State of the Town Focuses on Small Business Growth
WETHERSFIELD - Before a packed house inside Wethersfield’s Keeney Memorial Cultural Center two weeks ago, Mayor Paul Montinieri, Town Manager Jeff Bridges and Superintendent of Schools Michael Emmett, amongst other speakers, highlighted a slew of local issues that included small business growth efforts, the ongoing high school renovation project, and incoming state grants at the State of the Town Address breakfast.

       The primary focus was on small businesses. Amidst an ongoing effort to bring new business into Wethersfield in order to boost economic development and reduce the tax burden on residents, Montinieri and personnel from the state Department of Economic and Community Development are pushing programs to help out enterprises that already exist in town.

       Montinieri and Department Deputy Commissioner Ronald Angelo introduced a growth initiative that includes loans for job creation and new equipment, amongst other uses, as well as matching grants for small businesses that have been up and running for at least a year and have less than 100 employees.

       Wethersfield saw the addition of 25 new businesses last year and retained five that were on the verge of leaving town, according to Planning and Economic Development Director Peter Gillespie.

       The State of the Town came shortly after news broke of a $10.3 million cost overrun, due primarily to escalating PCB abatement costs and higher-than anticipated construction bids. While members of the project building committee expect to be able to obtain $11-12 million from the state through a space waiver--a reimbursement for having square footage over what is required for a given student population--the possibility of having to go to referendum for more funds is not entirely off the table.

       “We have a lot of good people working on that issue, and we’re fully confident that we’ll have the building finished on time,” Bridges said during his portion of the address.

       Newly discovered PCBs found underneath the floor of gymnasium B and the school’s wrestling room, which prompted the temporary closing of an adjacent gym, will take place over February break, according to Emmett.

       In grant money, the town was recently awarded aid that will cover 9 percent of the cost of a $766,245 fire engine--an updated model that is supposed to be more maneuverable on tight streets and have newer equipment.

       “It takes about 30 years to replace a whole fleet, so it won’t be uncommon for us to replace them,” Bridges said.

       The town is also getting a $50,000 legislative grant to help fund the construction of a new picnic pavilion at Mill Woods Park. Another $50,000 of the cost was provided by the Loretta’s Dream Foundation, according to Bridges.