Council Answers The Call, Expands Benefits For Emergency Volunteers
Although it is the hundreds of Newtown ambulance, fire, and dive rescue volunteers who dash out of their homes and workplaces when emergencies are reported, it was the Legislative Council that answered the call for support of these selfless individuals during a brief regular meeting, May 19.
With little discussion, the council unanimously approved changes to the town’s tax abatement program for qualified emergency volunteers, with members Chris Smith and Andy Clure absent from the proceedings.
The bulk of discussion and deliberation on the proposal to expand eligibility for the phased in benefit schedule occurred with the council’s Ordinance Committee, which is chaired by Ryan Knapp. Knapp laid out the substantive aspects of the proposal in a letter appearing in the May 21 Newtown Bee’s Letter Hive.
In his letter, which he sent as a citizen and not representing the council, Knapp explained that the latest change to the abatement program “will put Newtown’s support for our volunteer services as one of the most generous in the state.”
Knapp said due to responsible fiscal policies, Newtown is able to afford this without an impact on the upcoming tax rate, and that the latest update represents, “a small gesture of gratitude relative to the efforts, risks, and sacrifices made every day by our friends and neighbors who volunteer to serve our community, and who never stopped providing these essential services during the pandemic.”
The chair also noted the cost-value relationship tied to the enhancement, as maintaining these various volunteer departments saves the taxpayers millions of dollars annually versus the costs of paid departments. Knapp reminded readers that the council amended this ordinance in 2016, and at that time, included language to allow the council to adjust benefits by resolution.
“Recently the state rightly expanded the discretion municipalities have in this regard with Public Act 19-36 which had overwhelming support,” he added. “The resolution comes with a unanimous and bipartisan recommendation from the council’s Ordinance Committee.”
'Lifesaving Actions' Recognized
Knapp further related his own personal gratitude to emergency volunteers who came to his aid after a frightening incident last year.
“I personally had a scary incident having an anaphylactic reaction while jogging and ended up unconscious on the roadside,” Knapp wrote. “Were it not for the lifesaving actions of Newtown Ambulance members like Tom Hanlon and his colleagues, who spent their time on a beautiful Saturday morning standing by ready to help others, I am certain I wouldn’t be here to write this. Words can’t express how grateful I am to live in a community with so many people willing to step forward to help others.”
During the meeting, it was further revealed that the expanded benefit came following a request by the local Board of Fire Commissioners, and had an annual budget impact of just over $100,000. Knapp said at the meeting the cost would likely be covered by grand list growth and its related revenues to the general fund.
As a result of its passage, the updated benefit will go into effect July 1. The expansion accommodates volunteers to those agencies who are members and fulfill various response criteria, and who have served in that capacity for a minimum of two years. The minimum tax abatement they can qualify for is $250.
That benefit steps up to $500 for those serving three years; to $750 for four years; to $1,200 for five years; $1,600 for six years; and maxes out at a cap of $2,000 annually for qualified volunteers with seven or more years of service.
The May 19 meeting came on the same day Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont officially relaxed a number of masking and COVID-19-related restrictions that had been in place. As such, Council Chair Paul Lundquist held that mid-month regular meeting in public, and several members in attendance opted to shed face coverings as they met in the Municipal Center Council Chambers in person for the first time in many months.
Auditing Firm Retained
In short order, the council also approved the retention of the firm Mahoney Sabol as the town’s official auditor. Since this unanimously approved designation represented the final year of a five-year contract, Councilman Dan Wiedemann asked if the town would be requesting proposals from other firms ahead of next year’s assignment of an auditor.
Town Finance Director Robert Tait replied that Newtown will have some important reporting requirements in the coming few years, and it may best serve the community to consider retaining the firm already familiar with Newtown’s financial practices and ledgers. A decision to that end will be made eventually, Tait added.
Finally, the council discussed the potential allocations of Newtown’s current fund balance excess that was reviewed earlier this month by the Board of Finance. Lundquist said a number of appropriations are expected to come before the council for approval in the coming weeks.
During his report to the panel, First Selectman Dan Rosenthal said the Board of Selectmen had granted a one-year license to the Newsylum microbrewery on the Fairfield Hills campus so the business could expand a fenced space to accommodate a new covered pavilion and staging area for live entertainment. That footprint of usable space will temporarily extend up to the adjacent and vacant Stamford Hall.
Rosenthal said the defined service area will help restrict the presence of alcohol service on the town-owned campus, and added that all brewery business activities will happen Wednesdays through Sundays, and will not extend beyond 9 pm.
Associate Editor John Voket can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.