Council and lawmakers talk about the next session of the Assembly

In preparation for the 2022 legislative session, Cheshire state officials stopped by the January 25 city council meeting to hear what City Manager Sean Kimball and the community at large are asking Hartford to do this year.

Representatives Liz Linehan (D-103) and Lezlye Zupkus (R-89) and State Senator Rob Sampson (R-16) attended the virtual meeting via Zoom, which began with Kimball explaining what the needs of the Cheshire.

“The first piece is juvenile justice reform, and I know that’s a very familiar issue for everyone,” he began. “Cheshire has seen these continuing waves of burglaries and car thefts, mostly by young people. … It’s something we want to see progress on, because it’s something we get a lot of calls for on a daily basis.

Council Chairman Tim Slocum asked Chief Constable Neil Dryfe to explain to lawmakers what Cheshire is specifically dealing with.

“It’s something that we became aware of because of some tragic incidents that happened in the state,” he began. “It’s very sporadic when it happens. You’ve all heard me say that we’ll go 14 days with nothing and then we’ll have four burglaries and two stolen cars in one night.

Dryfe referred to the most recent incident on January 24, where car thefts were reported at both Cheshire High School and Chapman Elementary School, as well as two other commercial lots, all during the day.

“Under Sean’s guidance, we had a detective assigned to the Southington Auto Theft Task Force which was very efficient for us,” Dryfe added. “It allowed us to follow up on these cases through investigations. The odds of a cop coming across an active car break-in or theft in the middle of the night in our 33-mile jurisdiction are pretty slim.

Linehan said she believed most of her work in the State Assembly was aligned with what Cheshire was asking for in terms of juvenile justice reform, and that she had been trying to secure funds additional information for the Connecticut regional auto theft task forces.

“It’s proven successful, not just for Cheshire and Southington, but for other towns as well,” she said. “I would like to see the state invest money in further collaboration. That said, I understand that it’s hard to really be there when a crime happens. Community policing is an issue for municipalities, and we may need to talk about funding overtime for night police officers so that there are more than three police officers working at night.

Zupkus added that she would like to see changes made to the Police Accountability Bill, which she says will help tackle some of the rising crime rates.

“There are some things in (the Police Accountability Bill) that need to be repealed, quite honestly,” she said. “There are good things in that, but there are things that have really hindered what our police officers can do.”

Zupkus noted that she hopes to see legislation that would extend the six-hour detention policy, which could help curb auto theft among young people.

Moving on to justice reform, Kimball reiterated that going pay is another issue Cheshire leaders hope the legislature will address this session and something Kimball’s office has included in its legislative recommendations over the past three last years. He noted that the goal was to increase the threshold for new projects and renovations to $1 million, but that $500,000 would be a good compromise.

Kimball went on to explain that binding arbitration was a recurring problem for many municipalities, including Cheshire.

“We would like to see language that would require binding arbitrations to be concluded within six months,” he said. “The motivations and the ongoing expenses are really exorbitant and a real challenge for those of us who are negotiating and it’s a burden on the city.”

Kimball went on to list some of the Cheshire-specific demands, which include moving the school bus depot on Sandbank Road from state to city and expanding one of the local bus routes to include businesses at the north end of town.

“…Working with our city’s new Economic Development Coordinator, Andrew Martelli, we reached out to our businesses to see what they needed,” Kimball said. “Some of the city’s largest employers, like Macy’s and Bozzuto’s, have had problems getting their workforce into their establishments.”

Kimball asked lawmakers for help altering the bus route and perhaps providing specific state-level contacts who could further help resolve the issue.

“If this route can be changed to go past prison property, Bozzuto’s, around Knotter Drive, Kurtz Farms area, Macy’s Logistics – these are facilities that said they were having trouble,” a- he explained. “We know there’s no bill you can pass to make this happen, but any help would be greatly appreciated.”

The last item on the list is highway user fees, which will come into play in 2023.

“There is a bill that would come into effect on January 1, 2023, that imposes a tax on vehicles with a gross weight of 26,000 pounds or more,” Kimball said. The tax range is from 26,000 pounds at 25 cents per mile to 80,001 pounds and above at 17 cents per mile.

Kimball explained that they would like to see this bill repealed as it would negatively impact many drivers doing business in Cheshire.

Sampson told the Council that he has been working on some of these issues at the state level for a few years.

“I want you to know that I’ve introduced bills before that address most of these issues,” Sampson said. “…As regards (land) means of transport (referring to the transfer of the bus station depot), I am the senior member of the government administration and election committee, so I have a lot to say about methods of transportation.”

Sampson added that he was disappointed that Cheshire could not get the bus depot and the House did not have time to vote on the matter.

“That’s exactly what happens when there are several thousand bills and some are more of a priority for some people than others,” he said. “It was one of my priorities, but not necessarily management’s priority.”

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