Mayor Stewart Presents 2020 State of the City

To all of those gathered here in our Council Chambers tonight: Welcome to City Hall and thank you for being with us. Hello to all of our citizens watching on Nutmeg TV and online at as well.

Distinguished members of the Common Council, elected officials, department leaders, city employees, and most importantly, my fellow citizens – I come before you tonight to deliver the annual state of the city address.

This evening is a chance to reflect on how far we have come, and where we are headed to next.

It’s an opportunity to celebrate our victories and chart our course forward for the years ahead.

During my time as Mayor, I’ve been blessed to share many of my life’s milestones with you. Whether it was buying my first home, getting married and now preparing to become a mother. Every step in life has informed and enhanced my perspective and deepened my commitment to see our City thrive. But of all the things we have been through together, of all the challenges we have faced and overcome, nothing has steeled my resolve to make New Britain stronger, safer and more prosperous than knowing that this is where my child, like me, will grow up. Everything I am – I owe to this City and I will do everything I can to ensure that my child – and all our children – have every opportunity to reach life’s fullest potential.

I stand before you tonight to tell you that the State of our City, much like the state of your Mayor, is growing…but we are certainly not without growing pains.

I think we should begin by addressing an important issue that over the last two years contributed to these growing pains – hyper-partisanship and coordinated obstruction, here at the local level. We cannot do the jobs that our residents hired us to do if we start from the premise that any idea brought by the Mayor must be bad, or any concept advanced by the Democratic minority must be wrong.

I’ve said it before, no one in this room has a monopoly on ideas for what is right for New Britain. We do a disservice to our taxpayers and to ourselves when we involve
ourselves when we are constantly in a political attack ad campaign that never ends. Fortunately, tonight, I am optimistic. I believe that, collectively, we are past that now and I look forward to fostering a productive relationship between my office and this Council. That begins by truly listening to what others have to say before we form an opinion, and when we disagree we do so respectfully and thoughtfully. There will be many difficult challenges in the coming months, and I look forward to facing them and conquering them…together.

At the top of list of challenges is our daily struggle to restore our City to financial stability. In a City like New Britain, our financial pressures are never solved…they are managed. We’ve worked very hard over the last seven years to get our fiscal house in order, but it will likely be several more years—and a few more tough decisions to make—several more tough decisions actually – before we are truly out of the woods. We have been able to keep our mill rate stable the past few years, made possible in large part due to the continued growth of our grand list as businesses move-in or expand within our City. Every tax dollar that is raised is a dollar that doesn’t have to be paid by our residents, so I will remain a staunch advocate in creating an environment where businesses large and small can locate, grow and thrive.

We have also continued our respectful partnership with our friends in labor, negotiating contracts firmly but fairly that to do right by our employees but that also reflect the economic realities facing New Britain.
We have done our best to actively manage our City’s debt load, bonding only for those items that are the most essential and the most appropriate candidates for long-term financing – including two beautiful new schools in Gaffney and Smalley. We have undertaken several restructuring transactions to take advantage of low rates and give us time to let the structural changes we have made bear fruit and generate savings. Given what has happened to interest rates over the past month, we are monitoring market conditions with an eye toward always achieving the lowest cost of capital for New Britain. The annual budget, has just been submitted to me by the Board of Finance and Taxation; I’m ready to get to work.

As always, there’s uncertainty with our State. No matter what year it is, we hear and see the same story regarding state aid; the legislature can never seem to get their act together. While we are poised to gain nearly $4 million in new funding in the proposed budget, all to go to the Board of Education, we know nothing is set in stone until the legislature approves a final spending plan. We are still short over $1 million that was
promised from last year. Thankfully we have a solid finance team with Director Lori Granato, who are working hard to make the most out of what we have.

With that said, let’s take a look back at the last 365 days.

Over the last year, we cut the ribbon on more new businesses. A handful of others decided to expand their presence here in the City with renovations and additions. The biggest of them all, Polamer Precision, recently purchased 27 acres in the Pinnacle Business Park. The company plans to expand its operating capacity, bringing 600 new jobs to an employer who places an emphasis on hiring within the community and contributing to our tax base.

