Mark Nickerson - First Selectman
no guest - upcoming EL issues
"It is an honor to serve you. Please feel free to reach out to me anytime to give me your ideas or comments".
--- Mark Nickerson
First Selectman's message to the town; the release of the draft budget plan. 0.0% increase!
Released February 7th, 2018
Our state’s economy continues to slide downward and Connecticut residents are increasingly paying the price. Our state government’s budget crisis dominates the headlines and creates anxiety and worry to all. It has put extreme pressure and created an atmosphere of worry on families across our state. It is far more expensive to live…and die in Connecticut than ever before. And based on the state’s balance sheet, we have not yet hit our bottom.
Because of the state’s fiscal mess, these are tough days for municipalities too. We are caught between reductions in state aid, a mediocre business climate, and rising costs for goods and services. Health care, liability insurance, collective bargaining wages and associated benefits have all out-paced the private sector’s cost of living…by far. Containing costs on the municipal level has been a real challenge for most towns. I’m proud to say that East Lyme has been extremely successful thus far in weathering the storm.
BALANCE IS THE KEY: Most of my reflection and planning for spending in our town is focused on the “value we receive” from the money we spend. Businesses call this “Return on Investment” (ROI) …we are no different. We are trying to strike a balance at all times…the balance of taxes vs. services delivered. With the loss of state aid and the natural rise in the cost of delivering municipal services, we are trying to strike a balance between raising taxes to pay for the services we value, eliminating services that we can no longer support, and increased pressure to uncover efficiencies through shared services (regionalization).
Losing large chunks of state aid and shifting that burden onto property taxes is the real issue for today and the near future. Obviously, making sure our town remains affordable and favorable will be the central challenge. Already, we have created an atmosphere where that “equation” or “balance” plays into every single decision we make in our town...365 days a year. We don’t just consider these issues during budget season. Literally, the value of return of the tax money we spend (the ROI) is part of every conversation I have with every town employee and commission member throughout the year.
We must prepare for the eventual loss of state aid (currently at $7.62 million) and the burden it will have on our property taxes. Living within our means might mean the loss of some town services in the future. Of course, when services are cut or standards are lowered, it will be impossible to please everyone. Eliminating traditional services, cutting back hours, and lowering service-level expectations will be met with criticism by some and applauded by others. The value of our services is in the eye of the beholder. Half our citizens might value and even rely on a particular service while the other half will call it wasteful spending. Although we have been able to maintain service and standards thus far, we will need to make some very difficult decisions in the coming years.
THE BUDGET: I am delivering a ZERO PERCENT INCREASE in the town’s budget. Needless to say, this is a bare bones budget. I worked alongside our finance director, Anna Johnson and met with each department head, agency, and commission to streamline all services that we deliver and expenses we must endure. There is NO new programming, services or expansion of our town’s government. Most of our budget goes to labor and the benefits that are provided to our workforce. While we must continue to invest in materials, equipment, maintenance, roads, and other resources, we only do so only after an exhausting process of scrutinizing every detail and measuring each item’s value.
The entire town’s leadership---department heads, supervisors, commissioners and board members like you---know that we are in survival mode right now. We are struggling to keep taxes and expenses as low as possible yet we are still trying to deliver the high quality of town services and programming that our residents have come to love and expect.
NO NEW PROJECTS…PERIOD. We are finishing projects in our town that we started 5+ years ago. Most of the town projects are being completed with state grant money. The new Main Street Park, bathrooms and dinghy docks in Cini Park, and the school renovation project are all projects that had their start several years before I arrived in this position 3 years ago. In fact, since becoming First Selectman, I have proposed no new building or project initiatives. This isn’t something I’m proud of, but it is necessary in order to survive through the state’s economic crisis.
The only project on our near horizon that we MUST focus on is a Public Safety facility. Our police department was moved to a “temporary facility” back in 19xx while the town formulated plans to build a permanent, professional and appropriate structure. Since then, two plans failed to win approval. We MUST either commit to invest money to renovate and expand the current facility or build a new facility. The current structure is not adequate in size or layout and its condition is deteriorating rapidly. Our town must make a decision in the coming year to renovate or build new. Planning is in the works now to determine the best course of action.
