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Local Headlines Archives for 2014-02

Metro-North execs pledge changes to boost service

 Metro-North Railroad's two top executives have told Connecticut legislators that the commuter rail line has installed new technology, slowed trains and made internal management changes to improve service.

Thomas Prendergast, chairman and chief executive of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and Joseph Giulietti, the new Metro-North president, met on Thursday with the legislature's Transportation Committee.


Transportation Committee member Danbury state Senator Mike McLachlan called the Danbury Branch the orphan of the MTA.


Ranking Member Brookfield Representative David Scribner says Connecticut has a moral obligation to ensure safety and reliability.  He questioned why Connecticut doesn't have a Representative on the MTA board to be involved in Metro North's decision making process.  Scribner told the officials that ridership confidence and faith has been significantly compromised by the frequency and severity of the incidents in the past year.


An issue addressed by Prendergast was the winter night passengers were stranded for two hours on a train with no heat or power.  He said at some point a rescue train does need to be sent out, and that night there were signal issues.  He says the crews do an excellent job, but "sometimes we drop the ball".

Prendergast said Metro-North audited the speed of 3,800 trains, is spending more than $425 million for technology to automatically stop or slow trains and established a chief safety officer job to focus solely on safety.

Giulietti promised better communication with riders.  He said in January complaints went from 900 to 2000 compared to 2012.

Rep. Antonio Guerrera, the committee's House chairman, told the officials that the rail service's recent record is appalling. Trains derailed twice, including one that was deadly and a power outage delayed service for nearly two weeks.


Connecticut is half way through a 60 year contract with Metro North.  The contract calls for review periods every five years, with the next one due next year.

Newtown residents approve Hawleyville sewer expansion

Newtown residents have voted overwhelmingly in favor of a a $2.8 million sewer project that could open the Hawleyville neighborhood to development.  The vote came during a Town Meeting  Wednesday night. 


The sewer line would run along sections of Routes 6 and 25.  There were many questions field by residents about the project that's being paid for by commercial property owners who would be hooked up to the sewer line. 


Town officials say there are large parcels of land along the proposed routes that could then be developed, taking some of the tax burden of residential property owners.

Ridgefield Community Center hosts homecoming for teen Olympian

A welcome home meet and greet is being held tonight at the Ridgefield Community Center for 18-year old Tucker West.  The Olympic Luge competitor is being honored at the historic Lounsbury House on Main Street for his run in Sochi.  Board President Richard Vazzana says the whole town was excited about having an Olympian this year.


Vazzana addressed his father's remarks on the Today Show that his son was shy and "very single".  They're anticipating quite a few 15 to 40 year old women being out front lining up to visit with him.


Vazzana says Ridgefield is a great representative of small town USA.  He says Tucker put Ridgefield on the map and they are very proud to host his homecoming.  He adds that to have someone local be so successful it's nice to be able to honor them.


Fans are encouraged to wear their Tucker t-shirts.  West has volunteered to sign some autographs during the event, which is from  5:30 to 7:30pm.

Newtown resource and community page web address changes

The website set up by Newtown officials to provide support resources and community information is changing it's web address slightly.  Instead of .org, will be the place for residents to find details about community events and the collective path forward in the wake of the tragedy on December 14th. 


The addressed was changed to a dot-com because a corporate provider is underwriting the costs of the site and the domain name. 


The town's official website directs people there to find mental health resources.  It also has links for where people can make a donation of goods or services or to receive available funds.

Obit: Ruth Henderson dies at age 84

The Silo and Hunt Hill Farm Trust in New Milford are mourning the loss of their founder Ruth Henderson.  The widow of Skitch Henderson died at her home Tuesday night at the age of 84.  She helped found The New York Pops and served as its President to the present day. 


The couple preserved 130 acres of Hunt Hill Farm as permanently protected open space in New Milford.  10 of the farm's buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places.  Executive Director Liba Furhman says Ruth was a passionate leader and a visionary.  Furhman says the non-profit Trust founded by the Hendersons is a Smithsonian Affiliate that continues their cultural and artistic legacy of music, visual, performing and culinary arts and farming.


Officials at Hunt Hill are calling Ruth a mentor and guiding light, for much of New Milford and Litchfield County.  Furhman says Hunt Hill Farm is forever grateful to Ruth for her ability to see the potential, for her foresight and planning.  She says Ruth had a celebrated commitment to helping people and gave freely of her time and her expertise to so many causes and organizations. 


Ruth is survived by her daughter Heidi, son Hans, six grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and many friends. 


A memorial service is planned for the Spring.

New times, buses for Metro North's Danbury branch

New schedules are being put into effect starting this weekend on the Danbury branch of Metro North.  Due to ongoing signal system problems delaying trains, peak train service will leave 10 minutes earlier but still arrive at South Norwalk at the same time. 


Off peak trains will be replaced by buses. 


The changes are effective for an indeterminate amount of time.  They will be in place until the signal system is fixed.  Train conductors are currently being required to stop the train, look that the gates are working and then proceed at a slow speed. 


Danbury branch tickets are also being cross honored on the Harlem Line.

Newtown victim's family to visit Winthrop coach

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Becky Kowalski knew a few moments after she heard the heartfelt words of Winthrop men's basketball coach Pat Kelsey about the shootings in Newtown, Conn., that he understood her family's pain.

Becky and husband Stephen were mourning the loss of their 7-year-old son Chase, one of the 20 children and six adults killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings 14 months ago, when they heard Kelsey's comments.

A father himself, Kelsey empathized with families in Newtown. Less than a week after the shootings following Winthrop's loss at No. 7 Ohio State, he said ``everybody needs to step up'' to prevent such tragedies.

Family friends pointed out Kelsey's comments to the Kowalskis, who began a long distance friendship with Kelsey. They'll meet for the first time Saturday in Rock Hill.

Newtown, Southbury officials honored by COST

Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra has been presented with a “Town Crier” Award from the Connecticut Council of Small Towns. 


The recognition was established to honor state legislators and other public officials who have distinguished themselves as outstanding advocates on issues affecting Connecticut’s small towns.  Llodra was honored for her longstanding service to Newtown, having become involved in issues in 1970. 


The award was presented this week at the 2014 Connecticut Town Meeting.  Southbury Representative Arthur O'Neill also received a Town Crier Award.

Conn. tourism agency creating new antiques trail

State tourism officials are urging antiques dealers and auction houses to participate in the new statewide Connecticut Antiques Trail website.

Qualified dealers and auction houses have until March 10 to submit information about their businesses in order to receive a free listing on the website. The site will be part of the state's official tourism website, .

Connecticut lawmakers last year passed legislation requiring the Department of Economic and Community Development, which oversees tourism, to develop a trail identifying where antiques are sold throughout Connecticut. The trail was introduced in legislation by Woodbury State Senator Rob Kane, whose idstrict also includes Bethlehem, Bridgewater, Roxbury and Washington.  Under the new law, the map must include major antiques dealers, communities with high concentrations of antiques dealers and auction houses with annual sales of more than $1 million.

To participate in the trail, antiques dealers and action houses should email or call 860-256-2739.

Some Danbury residents could see property tax relief soon

Danbury residents who live on Candlewood Lake turned out for a special meeting of the City Council as they seek property tax relief.  After a public hearing, the City Council has voted unanimously to pass an ordinance allowing the City to address excessive tax increases based on inconsistencies in the revaluation process in certain neighborhoods. 


Council Minority Leader Tom Saadi says he's been consistently disappointed with Vision Appraisal for years.  But he says there are a limited amount of companies in the region so it was urgent for the City to step up to help residents.


If people meet certain standards in the ordinance, they may be able to get their taxes adjusted down based on the October 2012 revaluation.  Saadi says it's not just Candlewood waterfront property owners, it's also residents living on other water fronts.


The deadline to file an appeal with the Tax Assessor's office has been extended to March 20th.

NJ lawmakers considers ammo bill similar to Conn.'s

Two parents whose children were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School were in New Jersey Monday with lawmakers to renew efforts to pass legislation that would reduce the legal capacity of ammunition magazines from 15 to 10. 


The measure passed in the New Jersey Assembly last year but never came for a vote in the Senate after Senate President Steve Sweeney balked at allowing it to come up for a vote. But Sweeney has since had a change of heart and now supports the measure.


Proponents say the measure say it would help curb gun violence. But opponents dispute that claim, saying it would only infringe on gun owners’ constitutional rights.

Commuter advocate joins Metro-North critics

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) A member of a Connecticut commuter advocacy panel has joined a chorus of critics of Metro-North Railroad.

Mitch Fuchs appeared before the legislature's Executive and Legislative Nominations Committee on Tuesday. He said he does not serve happily on the board of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council.

Fuchs, who lives in Fairfield, says Metro-North does a poor job providing information and communicating with commuters. He also said Metro-North has failed to add rail cars when thousands of additional commuters are expected for special events.

