East Lyme campaign aims to stop speeding on local roads
Published July 08. 2016 10:27AM | Updated July 08. 2016 9:08PM
By Kimberly Drelich   Day staff writer
 k.drelich@theday.com   KimberlyDrelich

East Lyme — A campaign is underway to encourage drivers to slow down on local roads, from pathways in small beach communities to long, rural roads in the north end of town.

Small signs placed on roads in East Lyme say “Slow Down, Enjoy Our Town,” or “Check Your Speed in Our Village.”

First Selectman Mark Nickerson said he gets calls every week from people in the community who ask for the town to do something about speeding on local roads.

The new campaign is intended to raise awareness about the importance of driving slowly and to encourage town residents to take personal responsibility and slow down the prevailing speed.

“People need to take responsibility for their actions and realize when buzzing through town that it’s someone else’s neighborhood,” said Nickerson. He pointed out that people are outside walking their dogs or jogging, while kids are riding bikes in the driveway or playing ball in the front yard. 

Thus far, there are about 60 signs posted around town, with another 20 that are scheduled to be placed. The signs were funded through a donation, as well as some funds from the first selectman's office.

He is also asking the police department to step up enforcement.

During the summer, many people are visiting the boardwalk, beaches and Main Street in downtown Niantic. He said drivers should be aware of the increased foot traffic.

While Nickerson said he receives complaints about speeding throughout the year, the summertime brings a larger volume of people driving on the roads. There are also more visitors who are potentially unfamiliar with local roads.

In addition, when Interstate 95 is backed up or closed down, drivers tend to cut through the town. They may also try to speed when they find an open road, he said.

Nickerson previously wrote a blog about the speeding issue, posted on the town's website, which encourages drivers to slow down.

"If we all watch our speed and be mindful of our individual responsibility of slowing down, others on the road will have no choice but to slow down too," he wrote in the blog. "This will help our police force identify those on our roads who are excessively speeding. But more importantly, it will keep us all safe."

Group fundraising to bring dog park to East Lyme
Published March 20. 2017 9:16AM 
By Kimberly Drelich   Day staff writer
 k.drelich@theday.com   KimberlyDrelich

A group of East Lyme residents is beginning a grassroots effort to bring a dog park to town.

"It would be a nice addition to all the great things going on in East Lyme," said Donna Palumbo, co-chairman of the group, Friends of the East Lyme Dog Park.

Palumbo said she hopes the proposed park would serve not only as a spot for people to gather with their pets, but also as a means for people to become involved in their community.

For example, volunteers could hold fundraisers for the local animal shelter or humane society or run an educational campaign one month about microchipping dogs, she said.

"We want it to be an active community dog park," she said.

Dog parks provide opportunities for people to socialize and would draw people to town, who could then head over to other nearby attractions, said group members.

"It's a destination," said Paul Kramm, the group's co-chairman.  

Palumbo said she visits other towns for their dogs parks and has met some of the nicest people. Kramm and Palumbo themselves met at Waterford's dog park.

Palumbo's dog, Dutch Palumbo, a Highland/Cairn terrier mix whom she adopted in 2012 from the Connecticut Humane Society in Waterford, even met by chance his brother, Clutch, at a dog park in Norwich.

Kramm said that every time he went to Waterford's park, there were many people from the East Lyme, Old Lyme, Waterford and New London areas. He said he felt that "we should share the responsibility and have one in East Lyme as well."

A prospective location for the dog park, with separate fenced-in areas for large and small dogs, would be three-quarters of an acre of town-owned land near the baseball field by Veterans Memorial Field on Pennsylvania Avenue in Niantic.

Palumbo said the group is open to feedback and suggestions of prospective locations and ways to raise money. The group is also seeking people and community groups willing to help.

Palumbo said the group is aiming to raise about $30,000 for the park. The town is willing to meet the group in some way, but not until the group first raises money.

Kramm said that if the group doesn't have to, it won't take money from the town.

First Selectman Mark Nickerson said there are up to $15,000 in matching funds for a dog park in the town's capital plan, but with anticipated budget cuts from the state and Board of Finance, the town funding could be delayed for another year or so.

While people can walk their dogs on the town's beaches until Memorial Day, the dog park would be a spot where people could bring their dogs year-round, said Palumbo.