As I begin my forth year as East Lyme’s First Selectman, I continue to be amazed by the dedication and the efforts of our town’s Department Heads. They do an incredible job with their respective departments and they inspire their teams to deliver first class service to our taxpayers. A great majority of them live in our town and they understand first-hand the struggles of balancing services with increasing costs. Over the past several years, every one of these leaders has found efficiencies to hold down expenditures in their departments. This year is no different. I am fortunate to work alongside these professionals and I am often amazed at their attitude, persistence, and ability to lead their departments through this economic downturn. East Lyme continues to deliver municipal services with less…our department heads deserve all the credit.
Mark C. Nickerson, First Selectman
TRAFFIC TRAFFIC TRAFFIC: July 21, 2015
After a better-than-terrific Celebrate East Lyme Day, I headed back to my office on Monday to receive no less than a dozen complains/concerns from our citizens regarding the increased traffic to our roads, beaches, and highway during the summer months. Maybe this frustration has been building for a while and CEL Day was the breaking point. Maybe the patience of our citizens is being pushed to the limit. I have a few thoughts and observations.
As a seaside town with four public beaches (including the state park) and a charming downtown village, there is no doubt that summer brings people from all over the state (and beyond) seeking relief and relaxation. In addition our population literally DOUBLES in the summer with our seasonal residents and their guests returning. With the addition of GPS technology in most new cars, people are finding the small roads and shortcuts that once were only known by locals. More and more, we are finding that when Rocky Neck is full, visitors start exploring and looking for alternatives…they will not be denied. They end up in our private neighborhoods, private beaches, and yes, our public beaches too.
Some of these issues have easy solutions, some don’t. I plan on spending the off-season working on a plan to guide sun-seekers with better signage (pointing them away from neighborhood public beaches and to public parking spots), shuttle buses to Cini Park, and bathroom facilities at Cini Park. In addition, with the crowds on the beaches and traffic all over town, we need to consider increasing our police presence on our beaches, parking lots and roadways. Our police force is over-extended during these three months…and it is time we had a conversation about our increasing needs.
TRAFFIC CONTROL: The increased traffic on our roadways is bringing concerns about drivers who run red lights, drive through stop signs, and fly down our narrow streets with no concern for pedestrians and kids. Again, this has increased exponentially with GPS mapping in cars (and on phones) and the increased use of our side-streets. I personally have witnessed 2 near misses of pedestrians using the crosswalks on Main Street and drivers who refuse to stop. While I have asked the police to step up patrols, they can’t be everywhere. I AM ASKING ALL CITIZENS TO SLOW DOWN, MIND THE TRAFFIC CONTROLS, AND DRIVE CAUTIOUSLY and DEFENSIVELY. Truly that is the only way to protect yourself and your family against aggressive drivers.
Another issue we are experiencing is that I-95 continues to resemble a parking lot on the weekends…and even during other times during the week. That is another reason we are experiencing frustrated and aggressive drivers on our local streets. It seems more common than not that in the Flanders section of town, you’ll find drivers rushing thru a yellow or red light instead of exercising patience and courtesy. Again, we will address increasing police presence in the future. In addition, I will meet with the State Traffic Control who own the traffic lights on our state roads and look to change the timing of the lights to better accommodate the increased traffic. In the mean time, USE CAUTION.
LIFE IS GOOD here in East Lyme. There is no doubt that we live in an amazing place. There ARE solutions to the problems that present themselves and I will personally spend time and energy to enact those necessary changes during the off season. In the mean time, embrace the goodness all around us, breathe deeply, and stay serene…because before you know it…we will be lining up for the Light Parade. yikes!our paragraph here.
Some comments about our town budget in relation to the state’s budget crisis. Our state’s economy continues to slide downward and Connecticut residents are increasingly paying the price. Our state government’s budget crisis dominates the headlines and creates anxiety and worry for all of us. It has put extreme pressure on families and small businesses across our state. It is far more expensive to live (and die) in Connecticut than ever before. And based on the state’s balance sheet, we have not yet hit our bottom.