Metro-North has acknowledged its problems including two derailments one fatal and stranded passengers at a Connecticut station and reduced service in September when power was knocked out.

The commuter rail service promises an improvement plan and its executives are scheduled to meet with Connecticut legislators on Thursday.

Fire in Danbury home's basement, car fire at restaurant

A Danbury family will be living with relatives after a fire damaged their Belair Drive home Monday morning.  Two occupants were treated at Danbury Hospital for minor smoke inhalation.  Assistant Fire Chief Bernie Meehan says the fire was contained to a small area of the basement.


There was some damage to the cellar.  Some plumbing, electrical wiring and the heating system were also damaged so the Building Inspector has ordered repairs before it can be reoccupied.


The cause is under investigation. 


The cause of a car fire in the parking lot of Chucks Steak House on  Seegar Street Monday morning is also being investigated. There were no injuries, but the car was destroyed.

Bond money on Commission agenda for New Fairfield Library

Nearly $800,000 in bond money is on the state Bond Commission Agenda for New Fairfield Library.  Representative Jan Giegler says the funding will be put toward construction costs, an elevator and energy conservation projects among other items.  She says investments in resources for the entire community pay dividends well past the initial cost. 


Representative Richard Smith called the library a focal point of the community and says he's pleased the state tax dollars will be invested in the town. 


The Bond Commission will meet Friday on the $751,000 allocation and other items.

Fire at New York fire house destroys two trucks

A fire at a New York fire house has led to one firefighter being hospitalized and two fire trucks being destroyed.  Police in Somers say the Golden's Bridge Fire House was fully engulfed in flames around 9:30 this morning.  Firefighters smelled smoke from a storage room and tried to save as much of the equipment as they could. 


Fire fighters from Brewster, South Salem, Croton Falls and elsewhere responded for mutual assistance. 


The fire was contained about an hour later.  New York State Police are investigating the cause of the blaze.

Public hearing on possible tax break in Danbury

A public hearing is being held tonight in Danbury about tax relief for some residents.  Over the summer, people with lake front properties complained that there were inequities in their assessments.  The city contacted consultants who recommended a 20-to-25-percent adjustment in land values. 


Mayor Mark Boughton says the issue stems from the October 2012 revaluation.  The City's Grand List dropped by 19-percent while the mill rate went from 22.45 to 26.8  The proposed ordinance would provide special tax relief to some residents adversely affected by that property revaluations. 


Council Minority Leader Tom Saadi says 173 properties may have been affected and not all would be eligible for an adjustment.  It would be if there were anomalies based on other homes in the neighborhood. 


Residents were encouraged to file appeals with the Tax Assessor's Office.


Lake front owner Scott Court told the Council that a property across from him with the same square footage, on more land, with a view of the lake had its taxes lowered in the revaluation. 


The public hearing is at 7:30pm in City Hall followed by a special meeting of the City Council.

Update on CH Booth Library recovery process

CH Booth Library has been closed since early January when a sprinkler pipe burst in sub-zero temperatures and caused fairly extensive water damage to the facility.  CH Booth officials say they plan to reopen in early March, with a few surprises. 


The walls have been freshly painted, the ceiling has been repaired and the carpets replaced.  Up next is hooking up the cable so the computers and phone system can work. 


In the meantime, Librarians say the outside book drops have reopened.  Any items that are due can be placed there, but people are being cautioned not to go into the library still.  Late fees will not be charged until the library reopens, and even then there will be an amnesty period.


When requesting items online through the Newtown library catalog, patrons are asked to continue selecting a pick up location other than CH Booth Library.  The Friends of the Library are accepting book donations at the Transfer Station on Ethan Allen Road, off of Route 25.

Area registrar of voters backs online registration proposal

Connecticut is taking steps to become the 15th state to allow residents to register online to vote.  It was part of a legislative package proposed in 2012 to make it easier for people to cast their ballots. 


Bethlehem Registrar Melissa Russell serves as President of the Connecticut Registrars of Voters Association.  She says technology is good when it comes to bringing the voting system into the 21st century.  She notes that this system will do that while maintaining the integrity of the process.


Besides registering, the site also allows people to change the name or address on their current registration and change their political party affiliation.  Secretary of the State Denise Merrill estimates there are about 200,000 eligible but unregistered voters in Connecticut.

Debate in the legislature over printed legal notices

A bill to no longer require cities and towns to post legal notices in newspapers has received a public hearing. 


Representing the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, Litchfield First Selectman Leo Paul, says municipal website postings is the quickest, most transparent and cost effective way to get information to the most residents.


But Connecticut Daily Newspaper Association Executive Director Chris VanDeHoef opposed the bill.  VanDeHoef says newspapers are providing a service by being an independent 3rd party arbiter of the notices.

Sandy Hook School design presented to Board of Ed

During a joint meeting of the Newtown Board of Education and Public Buildings and Site Commission on Wednesday, town officials learned more about the possible design of a new Sandy Hook Elementary School.  The Design Team presented the so-called Main Street Scheme at the meeting. 


The classroom wings extend off a circulation spine, with defined exterior courtyards buffered by trees.  The design team says the building curves along the south edge of the site, to create an embrace as you approach the building.  Public and semi-public spaces are in the front of the building to act as a security buffer to classrooms. 


The Pre-K and Kindergarten rooms have their own entrance near a smaller children's playground.


(Photo couurtesy


Work on an access road will begin this spring.  Actual “shovel in the ground” for the building is likely to begin in late summer or early fall.


During demolition there was 24-hour security at the site, all workers are required to sign non-disclosure agreements and workers cell phones were collected before they entered the site. 


The work has been divided into six phases and demolition started yesterday in areas where there was minimal or no hazardous material abatement.  They are the kindergarten wing, the library and the modular building.


Phase 1 and 2 were demolition.  Phase 3 is a new driveway, site access and utilities.  Phase 4 is construction.  Phase 5 is furniture, fixtures and equipment.  The last phase will be playground equipment.


While most of the materials that leave the site will be in undistinguishable forms, a portion of the flagpole will be salvaged.  Bricks off the newer portion may be salvaged for future use in the project area.  Crushed concrete and block material will be mixed with fill and be used to backfill the excavated footing areas.

Newtown day care center temproarily evacuated due to gas odor

Newtown Firefighters responded to a Berkshire Road daycare center after an odor of gas was detected in the building around 8am Friday.


Sandy Hook Fire Chief Bill Halsted says the children in the building were evacuated from the little Explorers of Newtown Day Care Center, but it was as more were arriving.  They sat in cars with their families while firefighters and the gas company investigated. 

The gas had been shut off for a time.  Suburban Gas helped firefighters fix the propane gas meter.  Halsted says children were then allowed back in.

Bethel removes snow from downtown to improve parking, road width

More snow and colder temperatures may be on their way next week. Bethel First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker is happy that the huge piles of snow in Bethel have been removed.  The highway department had to pull several overnight shifts to get the work done though.


Knickerbocker says almost all of Greenwood Avenue, Main Street, PT Barnum Square and parking lots were cleared.  The snowbanks were cut down along the intersections to give better lines of sight.


Knickerbocker recalls some of the difficulty that everyone felt this past week.  The snow was encroaching on the parking spaces along the street so it seemed the roads were getting narrower as people were parking further into the driving lanes. 


Shop owners had expressed frustrations as well with snow, in some cases, blocking parking spots.

Some GOP gubernatorial hopefuls debate issues in Brookfield

The Brookfield Republican Town Committee has hosted a debate with four of those seeking the party nomination for Governor.  They answered questions Sunday about tolls, immigration and education among other topics.  They discussed education reforms.  West Hartford former Councilman Joe Visconti says it's time teachers teach and parents get involved.  He coined the term education cartel because of the mandates coming down on schools.  Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton says he is concerned with Common Core and teacher evaluations.  He says the measurement of learning is not always a standardized test.  He is calling for teaching to be about building the whole person.


Senate Minority Leader John McKinney says one size fits all mandates don't work.  He called the delay of Common Core implementation an election year political maneuver by Governor Malloy.  Instead, he says teachers and parents should be consulted on how to improve education standards.


State Senator Toni Boucher says the state should focus on schools that are failing and let successful schools make their own decisions.  She says a 7-hour school day should be considered along with moving to a 200 day school year.  She is also calling for the state to double down on literacy.


When it comes to the laws enacted after the Newtown tragedy, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton said he would have focused more on mental health and less on guns.


West Hartford former Councilman Joe Visconti called the law was a knee jerk reaction.  But Senate Minority leader John McKinney, whose district includes Newtown, says he doesn’t regret the bill.  He also noted that he and others stopped proposals like confiscating guns, annual registration and gun sale limits.


State Senator Toni Boucher, who is still in the exploratory phase, says she championed the school security portion of the law.