Some businesses, like Security Uniforms, celebrated major milestones, having been in operation for 100 years! It’s a testament to the resiliency of our business community.
In 2019, over $10 million in commercial real estate sales took place in our downtown alone, a sign of the positive direction of our City that outside investors see and value. Of course I have to mention our Economic Development Director Bill Carroll, who has been the link between businesses and City Hall, helping forge relationships that have resulted in growth.

Our Grand List grew for the sixth year in a row, and is expected to grow even more with major projects like the Energy and Innovation Park partially joining our tax rolls this year. We all know the struggle we face to get our fair share of funding that we are owed, particularly in a community where 48 percent of all property is not on the tax rolls. That is not a problem unique to New Britain. If you follow the news, you know that cities like Hartford and New Haven also have nearly half of their land area listed as non-taxable. In my capacity as a board member of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, one of my priorities is working with my fellow mayors to develop a solution that balances the essential roles played by our non-profit entities with the stark reality that the services they enjoy cost real money and must be paid for by someone.

While I wish the grand list were growing at a faster rate, we make do with what we’ve got. Isn’t that how you’re raised in New Britain? We are continuing to chip away at the things that improve our neighborhoods and overall quality of life.

Several blighted buildings around town have been torn down, bringing new life to our neighborhoods. Long neglected buildings on Fairview, Carmody, Lawlor, and Gilbert have all been taken down, making way for new development & green spaces.

Students in the North Oak area attended a new school this fall, following the renovation of Smalley and if we ever get a feasibility study from the BOE Chamberlain will be next.

The iconic Beehive Bridge opened in September, marking the start of a colorful and bright new era for New Britain. Residents and CTfastrak commuters now have a welcoming walk between our downtown and the East Main Street/Broad Street business districts. We recently learned that the American Council of Engineering Companies awarded the Beehive Bridge a National Engineering Excellence Award…an honor that will be bestowed upon the City during an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. next month.

I have continued to live by the motto “people want to invest in cities that are investing in themselves”. We certainly continue to invest in ourselves. We made infrastructure improvements, including a new parking lot on Broad Street, dam improvements and improved recreation areas at Stanley Quarter Park, and changes to Eddy Glover Boulevard to make it safer for motorists. We created a new sidewalk program and spent millions on paving our streets. We’ve enhanced the quality of our parks with improvements to A.W. Stanley and Chelsey parks too! Thank you to Parks and Rec Director Erik Barbieri for leading this charge to ensure that all of our parks get the attention they deserve.

Throughout 2019, we worked hard to make City Hall more accessible and transparent with the continuation of my Facebook series 40 Live, along with our Mobile Mayor’s Office, which was held at 12 different locations all across the City. In a recent survey conducted by DataHaven, 65 percent of residents surveyed said they felt heard by our local government, a nearly 10 percentage point increase since 2015. When we have an understanding of what’s important to our residents, we can serve you better.

(look at camera) You asked for more “fun things” and you got it – last year Bees took flight all across the community with the launch of Bees Across New Britain. This fun art project has brought many smiles to the faces of individuals who have encountered these bees all across our City.

You asked for better housing options and you got it. We’ve increased our housing capacity – residents will soon move into brand new units at the beautiful Columbus Commons. In a few short months many more units will be available, as projects on Court Street, Main Street and Prospect Street are completed.

You asked to expand our tax base and you got it – The first phase of the $1 billion Energy and Innovation Park is underway. This one of a kind project will help to establish New Britain as a leader in clean energy technology, as we prepare to become host to the world’s largest indoor-fuel cell-powered data center. A special shoutout to members of the SMART City committee—Mark Moriarty, John Delgadillo, and Paul Salina—for your work in this area. We are making New Britain a smarter, and more energy efficient City.

You asked us to be more compassionate and you got it – We worked together to end chronic family homelessness, we implemented a plan and successfully housed 44 homeless youth in 100 days, we started a new task force called “New Britain Recovers” to battle the opioid epidemic, and breathed new life into a Local Prevention Council to help educate and keep our youth safe. New Britain was Connecticut’s only major City that saw a decrease in fatal drug overdoses in 2019, a testament to the work that we are doing around the opioid epidemic. We will forge forward with our plan and commit to reducing opioid related deaths by 50% by 2021. In just a few short months, Community Services Director Mallory Deprey has seamlessly shepherded these three initiatives and we owe much of their successes to her unrelenting leadership.

