New Milford Republican incumbent Mayor Pete Bass is seeking a second term in office. He is being challenged for the role by Democratic candidate Tom O’Brien. O’Brien is on the Board of HART transit.
Bass was asked about his priorities if elected to another term. He says the opioid crisis is something that need a proactive attack. He recently convened a meeting of emergency responders, New Milford Hospital, the Senior Center, Social Services team and the Superintendent among others. He says the first prong is enforcement, the next is a legislative change to crack down on drug dens. He also wants to look at ways to get people into treatment programs. Bass hired an at-risk navigator to work with all of the stakeholders to provide assistance to someone in need of treatment.
O’Brien wants to focus on education and quality of life. He called for more support services for students who are not on the college path. He says trade and manufacturing jobs are looking for entry-level employees and the schools should be doing more to facilitate the school to jobs pipeline. O’Brien says Kimberly Clark has an aging workforce and concerned about where they will find new employees. He wants to organize a trades fair, similar to a college fair.
Bass wants to address town infrastructure. He says many roads need attention, calling them one of the most valued asset in town. Bas wants to redo the Northville roof next year, and create an improvement plan for future needs.
O’Brien says there’s a need for more housing downtown. He helped lead the effort to create the River Trail, to bring more people downtown. O’Brien says that multi use trail is a big draw for the area. He also worked on the trail through Sega Meadow Park.
Something that remains controversial in New Milford is the former Pettibone School being turned into a community center. The previous Mayor retrofitted the building for municipal use, locating the Youth Agency, Social Services and Parks and Recreation in the space.
Bass noted that the public does use gym and cafeteria for various events. A subcommittee has released a report to him about costs associated with using the building as a Community Center. Bass is calling for another public hearing, and for a referendum, so the public can decide. He says it’s important to know the renovation and operating costs.
O’Brien says it’s a better space for the agencies now located in Pettibone. He acknowledged that that building needs maintenance, but so does every other town-owned building. O’Brien added that several other surrounding towns have repurposed old school buildings for municipal use.
The East Street School, the Lillis Building, has murals and stained glass form the World War II era. It’s an historic property. Bass applied for a planning grant from the state, and that study is being finalized. He will hold public hearings on usage, and then hold a referendum on what that building should become.
O’Brien serves on the Board of the Trust for Historic Preservation. Speaking only for himself, O’Brien noted that they worked with developers on saving other historic buildings while making way for apartments. He says the same approach can be used with the East Street School.
Bass touted work to maintain and upgrade town parks. He notes that security upgrades at Lynn Deming Park were successful this year in protecting quality of use. He says the Parks and Rec team has done a good job with upkeep and trail maintenance. New Milford is also testing out rental scooters. The contractor has all of the liability, not the town. Bass says they don’t operate after dark to minimize the risk. The Town Council will review whether the program should be expanded after this pilot period is over.
As for traffic and safety issues along Route 7, O’Brien says he was shocked the state didn’t put in sidewalks when Route 7 was widened, especially because the utility poles had to be moved anyway. At every intersection with a traffic light, there is a button so a pedestrian can get the right of way, but O’Brien says nobody knows that. He called for more crosswalks to be painted to make drivers and pedestrians aware of the safety measure. O’Brien says traffic calming measures are needed.
Bass says state Representative Bill Buckbee is coordinating with the DOT on that front. He’s also asked the DOT to repaint the crosswalks so drivers can see them better. But he added that the police department has stepped up enforcement of the corridor. New Milford has received grant funding for sidewalks along parts of Route 7, by Pettibone and the High School. Other portions would be headed into the downtown area from Canterbury School. Zoning regulations now require new buildings to put sidewalks in.