They were also asked about was Freedom of Information versus the Public Right to Know.  State Senator Toni Boucher says there was good rationale to keep photos from Newtown private.  She says they didn't want to add to the pain of families already suffering, though she would be reluctant to expand the exemptions further.  Senate Minority Leader John McKinney says 911 tapes should not be exempt from FOIA laws.  He does however keeping private photos of minors who are killed, unless there is a need for public safety or the States Attorney's office to prosecute the crime.  West Hartford former Councilman Joe Visconti agreed with previous speakers.  He says a moratorium for a number of years may be would have worked just as well for other exemptions now in place.


Tax reform and making Connecticut a more friendly place to do business were also on the agenda for the debate.  Visconti said he wants to phase out the sales tax on products.  But he said that can't be done quicker than raises in the business tax and income tax.


McKinney says he wants to make Connecticut a more welcome place.  He wants to see the business entity tax eliminated, the estate tax eliminated and the tax on pensions.  He notes that Connecticut is the only state that taxes pensions and that is driving people out of the state.


Boucher says Governor Malloy is spending too much.  She called the surplus fictitious and the proposed $55 rebate from Malloy a ploy to buy votes.  Boucher says she instead would like to implement tax reform.


Boughton says he would lower the gas tax, eliminate the business entity tax and enact a homestead property tax exemption.  He would model it off a law in Florida in an effort to keep seniors here and have them age in place.


As for rail service, McKinney says the infrastructure needs better maintenance.  Visconti says negotiations need to take place between the governors of Connecticut and New York and with Metro North.  Boucher says there is gross mismanagement of the railroad and is calling for federal intervention to bring in expertise, and possibly take over the rail line until it can manage its own affairs.


Boughton says there are vision and planning problems, but there is a template that can be followed for change.  He cited the example of the pressure brought down on CL&P after the week long outages following Tropical Storm Irene, that October snow and Superstorm Sandy.  He said they wouldn't dare have a light bulb go out any more.


The candidates took on the issue of border tolls and road infrastructure.  Senate Minority Leader John McKinney said the lawmakers who support border tolls live inland.  He also says more than $550 million has been wasted on a useless busway to nowhere.  McKinney said if he can stop the 9-mile busway from New Britain to Hartford, he will do anything he can to do so.


Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton also criticized the busway.  He says not one subsidized bus will run along that stretch of road.  He emphasized that if the bus can't pay for itself, they won't run.


Wilton Senator Toni Boucher says the special transportation fund should be for transportation projects.  She says border tolls are not equitable and called it just another tax that residents don't need.  Boucher called for fixing rail infrastructure, noting that when trains fail the highways become parking lots.


West Hartford former Councilman Joe Visconti says he doesn't support bringing tolls back.  He says a rail line to Springfield, Massachusetts needs to be investigated.  Visconti also called for a review of all alternate transportation options.


The candidates were asked about the future of marijuana laws in the state.  Visconti says he is concerned with second hand smoke and says the safety implications on industries like construction need to be studied.  McKinney says he opposed both decriminalization and medical marijuana because it's still a federal offense to be in possession of pot.  Boucher has been a staunch opponent of loosening marijuana laws, filibustering for nearly five hours on the medical marijuana bill. 


Boughton says he's concerned about the impact of marijuana as a gateway drug, but called Colorado's legalization an interesting experiment. 


State police staffing levels and consolidation of Troopers regionally were among the questions fielded.  Boughton said that listening to police needs and proactive policing is essential.  Boucher says one of the most important jobs of government is to provide public safety.  McKinney says he is in favor of limited government, but public safety is an essential role of government.


Visconti said he doesn't support more resources for police if they take further steps to keep track of guns and confiscation of guns.  He also said he differs from Governor Malloy on protection.  If elected, Visconti said he will take care of himself, a reference to the fact that he is licensed to carry a gun.


2010 nominee Tom Foley and Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti were also invited, but didn’t attend.

Danbury branch tickets honored on Metro North's Harlem line

Danbury branch commuters on Metro North will be able to have their tickets cross-honored on the Harlem line as the railroad works to fix the signal system.  The system's manufacturers are working to fix the problem which is causing crossing gates to operate incorrectly and delay trains. 


This applies to any ticket – be it peak or off-peak, a monthly, weekly, 10-trip or one-way/round-trip.


MTA Spokesman Aaron Donovan says they recognize that recurring delays are causing difficulties for commuters' daily schedules.


The problem is with the computerized train detection system in the tracks at crossings.  The system is designed to be "fail-safe".  Trains are operating with a “Stop-and-Warn” requirement before entering the affected crossing and to determine if the crossing protection is activated.  That requires the train to come to a complete stop, leading to major delays.


As for people with parking permits at stations along the Danbury branch, Metro North officials say parking lots on the Harlem Line are controlled by a variety of entities and for the most part already filled to capacity.  Commuters are being encouraged to consider seeking a ride from a family member, friend or neighbor to the station, or utilize one of three HART shuttles to the Harlem Line.


The Danbury shuttle runs from Park & Rides on Federal Road, at Exit 2 of I-84 and White Turkey Road and ends at the Brewster station.  The Ridgefield shuttle runs from Jesse Lee Church, South Salem and Cross River to the Katonah station.  The New Fairfield shuttle to the Southeast station runs from Company A Fire House, the Ball Pond Fire House and Temple Beth Elohim in Brewster.

Bethel continues to police Greenwood Ave railroad crossing

Bethel's First Selectman is speaking out about the gate crossing issues with Metro North.  Matt Knickerbocker issued a statement saying that Police continues to monitor the train activity and he has maintained constant communication with the MTA and state Transportation officials. 


Some residents have asked for temporary warning signs on Greenwood Avenue about the malfunctions.  He has forwarded the request to the state, which he says has sole authority over signage at the crossing. 


Knickerbocker says it can be startling and disconcerting for drivers to suddenly see a massive locomotive sitting at the edge of the intersection with no warning lights or gate ni place, but police have not seen any instance of a train proceeding without taking certain steps first. 


Metro North has not given an estimate of when the signal system will be repaired.

Redding proposes smaller increase for municipal budget

During a special Board of Selectmen workshop this week in Redding, officials have decided to forward a budget with a smaller increase to the Board of Finance.  The .86 percent budget increase for the coming fiscal year does not include a shortfall in operating the Georgetown wastewater treatment facility by the Water Pollution Control Commission. 


First Selectman Julia Pemberton told the Redding Pilot that since the Police Department has used a small fraction of its overtime budget, a cut would be made there. 


The budget does however include an increase in the overtime budget.

Conn. panel declines to take up new gun bills

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) The co-chairmen of a key Connecticut legislative committee say there are no plans to take up numerous gun-related bills filed this session.

Rep. Stephen Dargan said Thursday the Public Safety Committee's main concern was to ensure help for people who mailed their applications in time to register assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines but still missed a Jan. 1 deadline.

The Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection recently announced it will accept applications signed and notarized on or before Jan. 1 and postmarked by Jan. 4.

Dargan and Sen. Joan Hartley said bills were filed to repeal last year's gun control law following the Newtown school shooting. But both said there was little interest in tackling gun legislation this session.

Gun-related amendments are still expected to be filed.


Danbury Republican Representative Jan Giegler is a Ranking Member of the committee.  Danbury Democrat David Arconti is also a member.

Commuters speak out, lawmakers frustrated with Metro North

More than 100 people packed a forum in Connecticut where Metro-North commuters complained about problems plaguing the rail service.  Connecticut Department of Transportation Commissioner James Redeker attended the ``commuter speak out'' Tuesday evening in Fairfield and took questions.  The event was sponsored by The Connecticut Citizens Transportation Lobby.  The Connecticut Rail Commuter Council held another forum on Metro-North service Wednesday in Stamford.

Riders complained about service delays caused by electrical problems, crowded trains and heating and cooling problems. Some commuters also accused Connecticut and Metro-North officials of not caring about them.


Wilton Representative Gail Lavielle says people are mad, and they should be.  Not only are riders inconvenienced, late and uncomfortable, she says they don't feel safe any more.


Lavielle there are system wide problems, but she is mostly concerned about the Danbury branch.  Gates at crossing are malfunctioning causing trains to have to stop before entering intersections.  It's also sparked safety concerns for drivers.  She is petitioning for the first train on the Danbury branch to be a through train once again so commuters don't have to switch at South Norwalk.


Lavielle says Connecticut has almost no leverage over Metro North.  She says the railroad needs to fix practically everything because almost nothing is right any more.

A Metro-North derailment in the Bronx in December left four people dead and another in Bridgeport last May injured scores of people. Power outages and downed wires have stranded hundreds of passengers this year.

Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board wants the Metro-North commuter railroad to make improvements in the wake of a December derailment that killed four people in New York City.

The recommendations issued Tuesday include inward and outward facing recorders on trains.  The NTSB says recorders are valuable tools for investigators. It says understanding what was happening inside the cab just before a crash can help prevent future accidents.

