Letter to the CT Post

Published January 5th 2007   

I wrote this to respond to an editrial where the CT Post called the Derby voters Stingy
    As a resident of Derby for more than 10 years who grew up elsewhere, I find the average Derby voter is scared.   Having grown up in Springfield, MA I was a public school student when the city was making a renewed effort in its 20 year struggle for a new high school.  My following the issues got me published in the local newspaper once and sent to the principal’s office on a few occasions.  Thus I decided to follow the issue here in Derby at a bit more of a distance.

   While Derby is the smallest city in CT, it has a lot of pride and heart.  Derby’s bravest – the firemen and EMTs as volunteers offer services with more dedication than many of their paid counter parts in other cities.  We have a number of churches and other civic organizations which draw people from surrounding towns as well.

     The voter’s skittishness has deep roots.   For many years the citizens have watched the city’s tax base deteriorate with downtown going from looking like a ghost town to a war zone in the past few years.   Many of the past projects for the new school included “riders” – projects that rode on the coattails of the new school.   While many voters may have voted for a new school project, knowing the cost overruns would add up, the multi-project packages scared voters because cost overruns could have multiplied. Also many voters felt that the former mayor was more concerned with getting his name on as many plaques as possible rather than the value of each project.

    I attended last Thursday’s “heated meeting”.  Mayor Staffieri actually listened to the concerns of the citizens of Derby.  Mayor Stafferi felt that the people should be offered two good choices and realized that one of the choices was unacceptable.  While the more expensive solution would have more comprehensively met Derby’s immediate and future needs, the other choice was far shorter sighted than previously thought.  The comprehensive plan calls for a traditionally constructed middle school consisting of grades 6 thru 8 to be built near the current high school to create a campus environment between the two schools.  The other solution called for a modular constructed school containing only grades 7 and 8 as to meet Derby’s immediate need for space.  The word “modular” raised many concerns which mayor Staferri heard and voiced himself. 

     The modular construction plan could not be expanded reasonably.  While Mayor Staffieri is watching the bottom line, he is also wants to be sure that any proposal which is sent to the voters is a good value now and a good value for the city’s future as well.

    Mayor Staffieri also seems to realize that the voters’ fears have been fueled once again.  While many people have touted the recent downtown progress as a distant light at the end of a long tunnel, many voters, like myself, are hearing a train whistle instead.  The citizens of Derby have suffered three major blows and have not had a chance to even figure out what the damage is yet, never mind recover.  Our water company, Birmingham Utilities recently won its case for a rate hike as did Yankee Gas a while back.  United Illuminating’s enormous rate increase has been approved and  is being phased in slowly – much like when Princess Lea, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Chewbaka found themselves in the Death Star’s  garbage compactor in the movie “Star Wars”.

    While most citizens have an idea on the immediate out of pocket expenses will be, we wait in terror for the next wave of expenses to hit our budgets.  We don’t know how much more it’s going to cost the city to provide its services, costs which will be passed on in the form of tax increases.  We don’t know how much local business will have to increase their prices, that is if they stay.  Further down the tracks, our tax base could become further eroded if businesses leave the area.  Lastly, our downtown could become one big vacant lot should the developer feel that the cost of doing business in the city is just too high.