Because of the state’s fiscal mess, these are tough days for municipalities too. We are caught between reductions in state aid, a mediocre business climate, and rising costs for goods and services. In our town’s budget, health care, liability insurance, energy costs, collective bargaining wages and associated benefits have all significantly out-paced the private sector’s cost of living. Containing costs on the municipal level has been a real challenge for most towns. I’m proud to say that East Lyme has been extremely successful thus far in weathering the storm.
BALANCE IS THE KEY:
East Lyme is a quality town. We all moved here and/or we choose to stay here because of the quality of life and the quality of our schools. Striking a balance between rising property taxes and maintaining the quality of our town is the key. Town leaders on the Boards of Selectmen and Finance as well as every town department head and team member are supremely focused on this mission. We must continue to work to keep our town as affordable as possible WITHOUT losing the quality of our education and town services. Already, we have created an atmosphere where that “equation” or “balance” plays into every single decision we make in our town...365 days a year. We don’t just consider these issues during budget season. Literally, the value of return of the tax money we spend (the ROI) is part of every conversation I have with every town employee and commission member throughout the year.
I delivered a ZERO PERCENT INCREASE in the town’s budget this year. We lost personnel through attrition and consolidation, and we were able to merge or eliminate some services that created new efficiencies. Needless to say, this is a bare bones budget. I’m also pleased that the Board of Education brought forth a no-nonsense budget to the table during the recent budget process. There is NO new programming, services or expansion of our town’s government. Most of our budget goes to labor and the benefits that are provided to our workforce. While we must continue to invest in materials, equipment, maintenance, roads, and other resources, we only do so only after an exhausting process of scrutinizing every detail and measuring each item’s value.
The entire town’s leadership---department heads, supervisors, commissioners and board members ---know that we are in survival mode right now. We are struggling to keep taxes and expenses as low as possible yet we are still trying to deliver the high quality of town services and programming that our residents have come to love and expect. I thank each and every member of our community for the support you give our town. I am always here for a conversation, a suggestion or comment. It’s an honor to serve you.
Events Magazine, Spring 2017
It’s been far too long since Niantic Main Street was bustling with pedestrians, dressed in t-shirts and flip flops. It seems like “forever” since hazy, hot and humid weather was the daily forecast and residents and visitors visited our beaches, boardwalk, and parks. The cold temperatures of this winter and the winds coming off the sound blow away any thoughts of toddlers running in the surf and dads commanding the grills at backyard bbq’s. Yet, in no time at all, these summer scenes will once again be upon us. And we are already busy planning for the Summer of 2017.
All the great traditions of a Niantic summer will be back including the Niantic Boardwalk 5k in April, the great Memorial Day parade on May 29th, Celebrate East Lyme on July 15th, and the Niantic Triathlon in August.
In addition, we are planning to continue the popular Wednesday night beach concerts in August and Friday night family movie nights under the stars at McCook’s Park.
Working with the Niantic Lions, the Niantic Rotary Club and the EL Public Trust, the Park’s and Rec Commission will add a new performance stage (bandshell) to McCook’s Park this summer. Get ready for the inaugural season of great bands and performances at McCook’s great lawn. What a fabulous addition this will be!!!
At the town hall, our team is busy planning work for the warmer months to improve our roads, trim trees along our rural routes, and finally improve the old gas station on Main Street. While its frustrating that the demolition approval from the state has taken longer than expected, I am confident that the building will be removed and the property will be improved before the summer season. The town was unsuccessful in receiving a beautification grant (STEAP) from the state yet we have developed a plan to improve the property using local resources. This will be a terrific improvement to our Main Street.
Our Parks and Rec Department is among the very best. The variety of programming is amazing for a small town. There is literally something for everyone and I can’t encourage you enough to browse thru this great magazine and commit to try something new. I promise you will not regret it.