The agency also is recommending speed-limit signs at all locations where a permanent speed restriction is in place. It says Metro-North already has installed signs at four such locations, including the accident site.  The board has found that the train was traveling 82 mph on a curve with a 30 mph speed limit.

The railroad said it is closely studying the recommendations.

Newtown to seek federal grant for counseling

NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) -- Newtown officials plan to ask the federal government next week for millions of dollars for mental health counseling for hundreds of people affected by the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.


First Selectman E. Patricia Llodra announced Tuesday night that the town will apply to the Department of Justice for an $8 million, 18-month grant. The funds, which also would include money for local school security and nonprofit groups, would come from the Antiterrorism and Emergency Assistance Program, which has awarded money to victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and other school shootings across the country.


The counseling aid would reimburse ongoing and new mental health counseling for about 400 people affected by the December 2012 fatal shootings of 20 first-graders and six educators, the News-Times of Danbury reported. It would help people with longer-term counseling needs, including police officers and other first responders.


The exact grant funding amount for counseling hasn't been finalized, but officials say it will total several million dollars.


"This is about building a safety net of ongoing support for those in the mental health system, and to capture new people who have needs," Llodra said.


Mental health experts believe the Sandy Hook Elementary School population and the broader community will have ongoing counseling needs for at least 15 more years, she said. But there isn't enough money in place to provide long-term help.


Town leaders want to establish a "Recovery and Resiliency Team" that will provide counseling services. The team would include a clinical recovery director, two case workers, a project manager and a community outreach liaison.


A board of directors including town and school officials, clergy and health professionals would oversee the team.


The town of Newtown would get about half the $8 million, including about $2.1 million for the new team, Linda Cimino, director of the Connecticut Judicial Branch's Office of Victim Services, told The Associated Press on Wednesday. Cimino's office is helping Newtown write the grant application. The town's share also would include $1.2 million for additional building security measures.


The other half of the grant, Cimino said, would go to local nonprofit groups for counseling programs and other services they provide, and to a local Catholic school for security improvements.


"This funding really is to provide supplemental funding when a community is overwhelmed by the magnitude of the crime," she said.


More than 250 families have been getting help paying for counseling from three local nonprofit groups - the Newtown Lions Club, the Newtown Rotary Club and the Newtown Memorial Fund. Those organizations and Newtown Youth and Family Services have been providing the aid through donations and fundraising efforts.


"This is a very costly endeavor to create," Llodra said.

Area lawmaker critical of bus-only corridor during hearing

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) Connecticut transportation officials have told state legislators that a $567 million bus-only corridor between Hartford and New Britain is on budget and on time.

However, Transportation Commissioner James Redeker fielded skeptical questions from members of the Transportation Committee on Wednesday as he pitched Connecticut's first bus-only mass transit project. It's set to open next year.

Rep. Steve Mikutel told Redeker that transportation officials must communicate that the project, known as CT Fastrak, is a ``game-changer.'' He said the public perception of buses is not that positive.

Wilton Sen. Toni Boucher cited the numerous recent troubles on the Metro-North Railroad and asked Redeker what plans are being made to serve passengers if buses break down. Transportation officials told her other buses will be available to quickly transfer passengers off broken vehicles.

Brookfield Charter Revision Commission set to meet

Charter revisions in Brookfield are made once every five years.  Once again a Commission is holding hearings to make recommendations on changes to the town's laws.  Chairman Matt Grimes two years ago revisions failed by large numbers. 


There are three areas they are looking at this time around. 


One is to allow Boards and Commissions to fill their own vacancies, which are currently filled by the Board of Selectmen.  Splitting the budget is another item.  A vote on separate or combined education and municipal budgets is currently determined by the annual town meeting.  Brookfield is the only town in the region that still votes on one combined budget.  The last area the Commission is studying involves ethics and potential recall provisions. 


People can comment before each meeting and via email.  Tonight's public hearing is at 7pm in Brookfield Town Hall.


Grimes says the group is hoping to have a draft report to the Board of Selectmen by the end of April.

Salt supplies distributed by state to municipalities

With another winter storm under the region's belt, municipalities have gotten some help from the state on road salt deliveries. 


The state Department of Transportation has distributed nearly 5,000 tons of salt to 42 cities and towns to replenish supplies.  Deliveries continued yesterday and brought the distribution total to over 5,000.  An additional 45,000 tons of salt is expected to be delivered this weekend to the Port of New Haven by International Salt.  


In the Greater Danbury area, Weston took delivery from the state of 65 tons, Monroe 97 tons, and Danbury 200 tons.  100 tons of salt each were distributed to Beacon Falls, Redding, Roxbury and Washington.


DOT Commissioner James Redecker says with the long winter, the state's stockpiles have been lower, but not to a point where application rates had to be restricted.  The relief package was announced on Friday as a stop-gap measure. 


During yesterday's smaller storm, State Police responded to over 1,100 accidents on the highways and helped 160 drivers who had spinouts or were stuck in snow banks.

Boughton seeks standard training for Conn. guards

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton is urging Connecticut lawmakers to require standardized training for security personnel protecting public schools.

The Republican candidate for governor, who appeared Tuesday before the General Assembly's Public Safety Committee, said numerous communities respond to events like the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. Therefore, he said it makes sense to have security personnel working in schools throughout Connecticut ``on the same training platform.''

Boughton said his city hires private security guards who are then trained by the city police department about the Danbury schools and how to handle certain situations.

Boughton said the training could be a four- or five-week course on the basics of school safety. He's chairman of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities' Task Force on School Safety and Building Security.

Resurrected bill expands Conn. workers' comp law

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) Some Connecticut lawmakers are resurrecting a proposal to expand the state's workers' compensation law to cover employees who've suffered an emotional or mental impairment after witnessing a traumatic death or maiming while on the job.

Similar legislation was proposed last year in response to the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. Lawmakers instead created a special, private charitable fund to help cover unreimbursed mental health-related costs of the workers affected by the shooting.

But during a hearing on Tuesday, Sprague Sen. Cathy Osten said the fund has raised less than $400,000 as of Jan. 31, which she contends falls short of what is needed.

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities urged the legislature to reject the bill, saying it would significantly impose new costs on cities and towns.

Metro North: petitions, hearings, new leader

State Department of Transportation Commissioner James Redecker will be in Fairfield tonight to answer questions from Metro North commuters on why rail service has deteriorated and what the proposed fixes are.  The event is being held by the Connecticut Citizens Transportation Lobby and moderated by the League of Women Voters.  Officials expect questions about failing gate crossings, increased commuting times, power problems and other safety issues. 


The event tonight is at Pequot Library in the Southport section of Fairfield.  The forum is from 7:30 to 9pm.


A Bethel resident has started a petition calling for warning signs on both sides of the train tracks on Greenwood Avenue.  The petition on says the signs would warn oncoming cars that the crossing gates are not working and to proceed with caution.  It also calls on Metro North to fix the signal system.  The petition as of midday Monday had 186 signatures.  The problem with the gates has been happening along the Danbury branch since upgrades have been made to electrify the line. 


A Wilton state Representative has started a petition calling on Metro North to change the first train from Danbury to Grand Central back to a through train.  The 5:36am weekday train now has commuters transferring at South Norwalk for continued service to New York.  Representative Gail Lavielle says commuters have been telling her that the train is making their commutes up to three hours long causing them to be late for work.  She is asking the state Department of Transportation Commissioner to intervene because only one door opens for passengers to exit the train to walk a long distance to connecting service, sometimes missing the connection.


Meanwhile, the new leader of Metro North has met with Governor Dannel Malloy, who called the talks a frank discussion.  Malloy says the lack of communication from the railroad with commuters has created a level of mistrust.  Metro North President Joseph Giulietti says they are working on a 100 day plan to turn things around.


Connecticut and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority have agreed to establish an independent review before work is done on power or electrical lines to avoid outages similar to what disrupted Metro-North Railroad last September.

Redding to seek new Deer Warden

Redding will soon be looking for a new deer warden.


Redding First Selectman Julia Pemberton has asked the current deer warden, Chris Siburn, to step down from the position he was appointed to in September by former First Selectman Natalie Ketcham.  Pemberton told the Redding Pilot that there is a lack of transparency and disregard for the primary responsibilities of the deer warden position. 


Redding has had managed hunts to cull deer for nearly a decade.  Pemberton said in the published report that she asked for information on several occasions for the record, but was never given the requested details.

Conn. hearings planned on electricity suppliers

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut utility regulators are planning a series of public hearings to learn more from consumers about their experiences with electric suppliers.


The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority decided to hold the meetings after experiencing a spike in consumer complaints against various suppliers in recent months.


Consumer Counsel Elin Swanson Katz urged members of the public with comments or concerns to attend one of the five meetings. She said her office has received complaints about skyrocketing electric rates from people who felt they were taken advantage of. She said PURA is conducting an investigation and the hearings are opportunity for consumers to share their experiences with the regulators.


