Monday, October 6, 2008
Hot topics at the Common Council meeting
One would have guessed that the hot topics at tonight's Common Council meeting would be the disposition of Cucia Park and the proposed study of Middletown Fire Districts.
One might have been wrong. With the current financial turmoil as a backdrop, questions for directors ate up exactly three hours of the meeting. Middletown's IT director was grilled for an hour about proposed additions to staff which would have allowed the department to handle computer issues in town more readily. More than one Council member questioned these already-budgeted postions as to much to handle in difficult financial times. Another long debate ensued over a program to employ retired residents in minor city positions (e.g. hosting a vistor's information desk at City Hall), and providing these residents with a reduction in tax payments to the city. The debate hinged on whether these residents would be covered under Workers' Comp insurance. This resolution was referred to the finance committee for clarification.
During the earlier public session, Cucia Park, and the Fire District study were the topics of public commentary.
Arline Rich spoke against the Fire Distric study indicating that it was opening the door for a potential consolidation of Middletown's three fire districts. "The Westfield Fire District has the lowest tax rate in the city for fire services. A consolidation would raise our taxes and have a negative financial impact on residents and businesses." Stephen Devoto also of Westfield, praised the performance of the Fire District. Speaking in defense of the South Fire District, Sandra Russo-Driska, chair of the South Fire District also emphasized the lower tax rate in the South District, and the superior service residents receive.
On the topic of the placement of an Army Reserve Training Center in Cucia Park, Barrie Robbins-Pianka lamented the decision by the city to allow any center to be built in city limits, suggesting rather that a regional site search would have better served Middletown, the region and the army. She did ask for one amendment in the proposed Council resolution, and that was to remove the suggestion that a River Road site was a second choice for the Reserve's Center.
"It could not be more clear that the small park (Cucia) is the first choice," she said. "Remove the River Road language from the resolution."
Larry McHugh, president of the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce stood before the Council and scolded anyone who opposed welcoming the Army to Middletown. He noted that the Army Reserve Training Center would help the brave men and women who serve our state and our country.
No one, in all the meetings on the topic, has ever expressed anything but support for those brave men and women.
In addition, McHugh, who claimed to be speaking for "thousands of Middletown residents, and members of the Chamber," said that these thousands of unnamed residents, who apparently had not had the time or inclination to attend any meetings, were in full support of the Center.
Debate and voting on the issues didn't begin until nearly 11 pm. The debate, discussion and vote on the resolution to study fire districts was postponed until a Council meeting on Jan. 5, 2009.
On the topic of Cucia Park, Councilor Tom Serra offered an amendment to the resolution, further shaped by Councilman Gerry Daley, which would require the city to purchase park land or open space equivalent to the acreage lost in the sale of Cucia Park, if the land is sold to the army.
The resolution to recommend Cucia Park passed 11-1.