I am so grateful to be East Lyme’s First Selectman. It truly is an honor. Because of my position, I have the privilege of meeting and speaking with so many residents. I love hearing the different stories why our citizens love our town. I hear stories about the natural beauty, the beaches, the trails, the great schools, the quality of life, and the wonderful caring nature of our people who watch out for one another. I look forward to hearing your story too. If you see me out and about, don’t hesitate to stop me and say hello…or drop into the town hall.
I wish you and your family the very best. “I’ll see you on the Boardwalk”.
Dave Putnam - Parks and Rec.
Joe Bragaw - Public Works
Deputy First Selectman
Bill Scheer - PW and Engineering
Senator Paul Formica
There is something special happening in East Lyme/Niantic. Look at all the businesses that have opened or re-opened in the last 2 years:
The Pit (power in training) Marvel Decorators
Twist (yarns) Rebeka's
Tranquility Balance Lillian's
Bayside Apartments/Retail Haylon's Market
Niantic Toy Store Indigo Retail
Smoothie Bird Niantic Acupuncture
Black Point Jewlerys Orthopedic Associates
Castello's Italian Restaurant McIlheney's Fitness
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From "Event's Magazine, May 2017:
Another summer on the shoreline is taking shape and you can feel the energy and excitement throughout our town. When we get to this time of the year, after enduring a long cold and dark winter, we come alive as individuals and collectively as a town. There’s nothing better than those first couple warm days of Spring when we all get outside to the beaches, boardwalk, and ballfields in our town.
This year’s first warm day came during the April school vacation week. In spite of a cool breeze coming off the water and the water temperatures being closer to freezing than tolerable, McCook’s beach looked like a hot July day with the parking lot packed with cars and residents (some fully clothed) frolicking in the sand. The kid’s playscape on top of the hill was wall-to-wall kids and moms. Awesome! And you can imagine the number of people, young and not-so-young who came out to our beloved boardwalk. My heart warmed that day watching families coming out of hibernation to enjoy our town’s parks. We live in a special place.
It was about this time last year that I started our campaign to “SLOW DOWN and ENJOY OUR TOWN”. It was met with overwhelming praise. The message is simple: this is our town and we all need to do our part to maintain the quality of life here. When you drive thru East Lyme/Niantic, no matter where you are, you are in someone’s neighborhood. Even our busiest state roads (Routes 161, 156, and Boston Post) are lined with home’s and filled with kids, dog walkers and pedestrians. All streets throughout our town require your full attention and your care in driving. Abusing the speed limit to the point of being unsafe is disrespectful to your fellow citizens. Please, SHOW RESPECT and make a conscientious effort to keep your speed reasonable.
We’ve been talking about the addition of a bandshell for a couple years now. With financial assistance from the Niantic Lions, Niantic Rotary Club, and the East Lyme Public Trust, the performance stage has been built in McCook’s Park (next to the Pavilion). Our Park and Recreation Director, Dave Putnam and his staff have already lined up a summer of music beginning on the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend when we will cut the ribbon and celebrate this new facility. Watch for a full schedule of events coming up later this season.
Additionally, the new park on Main Street (at the former Mobil Station/Ocean Express) is finally being cleaned up. This identified Brownfield property received a state grant to clean up the property. While a slow process, the results will be stellar! We plan to clean-up the property by initially planting grass and then form a subcommittee to determine the final design for this key property. This is an exciting addition to our popular Main Street.
And speaking of Main Street, if you haven’t been downtown lately, your missing the best part of our town. Several shops have opened or expanded in the past year. We have one of the most idyllic villages in Connecticut. A great variety of restaurants, a movie theater, a children’s museum, over 2 dozen different stores, 3 premier ice cream shops, a dance studio, and so much more make our downtown attractive to our residents and visitors alike. All of this is connected to marinas, a 1.1 mile boardwalk, 3 town beaches and McCook’s Park…one of the prettiest public parks in America. With all the traffic on I-95, my suggestion is…STAY HERE IN NIANTIC. Make a commitment to support our local shop-owners by shopping and eating in our town.
Expect nothing but the best summer ever in Niantic this year. Our 3 town beaches, our ballfields, our playgrounds, and parks have all been readied and prepped for the season. All we need now is sunshine…and you!
Chief Mike Finkelstein, June 20, 2017