The hearings will be held Feb. 19 in Milford, Feb. 20 in New Britain, Feb. 24 in Brookfield and Feb. 27 in Waterbury.

Ridgefield to set blight ordinance Town Meeting date

The proposed Blight Ordinance is headed back to the Board of Selectmen for their February meeting, Wednesday.  First Selectman Rudy Marconi says a Town Meeting date will be set soon on the ordinance which will Ridgefield residents a way to express concerns about the condition of rundown properties. 


Some minor language changes have been made and the ordinance will go back to the Board so they can set the town meeting date.


The ordinance provides definitions of what would be considered blight--which includes being dilapidated, having boarded up windows, is a fire hazard or the property is littered with excessive amounts of garbage or abandoned unregistered cars.  It calls for a blight enforcement officer to be part of a Blight Prevention Board and the creation of a Citation Hearing Appeals Board.

Newtown snow plow preventative maintenance pays off

Sand and salt delivery has been spotty according to Newtown officials.  Public Works Director Fred Hurley says the town does use a mixture of the two, so they've been able to extend the supply, unlike towns that only use salt.  He too says the state has monopolized most of the salt that's been available.


Hurley says they plan for a five year average, which has been surpassed this season.  He is asking for more money to cover salt, sand and overtime.


He says the big question from residents his department has been fielding is--when will my road be plowed.  Hurley says the typical plow route is 11 or 12 miles and takes a number of hours for one cycle.  Hurley says there has been a truck or two out on occasion, but for the most part preventative maintenance has paid off. 


The fleet, for the most part, has been able to stay on the roads continuously.

New Milford lawmaker wants to end tax and spend practice in Hartford

State Representative Richard Smith was among the lawmakers who recently held a constituent meeting in New Milford.  Smith said he remains focused on the economy and the budget.  He says things have still not rebounded the way he has hoped.


Smith says this legislative session he would like turn around the tax and spend policy the state has had in place in recent years.


Some state lawmakers have called for repeal of Keno, which was authorized by the General Assembly in June as part of a deal to balance the state budget.  Governor Malloy said this week that keno would help the state's bottom line but he would follow the legislature's lead on a repeal.

Esty highlighting help offered to Danbury family at 'Congress on Your Corner' event

5th District Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty is touting work she did to help a Danbury family after meeting them at a Congress on your Corner event.  Last week, Esty announced the launch of “Constituent Corner” on her website to highlight positive stories from people who sought assistance with the federal government through Esty’s office.


The latest story comes from Gail and Lew Sirico of Danbury.  The Sirico family reached out to Congresswoman Esty’s office after falling behind on their mortgage when Lew got sick and lost his job. Esty’s office helped modify their monthly mortgage payments, which saved the family $5,100 and allowed them to stay in their home during this cold winter.


Esty says her reason for launching this website is simple, for people to hear more good news.  She says she is excited by the work her office has done to help people receive the benefits they have earned and better understand the federal programs that are out there.

Conn. to accept late gun, magazine applications

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) Connecticut's Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection will be processing hundreds of applications to register assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines that weren't received by the Jan. 1 deadline.

DESPP Commissioner Dora B. Schriro said Friday the agency will accept applications that were signed and notarized on or before Jan. 1 and postmarked by Jan. 4.

DESPP expects to accept 160 late applications to register assault weapons and 398 applications for large-capacity magazines, as required by the gun control legislation passed in the wake of the Newtown school shooting.

Some gun owners have complained they dropped their applications in the mail on Dec. 31 but missed the deadline because their letters weren't postmarked until Jan. 1 or later due to the New Year's Day holiday.

Few power issues from heavy snow, ice

Connecticut Light and Power is reporting about 70 customers in Ridgefield were without electricity much of Friday afternoon into the evening due to an issue with some equipment underground near Peaceable Street.  An earlier problem with equipment in Ridgefield near Old Stagecoach Road left about 1,000 CL&P customers without power for about an hour. 


Ridgefield seemed to take most of the impact of the storm, with a morning issue Friday near Silver Spring Road.  A tree fell on some utility wires, knocking out power in that area.


There were more than 550 Danbury customers without power for about an hour Friday afternoon as well.  Scattered outages through the day were reported in Newtown, Sherman and Wilton.

Newtown mom calls on parents to hold kids close this Valentine's Day

On this Valentine's Day, a mother whose son was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School is reminding parents to hug their children a little tighter today.

Nicole Hockley says she thinks about her son Dylan every day, but today holds his memory especially close.  Hockley says chocolate was perhaps his favorite food and he adored his big brother Jake in a way a drugstore Valentine's Day card could never quite capture.

This week, like so many parents, she and her other son Jake made valentines for his classmates.  She says they honored Dylan by spreading love and making sure other children knew someone cared about them.  She emphasized that all children should feel loved and safe.

She shared the Sandy Hook Promise valentine to children everywhere and called on others to do the same.

Reminder to uncover, clear path to hydrants

There were some large wind gusts associated with Thursday's storm and people had to spend a lot of time outside shoveling because of the amount of snow.  Danbury Fire Chief Geoff Herald says the cold can especially effect you when you're out for longer periods of time.


Herald is reminding residents to check the batteries in their smoke detectors and to have working carbon monoxide detectors in the home.


Herald is also asking residents when they shovel their driveways or sidewalks to also clear a path to fire hydrants that may be on their property.  He says trying to find the hydrants at night or even during the day when they're covered can be a challenge.  He called the hydrants a life saving tool.

Metro North relies on diesel fleet, snow blowers used on tracks

Metro-North Railroad moved to hourly service at 4pm Thursday. The railroad said it may need to further reduce or suspend service on some portions of its territory if conditions warrant. 


Just a third of Metro-North's usual customers took trains to New York Thursday morning. 


Metro-North relied heavily on its diesel fleet during the day.  Those are the trains usually running on the Danbury Branch Line. Snow blowers and patrol trains were operating to clear the tracks, but higher-than-predicted rates of snowfall had the potential to further affect service.


Metro-North uses special third-rail shoes to clear off snow and ice buildup. The commuter railroad said it will pay particular attention to the New Haven line's overhead catenary wires that are vulnerable to ice and snow.

The railroad also has treated door panels with anti-freeze agents and put in place rail-mounted snow-fighting equipment.

Gov. declares State of Emergency

Governor Dannel Malloy is declaring a State of Emergency to get more salt.  During his evening briefing, Malloy said the situation is getting more perilous.  Malloy said a normal storm uses 15 tons, but because of the duration of this storm at least 25 tons of salt was needed for highways.  Connecticut only has enough in reserve for one storm.


Malloy says salt is going out a lot faster because of the duration.  Salt suppliers have told him they are having trouble finding additional supply.  He is requesting help from FEMA and the White House.  But he says there are shipping times associated with supply, if that supply can be located.


Malloy says the state will be doing a community by community survey on salt needs.  He notes that places like Atlanta and South Carolina that don't usually get snow have needed salt and there were freezing conditions in parts of the country that don't normally need salt.  Those places are closer to the stock piles than Connecticut is.


As of for the tandem tractor trailer ban on Interstate 84, Malloy said he would talk with New York's Governor. 


Malloy notes there has been trouble on both sides of the highway, but he wants to coordinate lifting the ban with New York.  He says that will be done so vehicles aren't having to park on this side of the state line in Danbury or so vehicles won't have to back up in Putnam County.

Heavy snow on flat roofs could cause structure failures

Danbury City Hall is closed today to observe Lincoln's birthday, but Mayor Mark Boughton says public works employees are out in force.  The snow is expected to be around for a long duration and could impact Friday morning's commute as well.


Boughton says officials went to municipal buildings and schools to check the roofs.  He advised people with flat roofs to check as well because with rain and sleet on top of another heavy snow load, it could potentially lead to a catastrophic failure.


Fire Chief Geoff Herald is reminding people to clear a path to any fire hydrants on your property and uncover the hydrant.

WCSU receives $1.25 million gift from Ridgefield couple

Dr Erland and Irene Hagman of Ridgefield are pledging $1.25 million to Western Connecticut State University, which will grow to $1.65 million if the university reaches certain goals in the next five years.  Part of the gift will be used to endow full scholarships in the names of Hagman's two daughters, who were both Western graduates.  One scholarship will be for a psychology student, the other for a biochemistry student. 


The rest of the funding will be an unrestricted gift to the university.


Hagman says both of his daughters had a choice of where to attend college.  Veronica spent a year at Smith College, but came home disillusioned.  She then attended Western and praised the warmth of the University community.  He added that she excelled academically and as a person. 


Veronica gained early admission to UConn for her PhD, but her dreams were shattered when she died unexpectedly a few months before receiving her diploma at West Conn.  Hagman says the tragedy put the family in a tailspin of grief.  He wasn't involved before his daughter's death, but the school reached out and supported the family during that time nine years ago.


He says he knows a lot of students are struggling for financial support to complete college.


