December 25, 2015
By Robert Storace
NEW BRITAIN — Without question, the biggest political story in the city in 2015 was the re-election in November of Republican Mayor Erin Stewart. The 28-year-old city native is believed to be the youngest female mayor in the country in a city with a population of at least 50,000. The Republicans also took control of the Common Council, doubling their number of seats from six to 12. Here are the five biggest political stories in New Britain this past year:
Jan. 20: Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services announces a major upgrade to New Britain’s bond rating. S&P increased its rating by three notches to “A” with a stable outlook, up from “BBB” in 2014. At the time S&P cited positive actions by the city as the primary drivers for the increase, namely returning to a structurally balanced budget and taking steps to remove contingent liabilities. The agency also highlighted the fact that the 2014-15 budget did not rely on one-time revenue or dipping into city reserves. At the time, Richard Thivierge, of William Blair & Co., the city’s underwriter, said, “A three-notch upgrade is very rare, especially coming on the heels of a downgrade last year.”
June 10: The Common Council voted 13-2 to adopt a $226.4 million 2015-16 budget that does not include a tax hike and has no layoffs of city employees. In addition, the tax rate remained at 49 mills. At the time, Mayor Erin Stewart said she was able to maintain the rate thanks to, mostly, to an increased Grand List that brought the city new tax revenues of about $750,000. Budget highlights include putting Local Capital Improvement Programs funds aside for several projects. They included $15,000 to repair the fountain at Martha Hart Park and $100,000 to add a greenhouse at the Senior Center. Also, there was a reduction in the police force from 172 to 169 officers. Those were vacant posts and there were no layoffs.
Sept. 23: Mayor Stewart announces that the city finished the 2014-15 fiscal year with a $7.8 million surplus. At the time, the mayor said her administration “watched the taxpayers money like hawks. We cut $16 million in the city’s operating budget. We saved money with contract negotiations with employees, unions changing their health care to HSAs (health savings accounts), changes in workers compensation and, yes, we were forced to raise taxes, despite all the cuts.” In September, Stewart reiterated that she had no choice but to raise taxes almost 11 percent her first year in office because of the financial situation that was left by her predecessor, Democrat Timothy O’Brien.
Nov. 3: Republican Mayor Erin Stewart handily won re-election to a second term defeating her Democratic challenger John McNamara and petitioning candidate Alfred Mayo. She also shocked the political establishment with Republicans — for the first time in 44 years — holding a majority on the Common Council. They now hold a 12-3 advantage. At the time, the mayor said she’d like to have a Master Plan for the downtown. The last one was in 2008. The mayor said she’d consider hiring a company that specializes in planning and starting the process in 2016. Also, Stewart said she’d like to look at the possibility of having a Charter Revision Committee.
Ongoing: The revamping of Central Park downtown. The demolition work in the park was completed in October and the park is substantially completed, officials said. Public Works Director Mark Moriarty said this month that — weather permitting — the brick work around the park should be completed by Jan. 1. Items like the installation of lighting and putting in flagpoles will take place in 2016. The remake of the park and its surrounding area is part of the city’s Streetscape project. The $4.21 million project includes expanding the park by about 30 percent and implementing aesthetic improvements such as granite seating and landscaping additions.
This story original appeared in the New Britain Herald