “We went in the right direction. In this economic climate, just to be able to hold your own—you’re lucky.”
Typically, the town’s grand list grows by roughly two or three percent a year, he said.
He said that Branford is probably one of 10 municipalities in the state to have a AAA rating. “And of those ten, we have the lowest per capita income. So, you don’t have to be rich to be AAA,” he said.
Indeed, he sees Branford as a very diverse town. “When I’m talking diverse, I’m talking both ends of the scale. I’m meaning, like, ultra-rich to ultra-poor, and we got everything inbetween.
“I think the diversity of the community has always been Branford’s strength,” he said.
Although the nationwide economic slump has reduced revenues in Branford considerably, the budget years on the town side actually decreased last year.
Addressing employment within the town, he said, “If you want to know the truth, I would rather have 100 small businesses with 10 people working, than have one business with a 1,000. Because when that business decides to go to greener pastures or has a bad year, it has a huge impact on the community.
So, the businesses that we have, we have a lot of them. They are more stable, than having one large business, in this economy.”
He viewed the increased demand on town programs and services in a harsh economy as a responsibility and not a burden. He noted that a strong tradition of volunteerism and cash donations are helping Branford to weather the nation’s economic storm. “Yes, we’re being stressed,” he said, “but that’s a sign of the times. I don’t care where you are.”
“Branford’s coping because we have so many people that are willing to help,” he said. “The town does fund the best it can at the level that it can, but the volunteers and funds raised by generous donors more than match that.”
He said that he wants the town and the churches to work together on social needs. “I think if we work together,” he said, “we can do a lot more good with the limited resources that we have.”
“We’re going to continue what we’re doing,” he said, adding that he wants to make certain that the town stays as fiscally strong as it is. “That takes a lot of people to make it work,” he observed.
And as for the holiday season now underway and any items he might have on his own wish list, he laughed. “It’s a stressful time, but we’ll get through it,” he said.