Hagman says education is essential to widen horizons.  He called life a continuous learning process.  He hopes this gift shows solid support for the future of Western and help to propel the university to be a world class institution.


Hagman is the founder and owner of Ergotech Incorporated, a Danbury-based company that designs and produces ergonomic factory equipment.  He is a native of Sweden and holds a PhD from Northeastern University.


The previous largest gift the university had received was $1.1 million.

Leak at Newtown High School being investigated

A leak at Newtown High School is being investigated. 


The ongoing problem in the cafetorium is more complicated than originally believed.  The issue was discussed at the latest Public Buildings and Site Commission's meeting.  Officials said the water was not in the ceiling directly above the point where the leak is, but rather coming from somewhere else and travelling to that location. 


A scanner reading must be performed again because of the weather.  An outside consultant has been retained because it's not known if the leak is happening due to construction or design problems.

Sandy Hook School design discussed

The Sandy Hook School design team has held a meeting to discuss an overview of the process to date and to talk about the next steps for rebuilding.  At the meeting Tuesday night, the group noted that the entry way will be across the back of the Children's Adventure Center from Dickenson Drive, changing the configuration. 


Bus traffic will be separate from other traffic. 


Three alternative schematic designs for the building itself were presented.  The preferred design will be presented at a February 19th meeting for review and comment at Reed School.  The so-called Main Street scheme had fewer hallways, a smaller footprint and 3 entrances.  Security recommendations for the school will be reviewed at a future date.

Newtown privacy debate to resume in new session

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) The emotional debate over victim privacy rights after the Newtown school massacre is expected to resume at the Connecticut state Capitol.

Legislative committees are expected to soon begin debating recommendations from a task force to restrict public access to certain crime scene photos, 911 audio tapes and other information concerning homicides.

Disagreements are already developing.

Democratic Senate President Donald E. Williams Jr. says he doesn't support the all the proposals. He calls it ``ill-advised'' to restrict public access to audio tapes of 911 calls related to homicides.

But House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, another Democrat, hasn't made up his mind yet. He says he's sensitive to the concerns of both the media and the families of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims, whose privacy worries originally prompted the legislative debate.

Danbury likely $200,000 short in snow removal budget

The Danbury City Council will be asked in March to move $200,000 from the contingency account into the Public Works Department budget to get through winter.  The money will likely come from the city's contingency fund.  Mayor Mark Boughton says the city has taken several deliveries in the past two weeks of sand, but there is a salt shortage in Connecticut.


A sand and salt mixture is used on Danbury roads in the winter to help with traction and to melt the snow--something more communities are moving back to from a liquid solution.


Boughton says beyond Thursday's storm, the City will struggle with finding supply.

Area towns make Advanced Placement Honor Roll

Connecticut ranks second among the states in the percentage of its public high school graduates who pass the Advanced Placement exams. The College Board says 28.8 percent of Connecticut graduates last year scored a 3 or higher, behind only Maryland with 29.6 percent. 


This year, Connecticut had 18 districts that made the AP Honor Roll, which recognizes those districts that increase access to AP coursework while increasing the percentage of students earning high marks.


The districts include Brookfield, Fairfield, Monroe, Newtown, and Region 14 Bethlehem Woodbury.

Abbott Tech principal headed to Stamford technical high school

Henry Abbott Tech in Danbury has named former Vice Principal Stacey Butkus as Principal of the school on the heels of Principal Joseph Tripodi leaving for another technical High School in the state.  Tripodi has been selected to fill the position at JM Wright Tech in Stamford when it reopens this fall. 


The school was closed in 2009 because of lack of enrollment, but is currently undergoing renovations. 


The Superintendent of the Technical School system sent out a memo of the announcement saying that Tripodi will help recruit teachers for core classes and for nine trades.  He will also be responsible for establishing a pool of freshmen students.

Ridgefield teen recognized for community service

A Ridgefield teen is among the youths being honored for community service.


The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards is a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism.  The program is in its 19th year and is conducted in part by the National Association of Secondary School Principals. 


Among the four Distinguished Finalists earning an engraved bronze medallion is 18-year old Michael Rosamilia of Ridgefield.  The Ridgefield High School senior raised more than $75,000 to benefit the Ridgefield Playhouse through five years of benefit concerts. 


The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards is America's largest youth recognition program based solely on volunteer service.

Blumenthal asks Drug Stores to follow CVS

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) Sen. Richard Blumenthal is calling on other drug stores to follow CVS's lead and stop selling tobacco products.

The Connecticut Democrat and members of the Mobilize Against Tobacco for Connecticut's Health Coalition gathered at a CVS in Hartford on Monday to urge all drug stores to sacrifice some profits but help save lives. He says smoking kills 480,000 Americans each year and costs the nation more than $289 million in health care costs.

CVS Caremark Corp. announced last week that it will stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products in its stores by Oct. 1.

CVS Chief Executive Officer Larry Merlo said the company concluded it could no longer sell cigarettes in a setting where health care also is being delivered.

Area lawmaker focuses on developmental disability issues

Several state lawmakers, including Mitch Bolinsky of Newtown, have formed a special caucus on the needs of the intellectually and developmentally disabled.  A large crowd turned out Friday on the issue.  Parents said more funding needs to be committed for programs to help with housing, personal car assistance and other needs.


Many speakers feared what would happen to their children when aging parents die. 


Bolinsky said here was some very meaningful testimony about long-term planning, rather than "emergency" supports as being a less disruptive and possibly less costly approach.


Speakers like Jodi Santoro said while the Malloy Administration commits billions to UConn and other high profile projects, the Department of Development Services budget gets cut.  Bolinsky said the Department funding cuts pose a threat to what many consider indispensable support services in group homes, day programs, employment services and subsidized developmentally-disabled housing options.


Bolinsky says the need is not decreasing, nor will it go away so it is time to stop hiding heads in the sand and face the issues head on.

Access Health CT enrollment help session in Danbury

Access Health CT, the state's online health insurance marketplace, is holding events throughout the state to provide information about Healthcare Reform and explain what financial help is available for residents.  Counselors will also be on hand to walk people through the enrollment process. 


Today's session in Danbury is from 3 to 7pm at Danbury Public Library. 


More than 86,000 residents enrolled by mid-January.  There were more than 43,000 enrolled with private insurance carriers, 32,000 with Medicaid or HUSKY and another 10,000 new Medicaid members who applied between October and the end of 2013.


The Access Health CT website had over 561,000 unique visitors through mid-January. 


In addition to the enrollment fairs, State officials and Access Health CT CEO Kevin Counihan say they will be announcing an enrollment milestone this morning.

Area lawmaker proposes college sex assault response bill

The legislature's Higher Education Committee has raised a proposed bill concerning sexual assaults on college campuses.  Committee co-chair Kent Representative Roberta Willis says legislation on the issues passed in 2012 focused on prevention.


Willis says this new proposal seeks to ensure colleges provide supportive responses to sexual assault victims.  Supporters of the proposal say that means making options for reporting sexual assault are clear to victims, that they receive assistance in making those reports and that they have access to appropriate services.


The proposal is being supported by all female members of the legislature.  The committee will hold a public hearing on the bill on February 11th.

Schlumberger land sale plans discussed in Ridgefield

The Ridgefield Board of Selectmen is meeting this morning to discuss a possible sale of town-owned land for a multifamily housing development.  The 10 acres on the former Schlumberger site is among 45 acres the town owns.   The highest bid was from Toll Brothers.  First Selectman Rudy Marconi says he hopes the negotiations can be completed in the next two or three weeks and then send the proposal for a vote.   It would be a machine vote at Yannity Gym on a date to be determined.


A zone change was made to allow for multi family housing on the 10 acres on the south side of the property off Sunset Lane.


Marconi says five acres has already been sold.  A 48 suite hotel, a self storage facility and an office building will be developed.  All that's left to do is the closing.


The town is in talks with an art dealer for about 12 of the acres and four of the buildings.  Those are the Philip Johnson building, an auditorium, a library and a warehouse-type building.  Environmental cleanup is currently being done on the site and needs to be signed off on by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.  Once the clean up is complete, a possible sale could be looked at. 


The town is aiming to keep remaining parcel of land, about 18 acres, open for a bike and walking path.

Metro North acknowledges signal problems at crossings on Danbury branch

Signal issues with grade crossings on the Danbury branch of Metro North will not be solved any time soon.  Police in Bethel and Danbury are being advised by Metro North that train employees will continue to get out of the trains, verify its safe and then have the train move. 


The so-called stop-and-warn procedure has been in place at various crossings along the branch line since control system upgrades done in November have caused gates to not work properly.  Metro North officials say there are problems with the switches that were installed.


Officials say the problem is with the newly installed computerized train detection system that controls the grade crossings and the mechanism that controls the opening and closing of a gate crossing.  It sometimes activates with no trains approaching.


When the crossing is activated, the train can only proceed at a restricted speed not exceeding 15 MPH.


