January is a time to look back on what has happened in the past year and to look forward to what lies ahead in the coming year. My guiding principle remains to bring openness, transparency and integrity to town leadership.
These accomplishments would not be possible without the relationship we have with our Republican colleagues. Board of Selectmen votes are almost always unanimous. While myself and Bob Lessler are Democrats, most other elected officials that I work with every day and many heads of boards and commissions are Republicans. We work together to further our shared vision for the town.
Bipartisanship helped us do what the voters elected us to do — to skip the toxic politics we see in so many other towns and focus instead on making town government better — more effective for taxpayers and responsive to citizen concerns. Given the national political climate, it is not insignificant that we routinely put party politics aside to focus on getting things done for the people of Easton, and it is my hope that the internal changes in the Republican party that you have all read about do not adversely affect this.
We have been fiscally responsible. We have maintained and, where necessary, increased town services, for our seniors, and for all of our families. We continue to ensure that our schools are funded adequately, all while keeping our tax rates as reasonable as possible. With only small annual increases, there was wide acceptance of the recommended budget and easy passage by you, our citizens. We have accomplished these things with hard work, with fairness and with compromise to reach sensible solutions.
In Easton our only regular source of revenue is property taxes. This year we have brought in $470,000 with the sale of 19 acres at South Park, $255,000 with a grant from the state to refurbish the tennis courts at Helen Keller Middle School, and a $140,000 grant from the state to make the intersection in front of Greiser’s safer. We continue to look for alternative sources of revenue like a further grant we can put toward a new EMS headquarters.
I’m proud of the work we did to make Easton a more inclusive community in 2022. We filled vacancies on the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force. Previously, we enacted tax breaks for motor vehicles used to transport people with disabilities. The Pride flag now flies over town hall for all of Pride Month with the unanimous support of the Board of Selectmen. Juneteenth will now be an official town holiday in Easton. Everyone in this community deserves to feel welcome, and I am committed to that.
We have made government more efficient. We have streamlined processes to make it easier to build in Easton, and this has been recognized by those who have worked on construction in Easton for years. This was accomplished while reducing costs in the Building Department. You can now pay your taxes on line as well.
I took Easton residents’ complaints to local cable companies to resolve persistent service interruptions which led to more reliable service for many, though I hope you will continue to keep me posted on this issue. We also worked with United Illuminating to improve our storm resiliency by advocating for a more expeditious tree maintenance program.
We have successfully preserved farm land in town. Working with the Aspetuck Land Trust and the State Department of Agriculture as well as utilizing town funds, we have made this possible. Our farms are flourishing, and they remain farms. I am fortunate to be able to work with a vibrant Agriculture Commission.
One specific example is the final resolution of the South Park property. This was a priority for me when I was elected in 2019. After forming an advisory committee, we began to move forward, first with the sale of the most environmentally sensitive part of the property to the Aspetuck Land Trust. Working with the Land Trust and Citizens for Easton (CFE) we were able to overcome the vocal opposition of a few, and complete this sale.
You are probably all aware of the difficult process moving forward from there. However, working with a prominent member of CFE, Andrew Kupinse, we were able to craft a Conservation Restriction, which preserved the remainder of the land and was passed by the town. Make no mistake. The overall outcome could have been less expensive as a process and more beneficial to the town, but it is now settled and the land will always be preserved in its entirety.
What are we looking forward to in 2023? First and foremost is to build a new Emergency Medical Services headquarters. We all agree on the need for this. The old headquarters is literally falling down, and our brave EMS workers deserve far better. This is, of course, a complicated undertaking with picking a location, finding funding, designing and building the new headquarters. We must be honest in acknowledging that past projects and other transactions in town have been challenging because of efforts by groups or individuals with agendas. which are contrary to what is best for Easton, and we must try to avoid this. Let’s commit to working together to get this project done because EMS deserves our best faith effort.
I plan to continue to work to make our town government more effective and efficient. We need to pass a responsible budget again with the lowest possible tax rate. We must fund our schools adequately and make sure they are run with the best interests of our students being paramount, especially post Covid. Before becoming first selectmen I served on the board of education. It was always the most bipartisan group of people in town because we all agreed to put the children first. We can never lose sight of this, nor allow division to hurt our children’s wellbeing.
We must preserve our open spaces and continue to preserve farm land as it is so critical to the town’s natural beauty, our culture and our economy. These are the things that make Easton great and attractive to others. This dictates the value of the investments we all make in our homes, and we cannot let anyone tarnish this.
As first selectman I will continue to do the best job I can at being effective, transparent, and willing to work with my Republican colleagues in town government, as I have in the past. I hope we continue to work as a board of selectmen with the same near unanimity we have previously shown. You have seen my willingness to work with anyone in town who can be an honest and fair partner, even where it has been extremely difficult to do so.
Lastly, I will reaffirm my commitment to making sure that the voices of each and every one of you can be heard on the issues of the day, and that you cannot be drowned out by any minority. There is so much to be thankful for and optimistic about in Easton, but there is always work to be done. The more educated we are as a citizenry, and the more those of us who truly want what is best for Easton can work together, the better off we will all be. I look forward to a great year.
Photograph by Rick Falco