By Josh LaBella
The questions were many, and they were varied. Dozens of residents showed up at City Hall last week for a town hall give-and-take.
At the Jan. 29 meeting Mayor Nancy N. Rossi faced a number of questions from residents, with concerns ranging from blight, traffic and parking problems, development, and the Municipal Accountability Review Board (MARB).
The meeting was co-hosted by the New Haven University Political Science Department. A junior international development and diplomacy major, Douglas Gordon, was the moderator.
Rossi, who said she preferred this form of event to giving speeches, was happy with the turnout, especially given the weather, which was in the single digits. She told the assembly she liked connecting one-on-one with people.
She said she thought the main concerns she heard that night were about development, and increasing the city’s stagnant tax base.
“I think ‘Development’ because nobody wants to pay taxes,” said Rossi. “So, the idea that if we have better development or more development, like commercial, we will have a have a better tax base, a bigger grand list, [and] we won’t have to pay as much in taxes.”
One resident from Chauncey Street asked the mayor what was being done about the lack of employment opportunities in the city. She referenced the Haven project and noted it was supposed to add 1,200 to 5,000 jobs. The mayor said the Haven is still being built and that it was a stalled project when she came into office but is now making progress.
“The site plan was approved in July,” said Rossi. “Now they are going through DOT. They (were) going through, hopefully, their last round of comments on Jan. 9. They will be starting something within the next six weeks.”
A citizen, via Facebook Live, asked what other revenue projects were in the works. The mayor referenced the Stiles and Thompson schools, which are up for bid, and mentioned the Savin Rock Conference Center being a point of interest for the city.
“We are trying to seek funding,” said Rossi. “We don’t want to sell it. We would like to see a management company take over and (make it) a wedding destination, a restaurant … a brewery — a combination of any of that. That way it would constantly be a revenue stream.”
Rossi said the problem with selling something like the conference center, when it has not been maintained, is the city would not get as much money for it. The mayor said they were looking for different types of continuing revenue streams, not just one-time sales.
One question the mayor fielded asked why the beachfront was not being utilized. The mayor responded by saying much of the waterfront is in a flood zone and, therefore, the road will need to be raised in order to develop there. Rossi said raising the road would cost $7 million.
On the topic of the MARB, which took emergency control of the city to its poor finances, Rossi said it has control over budgets, the mill rate and any contract over $50,000. She said the city was able to secure the first $8 million of funds from them and is in the process of getting another $8 million in 2019.
One resident, who said he worked in finance, claimed the mayor had cut police staffing by $200,000 and, when the mayor denied the claim, became agitated, using off-color language. He said he had the budget with him and showed it to the mayor on his phone. She noted the cut to police funding was not in staffing but other areas of their budget.
After to event, the mayor said he was looking at the bottom line of the budget, not the staffing line item. She said she could see who sent the resident the information.
“I know exactly who it was,” said Rossi, who said she saw the initials EO on the man’s phone. “It was Edward O’Brien.”