MTA officials say the manufacturer has been on the scene and is working in its laboratory to resolve the issue.  Metro-North has also dispatched its own team to coordinate the effort with the designer of the signal system, Alstom, and the manufacturer of the timing device, Siemens.


The railroad apologized for inconveniences experienced.


Bethel school chief tapped to be Wilton Superintendent

Bethel will soon be looking for a new Superintendent of Schools.  Dr Kevin Smith has been selected by the Wilton School District to fill their vacancy of the same post.  The Wilton Board of Education made the appointment at their meeting last night. 


Smith sent a letter to Bethel parents about the decision:


It is with very mixed emotions that I write to inform you of my decision to leave Bethel Schools at the end of this school year. About two months ago I was approached by a recruiter looking to fill the Superintendent vacancy in Wilton Public Schools. I have been extremely fulfilled in my work here in Bethel and was not looking for a different position. That being said, when presented with the opportunity, I felt compelled to explore it thoroughly. I was offered the position and after a great deal of deliberation chose to accept. I have always believed that things happen for a reason and I truly believe that this is the right opportunity for my family and for me at this time. A move to Wilton will put me closer to home and allow me to experience more of these precious moments as my own children grow.


 Please know that I feel very strongly connected to this community and the decision to move on, especially after such a short tenure as Superintendent, is not one that was made lightly. I have loved coming to work every single day (even on the days with questionable snow calls…) Bethel is a wonderfully strong and cohesive community with clear values. It has been a joy to work with so many parents and community members on strengthening our schools and community as a whole. I have been deeply moved time and again by this community’s generosity and outpouring of love and support when tragedies have struck. In my mind it is this attribute that Bethel so special.


I ask you not to worry about the change in leadership. Bethel’s administrators are extremely strong and share the same commitment to vision and mission. Likewise our Board of Education is committed to making our school system the best it can be and will select the right candidate who will continue to lead this community to greater levels of excellence. I feel completely confident in them and know that their work will yield a strong leader who will fit well with the strong educational culture.


I look forward to my remaining six months as Superintendent in Bethel. As we move into spring, there will be great many things to celebrate and my goal is to make the leadership transition as smooth, respectful and minimally distracting as possible. While I am personally thrilled about the opportunity to join the Wilton community, I am also genuinely sorrowful about leaving this wonderful community.

Newtown school budget proposed to Finance Board with flat funding

The Newtown Board of Education is recommending a flat budget for the coming year. 


At their meeting last night, the proposed education budget was pegged at just over $71-million, the same as the current school year.  Originally interim Superintendent Dr John Reed proposed a .75 percent increase. 


The Board has not voted on a security budget for the schools however.  The group is meeting again to take on that issue, but said they expect a number of grants to be approved for the town.

Conn. olympians celebrated, Ridgefielders cheer on Tucker

Governor Malloy is wishing athletes with Connecticut ties good luck as they compete in the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.  Among them are Julie Chu from Fairfield, Max Pacioretty from New Canaan, Kevin Shattenkirk from Greenwich--all hockey players and Lindsey Jacobellis, of Roxbury who is a snowboarder.


19-year-old Tucker West from Ridgefield is the youngest ever member of the U.S. luge team.   'Team Tucker' is gathering at the Ridgefield Playhouse from 9am-12 Saturday February 8 to watch him luge on the big screen.  There are two runs Saturday morning in which Tucker will compete.


A Redding teen is also competing, but for the Australian Women’s Ice Skating team.  18-year old Brooklee Han practices in Australia and was selected for the team.

Greater Danbury area lawmakers react to State of the State address

Amid the usual partisan divide over initiatives proposed by any Governor, Greater Danbury area lawmakers have come together on some ideas unveiled during Governor Malloy's State of the State Address yesterday. 


Danbury Democratic State Representative Bob Godfrey says is pleased the sales tax exemption for clothing under $50 will be back.  He and former Republican State Senator David Capiello and he proposed the original exemption.


Godfrey says unlike former Governor John Rowland's income tax refund which then becomes taxable, Malloy is proposing rebates.  He says sticking with the Earned Income Tax Credit increase will help some 600 residents in his district.  Godfrey added that heard a lot of attention payed to working class families.


New Fairfield Republican Representative Richard Smith says Connecticut still has a long economic recovery road ahead.  He says the idea of reducing taxes, eliminating regulations and helping veterans are great concepts.  But saying Connecticut is back on its feet, Smith says is somewhat misleading.  Smith says the unemployment figure quoted is misleading, because it's more like 10-percent.  He says Connecticut has a long way to go and hopes lawmakers can come together to help residents.


Smith wants to continue to improve the business climate by attracting businesses not through corporate welfare, but by making the state more affordable.


Malloy addressed a joint session of the General Assembly to start the short session.

GOP gubernatorial hopefuls sound off on State of the State address

Two Republicans seeking Governor Dannel Malloy's job made special trips to the state Capital yesterday to react to his State of the State and budget address. 


Danbury Mayor Mark boughton says it was an election year speech.  He said it sounded like Christmas in the Hall of the house because just about every constituent group was getting a gift.  But he says the reality is the budget adds $15 million to the billions that await the state after the November election. 


Boughton added that when it comes to income tax relief or property tax relief, it has to be for everyone.  He said the Governor can't pick and chose who the candidate is not doing well with in the polls to give a special gift.  He says the 45 to 65 age group, which is really hurting in this economy, was left out.  He noted that more people have left the workforce than entered and there was little talk about jo retraining.


2010 nominee, Tom Foley questioned Malloy's proposal to use part of the surplus to provide rebates.  He called it irresponsible and an election year hand out when the state doesn't have the money for it.  He said in all of the education initiatives mentioned by Malloy, there was none for K-12 kids.  He said that's where the achievement gap is really measured.


Foley said touting that the state's unemployment rate went down is disingenuous because it's still higher than the national average.  He added that most of the improvement came from people leaving the job search because they simply can't find work.


Senate Minority Leader John McKinney is also seeking the party's nomination and said the speech had a lot of political stunts.  He called it a complete reversal of everything Malloy has done for the last three years.  He pointed to raising taxes which Malloy now wants cut and calling for retired teachers paying more for health care, but now giving them a benefit.


McKinney says either Malloy is admitting he was wrong, or just doing what he needs to in order to be reelected.

Danbury could be short of road salt/sand for weekend storm

If more snow falls this weekend before Danbury gets delivery on salt, Mayor Mark Boughton says it will be problematic.


Public Works Director Antonio Iadarola says there have been 16 snow events so far this season.  More than half came with temperatures in the teens.  The Department had an extensive use of materials during the extreme cold. 


He says Long Island is having trouble getting salt, creating a problem in Connecticut.  Iadarola says he heard the state is almost mandating that suppliers provide material there, before to Connecticut municipalities.


Iadarola said a couple of years ago there was a similar situation because of some ice storms.


Boughton says the City is keeping an eye on material levels.  He says the state has been hoarding most of the salt in the region, leaving cities and towns scrambling.

Snow causes problems on the roads, rails

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton says all hands were on deck.  Police and firefighters reached out to residents, especially the elderly.  He says the overnight temperatures meant a small skim of snow would be left on the roadways so they wouldn't ice over.  Boughton said the heavy wet snow meant plows were out into the evening hours.  He called on property owners to clear the sidewalks in front of their homes and businesses.


Danbury Fire Chief Geoff Herald also asked residents to uncover fire hydrants and clear a path to them.  Danbury received about a foot of snow.


New Fairfield saw about 11 inches fall during this latest storm.  


Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi said roads in his town were in pretty good shape by midday.  But he said they were cleared down to the blacktop so urged caution for the morning commute.


State Police spokesman Lt Paul Vance says Troopers have been kept busy.  By 5pm State Police received 1,200 calls for service.  Vance says some tractor trailers couldn't make the hills on the highway and became disabled in the travel lanes.  There was a serious accident reported around 4:30pm on Interstate 84 between exits 4 and 5 that closed all three lanes.  The accident was cleared fairly quickly, with the highway reopening about 45 minutes later.


Metro-North operated at 75 percent of its normal evening rush hour schedule on Wednesday on its Harlem, Hudson and New Haven rail lines.  Some local and express trains were combined and made additional stops. Consolidated trains left Grand Central Terminal at the later of the two times to help passengers avoid missing trains.

Spokesman Aaron Donovan says Metro-North officials worried that rain arriving in the region would turn to ice, posing a problem for rails, platforms and overhead electric lines.

Conn. home invasion survivor: No run for Congress

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) The Connecticut doctor whose wife and two daughters were killed in a 2007 home invasion says he has decided not to run for Congress.

Dr. William Petit says in a statement provided Wednesday to The Associated Press that he will not be a candidate for the 5th Congressional District seat in northwestern Connecticut. Petit says he was approached by a number of people who urged him to run but noted he is newly remarried and has a 10-week-old son.

Petit told reporters in November he was ``50-50'' on running for office.

