As the new year opens, city officials are looking back and looking forward with a particular eye on the biggest story of the year, the decade, and, so far, the century. COViD-19, the virus that originated in China and found its way all over the world affected West Haven as it had everywhere else.
Officials hope the latest upsurge will subside and allow some semblance of normality to return. Both mayor Nancy Rossi and Chairman of the City Council Ron Quagliani were asked about 2020 and what they hoped for 2021.
Assessing last year, Mayor Rossi said the virus limited what the city could accomplish.
“West Haven fared like most communities across the state and country and struggled when the Corona Virus (COVID-19) hit us in March. We saw many businesses forced to temporarily close or limit capacity. The Federal Government’s Payroll Protection Program helped but our business community, especially small businesses, continue to struggle,” she said. “Our residents, as always, have been terrific in supporting our local business community, which was critical to their survival and very much appreciated. The city agonized with the mandated spring lockdown and was forced to limit or cancel many activities throughout the year. We produced virtual events when possible, which I think our residents enjoyed under the circumstances, but I look forward to having in-person events in 2021.”
For Quagliani, took a more “recent” approach, touting the recently published budget audit for Fiscal Year 2021 that ended June 30.
“The City Council has been notified by the mayor that the audit has been completed on-time and will be presented to us in January for review. The audit is on-time for the first time in well over a decade. I believe that the audit will show a fund balance of somewhere around $3m. Just four years ago the City was experiencing a cumulative deficit of over $16m. I anticipate FY ’22 to be one of continued fiscal prudency with investment in public safety, education, infrastructure and cybersecurity improvement, and efficiency and process enhancement,” he said.
Asked about goals for the new year, Rossi looked to the audit as one goal accomplished, but hoped 2021 would offer more personal events, and looked to the yearlong city centennial as a possible target.
“One of my top goals, since taking office, was the annual audit would be on time, I have achieved that goal and you should have received the press release with details,” she said.
“My hope is we can get back to some type of normality in the coming months with the rollout of the approved vaccines. The city’s priority is and will continue to be the public health and safety of our residents and making sure that we all have timely access to one of the vaccines when available. I want to celebrate our centennial and our city’s long and storied history—with in-person events! The city will continue the progress and regain our momentum in improving West Haven with more economic development and investment in our infrastructure. We have put our community on a fiscally responsible path, which will now allow us to invest in our properties and improve our quality-of-life standard in the community.”
Quagliani looked to economic development in a more particular way as goals he hoped the city and City Council would focus on in the next year.
“The City Council will work with the mayor and department heads to once again approve a balanced budget built on realistic revenue and expense assumptions that provides for the needs of our residents while practicing fiscal restraint,” he said. “We will work with the Mayor and all city departments to foster new economic development opportunities within our city with focus on our recently enacted Enterprise Zone, the Downtown, Beach Street, and Sawmill corridors. We will also work to further existing projects to completion such as The Haven, the Stiles –Thompson – Blake school developments, and the Savin Rock Conference Center project.”
As far as what disappointments they had for the year, both leaders had their own take.
Rossi looked to decisions that had to be made that curtailed city events.
“I was disappointed we had to make some unpopular public health decisions with regard to closing or limiting access to public buildings and spaces. We had big plans for 2020 including bringing back the popular Savin Rock Festival, but due to the pandemic, it was not possible in 2020. We were also forced to cancel many of our traditional and popular in-person celebrations such as the annual fireworks, the Memorial Day parade, the ethnic and seasonal celebrations and the 911 and veteran ceremonies. It is our intention to hold these events again beginning in the summer,” the mayor said.
Quagliani mourned the loss of life, and the toll the pandemic took, but he also saw the effect it had on youth.
“I especially feel for our youth who have lost a part of that youth this year in ways that no others before them have experienced with the disruption of school, sports, graduations, interactions with friends and family, and the feelings of loneliness and isolation. My anticipation is that 2021 will be a year of hope and begin a post-COVID era for West Haven and the world. I look forward to a time again where we can be together with our family, friends, and neighbors or at a community gathering, ballgame, or watching our children or grandchildren walk across a stage at graduation,” he said. “On a lighter note, I am looking forward again to in-person City Council meetings where I don’t have to run a meeting with 15 people on my computer screen each in their little box hoping my Internet holds. I am looking forward to NOT saying things like ‘you’re muted’ any longer as well.”
Finally, when asked about the Municipal Accountability Review Board (MARB), both officials looked to the end of the oversight.
Rossi said the panel will still look at city finances, but its influence will decrease.
“The MARB will still be involved in West Haven during 2021 but their oversight and financial commitments will be phasing out and winding down. We have balanced three consecutive budgets and implemented the necessary structural changes and policies to ensure fiscal responsibly and a bright future,” she said.
Quagliani said the council will do what it has done to secure the city’s fiscal stability.
“The City Council will continue to advocate for our residents with the MARB. We will continue to work collaboratively with the MARB in 2021 as we have for the past 3-plus years. I do believe that the mayor and this City Council have demonstrated to the MARB that our budgeting practices are sound by implementing balanced budgets, where revenues are not overstated, and expense lines are not overspent. This fiscal prudency, with the MARB’s assistance, has led the city from a double-digit deficit to a fund balance and a rating agency outlook improvement from Negative to Stable,” he said.