With the end of 2021 and the beginning of the new year, the city’s administration is assessing its progress in the past 12 months and setting its sights on 2022. Mayor Nancy Rossi was quizzed about the goals reached by the city in the past year, and those she hopes to accomplish.
As with most things in West Haven, the goals are centered around making the city’s tax burden lighter for homeowners and shifting to a better commercial/industrial tax base. That includes several projects and processes accomplished over the last year, according to Mrs. Rossi.
“The city was successful in improving our aging infrastructure and aggressively marketing the city for Economic Development,” she said. “The city achieved both priorities. On the city’s aging infrastructure, we implemented a citywide program to update and improve city parks and athletic facilities, expand the paving and sidewalk repair program, and begin addressing some of our shorefront issues with the replacement of the flood gates at the Cove River,”
according to the mayor, the city replaced the half-century-old pedestrian bridge and gates at the Cove River, helping solve a long-standing problem, while attacking another beach-related issue.
“(We) have applied for the permit application for the raising of Beach Street,”
That project is looking to solve flooding problems that have plagued that area for decades but were made worse by hurricane and large storms over the past several years. The mayor then transitioned to economic issues.
“On Economic Development, we are seeing a significant interest in West Haven. Specifically, the landing of the New England Brewing Company, the sale of both the old Chick’s property and Debonair Hotels to developers, the construction of 7-Eleven on Sawmill Road and the approval of the Special Taxation District for The Havens project are among the many success stories for the city in 2021,” she said.
For the coming year, Mrs. Rossi has outlined an ambitious list of priorities:
~~ Approve a $29 million American Rescue Plan Act plan and begin its implementation;
~~ Sign an inter-local agreement with The Haven’s group to move the project forward and clean up the area:
~~ Design the new Washington Elementary School;
~~ Complete the final phase of the new West Haven High School;
~~ Open the New England Brewery at Savin Rock;
~~ Assist the developers on Beach Street to begin moving their projects forward;
~~ Finalize an agreement to bring a large development project to Allingtown;
~~ Initiate the design and renovation of the art center; and
~~ Aggressively market the city for new commercial development.
The list has one goal: more revenue.
“All (is done) with the goal of increasing the city’s commercial grant list to stabilize our tax mill rate,” she said.
Meanwhile, the city will continue to “clean up our city, remove blight and be fiscally responsible.”
When she came into office in December 2017, Mrs. Rossi was confronted with a reality of state oversight of city finances. That was prompted by a newly passed law by the General Assembly, which allowed municipalities to bond to pay off longstanding debt. The trade off was state oversight. The acronym “MARB,” or “Municipal Accountability Review Board,” became part of city governance. It will continue in the coming year, but with a diminished presence.
“The city will continue under MARB in 2022 but the city will not request or receive any state restructuring grants funds. The city can now stand on its own financially and the city will begin negotiating and planning for exiting the MARB oversight in the future. The MARB will have little, if any, influence or say in the city’s goals in 2022,” she said.
Economic forces will have much to do with the success or failure of the goals set out by the administration. Rossi sees hope and some wild cards
“The funding is in place to move the city’s goals for 2022 forward immediately. The COVID-19 global pandemic will be a challenge for contractors to obtain the material for some of the projects, but I think the goals and timelines are reasonable,” she said.
Since it was announced almost eight years ago, the Haven has been an albatross around the city’s neck with little happening toward its completion. Part of the problem has been the developer’s reticence to give timely updates to city officials.
Rossi said a new agreement with the developer might move things along more quickly.
“The city and the Simon Property Group are currently negotiating an Inter-local agreement which will better outline the schedule for development of The Haven project. Once the agreement is complete, we expect a timeline and reasonable expectations for the project,” she said.
Among other things she hopes to accomplish as listed above, is the completion of the Arts Center at the former Masonic Temple on Center Street. First announced 18 years ago, the project has languished as private funding has not been able to come by. A recent award by the State Bonding Commission may make the desire for an arts center – considered a hub for downtown redevelopment – a reality.
Maintenance and improvements of city parks and facilities remain an ongoing goal, according to the mayor, and round out her hopes for 2022.