The district is represented by Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Esty.

Petit was the only survivor of the hostage ordeal in which his wife and two daughters were killed inside their home in Cheshire.

Congressional Dems from Conn. have much more cash

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) U.S. Reps. Jim Himes and Elizabeth Esty have raised far more than their Republican rivals, each pulling in more than $1 million for this year's election.

But the GOP vows the races will be highly competitive as they try to break the Democratic lock on Congress in Connecticut.

Himes raised about $1.2 million by the end of the year, compared with $303,000 by Republican Dan Debicella. Esty raised $1.1 million, compared with $325,000 by Republican Mark Greenberg, including a loan to himself of $130,500.

Debicella, a former state senator who lost to Himes in 2010 for the Fairfield County seat, said he only began fundraising about three months ago and is well ahead of his pace last time. He said he expects to raise about $2 million to $3 million.

Danbury police warning of IRS, CL&P phone scams

Two scams are circulating around Danbury, which has prompted warnings from police.  They are both timely as people's heating bills are rising and tax filing season is here. 


Danbury Police spokesman Lt Christian Carroccio says one scam starts with a business receiving a call from someone claiming to be from CL&P and that the company is delinquent by several hundred dollars.  The caller said that electric will be shut off if no payment is made.  The recipient is asked to purchase a prepaid card and call back with the pin number or to use Western Union or MoneyGram.


Carroccio says utility customers who are scheduled for disconnection due to nonpayment receive written notice that include the actions they can take to maintain service. 


The IRS scam has someone saying that if several hundred dollars owed is not paid, they will be arrested.  The recipient is asked to purchase a prepaid card and call back with the pin number or to use Western Union or MoneyGram.  The IRS will not ask for wire transfers or prepaid card pin numbers. 


Carroccio is reminding people never to provide personal or financial information to an unsolicited person on the phone or online.

Solarize Newtown deadline extended

The deadline has been extended for Newtown residents looking to switch to solar power.  Solarize Newtown is a discount buying program, similar to ones implemented in other towns, that uses a tiered-pricing structure to reduce the cost of solar.  Newtown is now at Tier 4 pricing and the deadline is February 28th. 


If Newtown reaches 100 installations, Astrum Solar will donate $25,000 worth of solar panels on a Newtown municipal building, like the rebuilt Sandy Hook Elementary School. 


There is an open house to learn more about the program on Saturday.

Conn. cuts storm cost request by Conn. utility

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (AP) State regulators have cut nearly $50 million from a request by Connecticut's largest utility for ratepayers to pay for recovery from five destructive storms.

The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority issued a preliminary decision Monday for Connecticut Light Power to recover $365 million for preparation and response to Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011, a Nor'easter two months later, Superstorm Sandy in October 2012 and two major storms in June 2011 and September 2012.

CL&P may recover the costs over six years. It asked for permission to bill ratepayers for $414 million.

The Berlin-based utility said it was still reviewing the decision.

Regulators said an agreement allowing parent company Northeast Utilities to purchase NStar in Boston required CL&P to freeze distribution rates until at least Dec. 1 and absorb the first $40 million in storm costs.

Siting Council considering Ridgefield cell tower proposal

The Connecticut Siting Council is now considering a cell tower plan for Ridgefield.  The application was submitted for a similar area off Ledges Road where voters rejected a proposal in 2011. 


Homeland Towers and AT&T have made this proposal to improve communications among emergency responders. 


A public hearing will be held in Ridgefield on a date to be determined by the Council.  According to a notice posted on the town's website, the tower would be about 150 feet tall with antennas extending to about 161 feet.  A balloon at the proposed height of the tower will be flown at the site to give residents an idea of what it will look like.

Bond money approved to help Georgetown redevelopment

Redding lawmakers are touting money approved recently by the state Bond Commission.  $2-million is coming to Redding to help replace the Norwalk River flood walls at the Gilbert and Bennett wire mill site.


Redding Representative John Shaban says the flood wall replacement will keep potentially contaminated soil from eroding downstream.


There are certain conditions that have to be met for the rest of the $5.5 million request to be considered, including that within a month the potential developer show they can secure funding for and start phase one of the Georgetown redevelopment master plan.

9 applicants considered for Brookfield Board of Ed seat

About a dozen applicants are looking to fill a vacant seat on the Brookfield Board of Education.  The group received nine applications by Friday's deadline.  Who ever fills the roll has to be a Democrat or an unaffiliated voter according to minority party rules.  The seat is open through the 2015 election. 


It was vacated by 26-year old Greg Beck, who was elected as part of the "A Brookfield Party". 


Beck, an emergency dispatcher, came under fire just after the election when he posted a Facebook comment on a 26 Acts of Kindness page leading up to the 12-14 anniversary saying he would buy his gun enthusiast friends ammunition.  Beck apologized and deleted the comment shortly after.

Whalers call on fans to attend City Council meeting, fight proposal

The issue of back payments owed to Danbury from the Whalers Hockey team for public safety protection could lead to a faceoff on Tuesday.  An email has been sent out by the Whalers to supporters asking for them to turn out to the City Council meeting on Tuesday night. 


City officials say the hockey team owes Danbury about $80,000 for police presence and a fire marshal on duty at each home game the past three seasons due to an agreement on the services.  The Whalers say Danbury has not produced the documents and are using inaccurate or outdated information in determining their position. 


The team says an invoice on the agenda of $410,000 could impact the Whalers ability to operate and survive in Danbury.  The team has proposed a payment of $180,000 and so far have paid $41,000.  In the emailed statement, the Whalers also say the decision about public safety protection is being applied selectively to the team.


A City Council committee is calling for an agreement to be worked out among attorneys giving the Whalers time to pay back the debt owed.

KIDO honored by Regional Hospice's Healing Hearts Center

A group of Newtown middle schoolers have been honored for their work helping others.  The newly appointed executive director of the Regional Hospice Foundation, Paul Sirois, helped recognize seven Eighth Graders with youth service awards at their annual meeting earlier this month.  They were honored for their fundraising efforts on behalf of the organization.


The seven Newtown KIDOs have pledged to raise $50,000 to pay for the playground equipment that will be placed outside the wing that houses Healing Hearts Center for Grieving Children and Families. The first $24,000 was raised by the KIDO founder, Ryan Patrick, who sold wrist bands last winter.  KIDO stands for Kids In Deed Organization.


The total is now nearly $28,000.


A large granite paving stone emblazoned with a colorful replica of their KIDO’s logo has been placed in the children’s garden at the new facility.  Patrick was offered the naming rights of the playground


Congressman wants Conn. education programs copied nationwide

4th District Congressman Jim Himes has introduced two piece of legislation today designed to expand access to and improve the quality of early education programs. The Total Learning Act provides assistance to community partnerships focused on implementing advanced early education curricula, modeled after the Total Learning program at utilized with great success by Action for Community Development in Bridgeport. The Supportnig Early Learning Act establishes two competitive grant programs to help states implement or improve early learning systems, particularly for children in low-income areas.


Himes says early childhood education is one of the smartest investments we can make. It leads to better academic, professional, and social outcomes for children while also improving our workforce and our communities.  He added that Connecticut has made strides in expanding access to early education for our children, but much of the rest of the nation lags behind.


Himes says these two bills build on the early education success seen in Southwest Connecticut and would complement the important work the President has done to advance early education and ensure that all children have the leg-up they need to succeed in school and contribute to our economy.

Common ground could be seen on tax exemptions being restored

On Friday Governor Dannel Malloy called for more than $104 million in new tax cuts to be included in the budget he is set to unveil later this week for the next two fiscal years.  Some members of the House Republican caucus say they made similar proposals the week before, but with this year's budget surplus. 


New Fairfield Representative Richard Smith says the tax exemption on clothes and footware under $50 should be restored.  The Governor's proposals also include exempting non-prescription drugs from the state sales tax, something the caucus proposed being done with this year's surplus money as well.


The Governor's proposal will also slash the amount of income tax retired teachers pay on their pensions.

Monet painting part of copper heiress auction

NEW YORK (AP) Important paintings by Monet and Renoir are among 400 items that will be sold from a reclusive heiress’ private trove at Christie’s in May, the auction house announced today.


The sale of Huguette Clark collection comes after a feud over her estate was settled in the fall.  A onetime socialite, Clark died  in 2011 at 104 years old. She had a home in New Canaan in addition to a home in Santa Barbara, California and three apartments in Manhattan, but she elected to spend her last 20 years in a hospital.


Monet’s ‘‘Water Lilies,’’ which Christie’s said has not been publicly exhibited since 1926, is estimated to sell for $25 million to $35 million.  The total collection is expected to bring in more than $50 million.


She signed two wills within six weeks at age 98, the first bequeathing her riches mostly to about 20 distant relatives and the second cutting them out.  The September settlement mainly benefited arts institutions and the distant relations.  The auction proceeds will go to the estate to be distributed.


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