A year of change: Newington saw budget struggles, approved new Town Hall

Published on Friday, 29 December 2017 22:57
Written by Erica Schmitt


NEWINGTON - The past year was one of acceptance and resolve for the town.

It began with an appeal from the city of Hartford, for help paying its bills. A plea of the canine variety came over the summer, along with 22 new residents seeking homes. The year closed out with a triumphant finish, as voters finally approved a project that’s been more than a decade in the making.

The Town Council and Board of Education went through their own conflicts, negotiations and resolution all the while. In fact, it wasn’t until summer that the two bodies were able to come to an agreement over budgetary matters that are usually settled mid-spring.

Residents dealt with grief and horror in September, when 46-year-old Patricia Torbicki was killed by her husband Michael Torbicki, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran.

As the holiday season rung its bell in this tight-knit, middle-class suburb, new elected officials entered office and attention centered on a food pantry that needed filling.

Dealing with Hartford’s woes

It was actually the very end of 2016 when town officials were met with the news. Hartford had an $11 million problem and Newington could be responsible for $750,000 of it.

The town was joined in the dilemma by seven others that, along with Hartford, share membership of the Metropolitan District Commission. Each pays its own sewer and water fees and city officials were uncertain as to how they could fit their bill while $50 million in debt.

Town residents and officials balanced feelings of sympathy and frustration. Some pleaded to their state representatives to protect their rights as taxpaying citizens. Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin visited the town late in January to address the concerns. The capital city’s health and wellness should be important to everyone, he told a crowd gathered in Town Hall.

“We’re all in the same boat,” Bronin said. “Hartford may be in the end with the hole in it, with our feet in the water, but it’s the same boat.”

In March the Town Council passed a resolution that would keep others’ hands out of the town’s pockets. Later this past spring, House Bill 6008 fell on the governor’s desk. In it the state Senate and House of Representatives made provisions to protect MDC member towns if one defaults on its payment. The bill was signed into law May 16.

Now the state is required to pay the MDC before granting a defaulting town any funds. The act also established an independent consumer advocate to serve as liaison between the MDC and municipalities.

Saving our Southern friends

Twenty-two dogs arrived in Newington in early September after a long trip from Houston, Texas.

Connecticut Humane Society staff and volunteers embarked on a rescue mission after Hurricane Harvey. The dogs were living in a shelter in Galveston when the storm struck, causing widespread devastation. Suddenly pets separated from their families were arriving and space was limited. As the others awaited reunions with their loved ones, the shelter dogs moved up north. The group underwent medical evaluations and treatment upon arrival, under 48-hour quarantine.

Nearly four months later, most have found new homes.

Sapphire, a black lab mix in good health, was adopted that very same week. Many more went home over the next several weeks. They were spayed or neutered and had healed from illnesses like upper respiratory infections.

Only five Texans have yet to be adopted. They are still recovering from heartworm.

“The treatment takes multiple rounds and several months,” CHS Marketing and Communications Manager Susan Wollschlager explained. “They will be resting in foster homes while they receive their treatment and heal from the parasite, and then they will be ready for official adoption.”

She and fellow animal advocates are grateful to the community for donating food and supplies. Also to those who welcomed one of the dogs into their home.

“Supporters made it possible to give these pups a fresh start in New England, so we’re very thankful for everyone who donated or made one of these dogs a part of their family,” Wollschlager said.

Finally, a new Town Hall

A new Town Hall is in the near future.

After many years and many failed and rejected plans, one finally made its way out of the polls successfully on Nov. 7.

Voters overwhelmingly approved a $28.8 million, 72,000-square-foot rebuild of Newington Town Hall and the Mortensen Community Center.

Nearly three-quarters of voters said ‘yes’ to the big question, allowing the town to proceed with what people called “the best plan for the right price.”

As 2018 begins the town is expected to use its excellent bond rating to secure funds for the long-overdue project.

Building Committee Chairman Joe Harpie has promised to give residents the building they asked for. Those weary of the large-scale endeavor will not be disappointed with the final product, he says.

Town Hall offices will be divided accordingly, with separate entrances for the transition academy, human services and town business.

New plumbing, heating and cooling systems and handicapped accommodations will ground the facility, making it accessible, comfortable and workable for all who use it. Parks and Recreation headquarters will boast two gymnasiums, a preschool wing, basketball courts and other activity areas to accommodate a growing clientele.

Construction is expected to last 18 months, beginning next summer with a fall 2019 completion.

Posted in New Britain Herald, Newington on Friday, 29 December 2017 22:57. Updated: Friday, 29 December 2017 22:59.