Chief Chute is a member of “New Britain Recovers” and he can tell you firsthand the results we are seeing. We are investing in NBPD staff and doubling-down on our community-oriented policing efforts. And over the last 5 years major crimes have plummeted, decreasing 39.2 percent.

I would be remiss if I didn’t take time to mention our outgoing Deputy Chief of Police, Jeanette Portalatin. She broke many barriers while here at NBPD. It’s appropriate especially coming on the heels of international women’s day, seeing that DC Portalatin was the first woman to shatter the glass ceiling of police work in New Britain. She also holds a new title and that is for the shortest tenure of a deputy chief in NBPD history clocking in at 9 months. Jeanette, we forgive you and we wish you well on your retirement.

We’re putting New Britain on the map! We’re changing people’s perception and perspective about our City. Through our Experience the New marketing initiative, we are making New Britain a destination location. We’ll be launching new marketing materials in the coming months, including an updated version of the ever so popular visitor’s guide.

Our quality of life is improving and we can see the results everywhere. Residents are feeling hopeful about the direction of the City. To get back to that survey I talked about earlier – our residents rate the City as a great place to raise children, say that the City is safe, and boast about the excellent public parks and recreational facilities. These same residents say the local economy is growing and appreciate their ability to influence local government.

In that same survey, residents say that their overall feelings about the City are strongly improving. They agree that the City has many amenities within walking distance. Moreover, these residents said that the City’s youth have positive role models and that people in their neighborhood can be trusted . They love our Parks and Recreation programming and we’re going to add one more reason to love them to the list – the widely popular Main Street USA will be finally making it triumphant return to Main Street this Fall on September 19th!

Residents are proud to be from New Britain once again…Hurricane pride is back and it’s stronger than ever!

Hurricane Pride is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. It is something that is inherently part of who I am as a person; it is the driving force behind my involvement in politics and fueled my desire to run for Mayor. I am doing this job right now because I feel it is my duty to the generations of today and tomorrow, to give them a City where they can feel the same sense of pride I felt growing up.
Recently, I read a letter that spoke to this same point – and it moved me enough for me to share part of it here with you tonight:

“When I look back on my childhood I remember all the great things about this City I came to love. I remember being a part of things that had nothing to do with me but left memories a kid only from my generation could remember.

“An old coach once told me the beauty about New Britain kids is their never ending love to compete, their passion and their drive to come out on top. There was an attitude that came with growing up in this city not many other people could appreciate or understand.

“I guess when you’re from the school of “have-nots” – as some would like most of us to believe – you’re expected to accept certain things in life. Maybe even expected to roll over and be satisfied. For my generation the one thing we would come to expect is winning. Our desire to compete, even if we were not the most talented, trumped any other road block or speed bump thrown in our path.”
We have to compete – we cannot always settle, sure we have our growing pains, but we have all we need to keep winning. We have to tell ourselves that we are winners. We will always strive to do the best we can with what we’ve got – it’s the hurricane way.

So the question presented before all of us here tonight, is how do we build off of our successes and build a model for the future that continues to foster and grow our renewed sense of Hurricane pride?
I know I am committed to an agenda that will do it. My agenda is not left or right, but rather forward; an agenda that prioritizes progress, puts New Britain first, and works towards advancing our City on every metric. An agenda of competing, and winning.

We will continue our commitment to economic growth and development by working with the developers of Columbus Commons to bring Phase 2 to life.

We will continue to invest in ourselves and our next generation by tackling renovations to our next school in the waiting.

We will continue transforming our government by making our City smarter and more energy efficient through new projects that we are shepherding through the SMART City plan;

We will continue to open the doors of communication to everyone city wide by expanding access to government information;

We will continue to protect taxpayers by marketing our city effectively, investing in development, searching for new sources of revenue, and reducing wasteful spending.

Finally, we will approach government with a renewed sense of bipartisanship and honor the will of voters, who in their ultimate wisdom, bestowed upon us a relatively split council. We will continue winning.

Our work is never done, but that’s because New Britain has unlimited potential.

It is my promise to you that I am not going anywhere – (pause) – I will continue to do the hard work: to reach out to encourage cooperation and progress, to build our city up, to keep changing perceptions and perspectives, to continue to defy the odds –and win.

Thank you all for your time this evening, May God Bless each of us and may He continue to bless our beloved city of New Britain.