The global pandemic shut down local economies. But as the economies emerge with the first signs of a solid rebound, municipal finances and local businesses are benefitting. Ridgefield is no exception.
Behind the leadership of Democratic-led boards and commissions, the Town of Ridgefield posted a $1.3 million surplus for the fiscal year ended June 30 as it became a much-desired destination.
Between 300 to 400 people moved to town this past year as they migrated from the cities to the suburbs. As a result, the town’s conveyance tax revenue from real estate transactions finished the year at $1.6 million, about $800,000 above forecast. That’s best illustrated by real estate sales in March, which finished the month at $52.8 million, well above the more typical $19-$23 million of recent years. At the end of the fiscal year in June, the town had a $13 million reserve fund balance.
The past year also made for some interesting financial offsets. The Ridgefield Golf Course, benefitting from many residents having discovered a new-found love for golf, posted $1.6 million in revenue or about $300,000 above forecast. The gain partially offset a $650,000 net loss at the Recreation Center, which struggled as programming was shut down for long stretches during the past fiscal year.
The solid finances, under the stewardship of Democratic First Selectman Rudy Marconi and Board of Finance Chairman David Ulmer, have gone a long way toward holding down taxes. A 0.32% increase in the mill rate to 28.21 was approved recently for the 2021-2022 fiscal year. The town maintained its AAA bond rating which makes for easier borrowing that in turn can help fund schools and other projects that keep Ridgefield a highly desired place to live and work.
The town also will benefit from nearly $7.3 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding, about $3 million of which has been received. Ridgefield leaders will seek broader input into how the money will be spent and will be transparent in their actions as the town recovers from a pandemic that claimed 43 lives and hit the finances of local businesses.
Ridgefield’s solid fiscal position also will go a long way toward continuing the many capital projects in town. For example, the Town is expected to break ground next spring in Branchville on a $2.3 million joint town/state project that will add new four- to five-foot wide sidewalks, street lamps, landscaping and a redesign of the routes 102/7 intersection. The town will fund about 20% of the improvements ($460,000).
Among the other capital projects either underway, nearing a starting point or on the drawing boards are:
- The $50 million renovation of the District I Wastewater Treatment Plant off South Street is back on track after being delayed by the pandemic. The state asked the town to undertake the project to meet new regulations ad environmental standards of the federal Clean Water Act and funding was approved in 2018. The improvements are design to cut the levels of nitrogen and phosphorus released in to the nearby Great Swamp, which drains into the Norwalk River. While project costs have run slightly over budget due to pandemic-related delays, the overruns will be offset to bring the renovation within the budget.
- Work is underway on the $570,000 project that’s expanding the 63-space Governor Street parking lot between the RVNA and the Boys and Girls Club to add another 37 spaces. Meanwhile, with the U.S. Postal Service having moved mail-handling operations in May to the Danbury annex an additional 40 parking spaces potentially will open up behind the Catoonah Street post office as mail trucks and 21-25 employees shift to the new location. Constructive discussions are underway between the town and the building’s landlord, Benenson Real Estate Corp., on reallocating the spaces, potentially for public parking.
- On the horizon are plans for a long-sought new public safety administration building that would combine police, fire and ambulance at one site. Discussions are underway on building the new facility on a portion of the Schlumberger property on Quarry Road that the town acquired in 2012. The new building would replace aging facilities, which in the case of the fire house, was built in 1908. Plans for centralizing operations have been underway for years. Among them was a 1998-99 study that recommended police, fire and ambulance dispatching be combined at the police headquarters.
- Amid the improvements, Ridgefield in June became the state’s first municipality with a designated “cultural district.” The Connecticut Office of the Arts approved Ridgefield’s bid in May in capping a two-year process and setting the stage for a cultural district stretching from the Keeler Tavern Museum & History Center through Ballard Park and Ridgefield Library and east to the Ridgefield Theater Barn and Guild of Artists. Within the district, the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in March received a $20,000 grant from the National Endowments for the Arts to fund the costs of their “52 Women Artists: Revisiting a Feminist Milestone,” which started June 4 and runs through Jan. 8, 2023.
The continued improvements in Ridgefield have been and will be, the result of having long-term Democratic leadership at the state and local levels. That leadership, paired with a return to stable government in Washington, will be a recipe for success at the local, state and national levels now and in the future.
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