Three members of the Enfield Town Council have gotten together with Patch.com for a virtual "town hall meeting." Two members of the Council, Mayor Scott Kaupin (R) and Minority Leader Cindy Mangini (D) are long time veterans of the Council, while Councilman Tom Arnone (D) is serving his first term. Patch would like to thank these three councilmen, not only for their strong dedication to the people of Enfield, but also for their time in answering questions raised by Patch.
Just as an aside: Scott and I go back many years. I remember quite well Scott Kaupin as a student of mine (yes, I am that old or Scott is that young) in U.S. History. Even though we belong to different political parties (Scott as a Republican and me as a Democrat), I often kid Scott by asking him, "What did I do wrong that made you join the Republican party"? Scott, in his good natured manner, just laughs.
Part one of the interview is being published Tuesday; look for part two on Wednesday, and part three on Thursday.
Q: Thank you Scott, Tom, and Cindy. The first question that we'd like to ask each of you is: What are your thoughts about school consolidation? As I talk to people, most are receptive to consolidation. The question that they have is will there be any savings? That in the short term the taxpayers will be faced with a large bill that might only be mitigated in the long term?
Scott: I am in favor of the high school consolidation. Based on the demographic information provided by the school system, our town can benefit by combining the high schools into one facility. The benefits are many, but I believe the most important benefit is that the consolidation will improve education at the high school level. In late December and early January, the Department Chairmen for both high schools presented to the Strategic Planning Committee what the curriculum can look like at a consolidated high school. The course offerings can be expanded across all departments. Many of the courses that students and parents have been asking for can become part of the curriculum with out increasing staff. In some cases the Department Chairmen actually call for staff reductions. An analysis in 2010 projected the cost savings at $1.9 million annually in operational expenses. The consolidation does require the expansion and renovation of the one high school. The share to be paid for by the Town of Enfield is not yet known. An architect is being hired and the chosen firm will work with the Town, School System and the Pre-Referendum Steering Committee to arrive at the total cost and the amount to be funded through bonds.
Tom: If we do nothing, each high school will need renovations to comply with ADA (Americans with Disabilities) standards. The town doesn’t have exact numbers but it could cost between 2 and 6 million dollars to bring both schools to code. If we decide to combine the High Schools the cost of renovating one school could cost between 40 and 80 million according to the GM2 study.
For the sake of argument, if we spend 40 million on renovations and the state allows 60% reimbursement, that leaves us with 24 million dollars. According to that same study we will save approximately 1.7 million dollars a year in staff, benefits, bussing and athletics by combining the schools and an additional $237,000 in custodial and utility costs to the town. As a father of four and a grandfather of three, it’s not all about money. Our children will benefit from having one comprehensive high school that can offer a curriculum that is both broad and deep rather than maintaining two small schools with fewer classroom opportunities
Cindy: The high school consolidation should bring savings to the town. With one high school, there will be a reduction in staff, overall school equipment and supplies (including technology), and building and grounds maintenance. These items alone will save the taxpayers money.
Q: The Enfield Police Department is an outstanding one, and one that is in need of new equipment. I've been told that items like police cruisers and a new mobile police RV are some of the things that need to be purchased. Any thoughts on this?
Scott: The Town Council has been very supportive of the efforts of the Police Department to obtain the needed equipment, vehicles, training and staff to do their jobs effectively. Cruisers are on an every year replacement plan. We typically replace 6 – 10 cruisers per year depending on need. The Police Department will be transitioning to a new cruiser since Ford has stopped the production of the Crown Victoria. Unfortunately, this will add costs since we will need to equip each cruiser with new interior equipment that turns the vehicle from a car to a cruiser. We will not be able to reuse the interior equipment from a retired cruiser to a new cruiser. The Enfield Police Department has been very successful obtaining grants to help pay for new equipment. The new Mobile Command Unit has been secured with mostly grant dollars with the Police Department having to fund the remaining cost through their operational budget. The Police Department also receives grant funds for DUI Enforcement, Speed Enforcement and training initiatives with other law enforcement agencies. Our Police Department is nationally accredited and we have much to be proud of the men and women who serve our town.
Tom: I grew up around police. My dad started as a cop in the 50’s walking a beat in Thompsonville. Our Police Department has come a long way. We have a world class accredited department. The Police Department has taken advantage of regionalization saving tax payers money by sharing services with surrounding towns. Chief Carl Sferrazza has an opportunity to purchase a mobile police command center with a grant of $100,000 and his department has saved the remaining $54,000 so it will be budget natural. The department said it plans to deploy the vehicle in a range of situations, including violent crimes, crisis negotiations, public outreach and crime prevention events like DUI check points, and large crowd functions. They will also make the command center available to area towns. Police cruisers will be an up and coming topic for the department as well as the council. Ford has discontinued the Crown Victoria a favorite among police. Dodge and Chevy are vying for a piece of Ford’s 70% market share.
Cindy: There is no question that ours is a stellar police department. When the Chief presents new or replacement equipment such as “mobile RV’s” and updated cruisers, you can be sure that there is the need. Our Chief has proven himself to be fiscally responsible and this is evident in his “needs” request. Specifically, where there are grants available, the Chief will apply. Also, he will look to his budget to see if he can make any adjustments before approaching the Town for additional funding.
Q: People who are selling their homes, or who plan on using their homes as equity are concerned that reval brings the fair market value of their homes down substantially. This is obviously not just an Enfield issue, but is probably true state wide. Do you have any thoughts on alleviating the fears of homeowners on this issue?
Scott: The revaluation conducted this past year has resulted in an average decrease in value of just under 15%. As an average, there are homes that have decreased a greater amount and homes that have not done so. The decrease is a national trend and one we are seeing duplicated in communities across Connecticut. I believe the decrease is mostly related to the economic recession that we have been experiencing these past four to five years. As the economy begins to rebound, the values should also begin to rebound. Revaluation occurs every five years with a statistical revaluation planned for 2016
Tom: This appeared on the front page of Friday’s Hartford Courant: “Mortgage Scandal Settlement” a $25 billion landmark settlement against the nation’s five largest mortgage service companies. For home owners just trying to keep their homes, this settlement will provide some relief. As for equity, young home owners will need to wait it out. We still live in the greatest country the world. We will get through this
Cindy: It is true that home prices have declined not just in Enfield or in Connecticut, but nationwide. As a Realtor I deal with this issue daily. What I tell my Sellers is that they are not alone and that their home value is comparable to others on the market. This means that the market is consistent across the board and that all of the people selling their homes now are being compared with each other. Realistically, I do see the market starting to come around. There is hope for the future.