Some comments about our town budget in relation to the state’s budget crisis.           March 2019

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.

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.

East Lyme Republican

East Lyme First Selectman Nickerson announces re-election bid

Published June 20. 2019 
By Mary Biekert   Day staff writer

East Lyme — In a decision he said was made out of love for East Lyme, First Selectman Mark Nickerson announced Thursday he will seek a third term as town executive in this year’s upcoming election.

“I love the town first, and I love this job,” Nickerson said Thursday in an interview with The Day. “I’m proud of the accomplishments that my team and I have made through the years, and they are significant."

Of those accomplishments, Nickerson highlighted in a news release the completion of the Niantic Bay Boardwalk, the purchase of the former Mobil gas station on Main Street, as well as the building of a new park on that property, establishing an independent police force in town and improvements to the Community Center parking lot, as well as the elementary schools renovation project, among others, which more recently have included the town’s decision to purchase a new public safety building and install new bathrooms at Cini Park.

“Being First Selectman of East Lyme has been an incredible and rewarding position,” Nickerson wrote in the release. “In my position, I have the unique perspective of seeing the entire town’s operations, commissions, volunteers groups and non-profits all come together to do their part to make our town the great community it is. We keep politics out of the management and development of our town. We accomplish these great results as a team.”

Nickerson, a Republican, became first selectman in January 2015 to serve the remainder of former First Selectman Paul Formica's term after Formica was elected to the state Senate. Nickerson then was elected to a full two-year term as first selectman in November that same year, according to Day archives.

In years prior to becoming first selectman, Nickerson has served in other town-elected positions, first as an alternate Zoning Commission member beginning in 1999 and later as its chair. In 2009, he was elected onto the Board of Selectmen. Nickerson also currently chairs the town’s Water and Sewer Commission.

A potential Democratic candidate has not yet made an announcement to enter this year’s election race.

Looking forward, Nickerson explained Thursday he hopes to keep tackling ongoing projects and issues, such as renovations at the town’s future public safety facility on West Main Street, which he said are expected to be completed early next year, as well as overseeing the completion of the incoming Costco project.

Nickerson said that if he is re-elected, he hopes, among other goals, to potentially instate a tax-abatement program for seniors, as well as seeing the redevelopment of the current Dominion-owned police station building on Main Street. He said the town is looking to acquire the building as soon as the town's police force moves out.

Adding to that, Nickerson also said he hopes to find a resolution to the now decadeslong court case between the town of East Lyme and Glenn Russo of Landmark Development, who has planned a large housing development in the environmentally sensitive Oswegatchie Hills section of town.

“I don’t accomplish anything alone. I have a great team of people who volunteer to be on these boards and commissions and then I have incredible department heads who are supremely professional in their chosen careers. And they continue to do more with less year after year,” Nickerson said Thursday. “It’s the town first. It’s the people first. And look around, we have a good town. And I think that’s as refreshing as can be.”

East Lyme to hold referendum on proposed policing facility
Published February 12. 2019 6:03PM 
By Mary Biekert   Day staff writer

East Lyme — Residents will have a final say at a referendum Feb. 20 as to whether East Lyme should move forward with a proposed $5 million public safety facility.
The vote comes three months after First Select Mark Nickerson announced a plan to purchase and renovate the $2,775,000 Honeywell office building at 277 W. Main St. to turn into a public safety facility.

Originally estimated to cost taxpayers nearly $6 million — a number that included both the building purchase and $3.2 million in renovations — the Board of Finance has since cut the town’s spending limit on that proposal to $5 million, approving instead $2.23 million for renovations at a January special meeting.
The 30,000-square-foot facility, which sits on 17 acres, would consolidate the town’s dispatch center, fire marshal’s office and emergency operations center — which currently are housed in Flanders — with the police station and would include an evidence room, an arms lockup room and storage, among other uses.
In his original proposal, Nickerson called for including holding cells at the facility. Whether those can now be built with a $5 million bonding limit — the estimated cost is upwards of $1 million — remains to be seen, Nickerson said in January. The town presently pays Waterford approximately $50,000 annually to use its holding cells, evidence lockup and vehicle storage, among other uses, and may continue to utilize the town’s holding cells services.

The need for a new policing facility has been a pressing issue for nearly two decades, Nickerson said in a phone interview Tuesday. In those years, the town has turned down two other proposals for policing facilities. In 2004, the Board of Finance shot down a $6.5 million proposal to build a facility at Camp Niantic, and in 2007 voters rejected a $14 million complex at referendum.
Nickerson, as well as policing staff, have described the present facilities on Main Street, which the town leases from Dominion Energy for $1 a year, as having “deplorable” conditions. Constant flooding and water leaks, as well as mildew and poor air quality, make working in the facility difficult for the town’s law enforcement staff, they’ve said.

The police force, with 23 full-time officers and one part-time officer, serves the town's 19,000 year-round residents, as well as a surge of seasonal visitors and residents in the summer.

Since November, town officials and taxpayers have spoken back and forth at length — through public forums, board and commission meetings, as well as over social media — about the proposal and whether it is fiscally, logistically and operationally feasible.
Some taxpayers have questioned the building's location and proximity to flood zones, its size, and whether the move is even necessary, among other concerns.
In particular, residents have expressed fears about how financing millions for the facility, almost two years after the town approved financing $38 million for elementary school renovations, could cause a burden to taxpayers.

Nickerson has held several public forums in recent months and has posted information about the proposal on the town’s website in an effort to allay those concerns.

Should residents pass the proposal, Nickerson said the town will need to complete remaining tests needed to purchase the property, including water and septic tests, for example, he said. After hiring an architect and builders, he said he hopes renovations can start as early as this summer. He said there may be opportunity to move the police force into the building before renovations are complete.
Nickerson also said he and the Board of Selectmen will quickly appoint a building committee to oversee the renovations and plans. Included on that committee will be three Board of Finance members, three selectmen, three police committee members, the chief of police and two civilians.
The town, according to a purchase and sales agreement signed with Honeywell, will close on the property no later than the end of May, should the referendum pass.

Should it not pass, Nickerson said, “It would be unfortunate. This town needs to do something for the police.”
“We would go back to the drawing board and would have to come up with another plan but it would likely be more expensive,” he said, explaining that the town would have to construct a new building costing an estimated $10 million to $12 million.
“You can’t have town employees, especially a police force, working in conditions like this. This is not only a great opportunity, this is a necessity,” Nickerson continued. “We’ve done as good a job as we can possibly getting all the information out to the public, and I’m confident our taxpayers will see the value in this opportunity.”