Recently, there have been discussions on social media among residents who want the town to allow dogs on the boardwalk, which is now prohibited. At a recent Board of Selectmen meeting, Nickerson said the issue is not only a matter of people cleaning up after their dogs, but also a matter of safety as the boardwalk is narrower than some boardwalks in other parts of the country.

Nickerson said by phone that he thinks the town should provide a place for dog owners to bring their pets. 

"It's become a facility that a lot of municipalities have embraced, and I think the time has come for East Lyme to consider one," he added.

He applauded the efforts of residents.

"It's great when citizens come together," he said. 

More information on the plans or to learn how to get involved or donate is available by contacting Palumbo at donnapalumbo133@gmail.com or (860) 739-2861.

East Lyme first selectman to cut his own salary
Published April 20. 2017 12:06PM | Updated April 20. 2017 6:38PM

By Kimberly Drelich   Day staff writer

 k.drelich@theday.com   KimberlyDrelich

East Lyme — First Selectman Mark Nickerson said he will take a pay cut of $16,000 in 2017-18 as the town faces another year of budgetary cutbacks that have forced department heads to "do more with less."

“My offer to cut my salary comes at a time when all our town departments are feeling the pressure of tight budget cycles year after year," he said in a statement. "We have a great town with exceptional services delivered by our town department heads and their staffs. Our departments do so much with very little as compared to similar towns in our area. The rollback of my salary seems like the right thing to do. I will work just as hard, if not harder.”

Nickerson, who currently makes $115,459 as first selectman, said in a phone interview earlier this week that he offered to cut his salary because he wanted to lead by example and support department heads who have experienced cutbacks each year.

"I thought I needed to have skin in the game," he said. "It was time the first selectman's budget was also affected."

He said the tough budgetary times have meant cutting positions in the past. The town also has cut back on benefits and hours and has asked departments "to do more with less."

The town is "in a wait-and-see moment" in terms of how much state aid it will receive next year, he said, and the proposed pay cut is in anticipation of state cuts that will be ongoing for years.

Nickerson, who is a field representative and owner of two local GEICO offices, said the company encourages its employees to give back to the community and he began volunteering with the town 18 years ago. He said the company has been both, allowing him to serve the town as first selectman and also providing income, so he now has the opportunity to give back part of his town salary to the general fund.

At its April 3 meeting, the Board of Finance had cut the town's proposed general government budget by $100,000.

To make up for the reduction, Nickerson recommended the cut to his salary, as well as cutting back on supplies from various departments and funding for part-time clerical staff in his office and making an $8,000 cut to the library and $10,000 cut to Parks and Recreation.

He said the town is reallocating an engineer to work 25 percent of his time in the Water and Sewer Department.

The town will save on highway overtime and also will not immediately fill the position of highway supervisor with the retirement of Chuck Holyfield, but instead will let some foremen handle the tasks, he said.

Nickerson said the town was able to get a $5,000 discount on its liability insurance because it has removed all underground storage tanks. About $11,000 will be saved in electricity from the town's move to LED lights and the renegotiation of the electrical contract, among other reductions.

At its April 3 meeting, the finance board also specifically cut increases proposed for the town's fire departments; $225,000 from the proposed $46.79 million schools' budget; and $132,000 from the proposed $923,646 capital budget.

A public hearing on the overall $70.8 million budget, which is 2.29 percent more than this year's budget, will be held at 7 p.m. Monday at the East Lyme High School auditorium. 

Re-elect Nickerson in East Lyme

Published November 02. 2017 5:51PM         By The Day Editorial Board   

We suppose a highly skilled politician might somehow make the case for a change in leadership in East Lyme, where First Selectman Mark Nickerson administers to a town with a healthy and growing tax base, excellent schools, a diverse housing stock and a great little village in Niantic.

But Wesley “Wes” Firmin is not a skilled politician and he has not made the case.

It is race of Republican versus Republican, with Nickerson the party nominee and Firmin challenging him by way of the petition process. While Firmin deserves credit for making this a contested race and giving voters a choice, it is not much of a contest and the choice is clear.

Under Nickerson’s watch, the town recently exited the state trooper program in favor of its own independent police department. The timing was right. And Nickerson is exploring the potential for consolidating police service with neighboring Old Lyme. Firmin said at a recent debate such talk comes too soon after creating the independent police force. We don’t see why.

Things are getting done. Prudent zoning has generated development to broaden the tax base without adversely affecting the quality of residential life. A debate on improving aging elementary schools led to a consensus to renovate them.

Nickerson, who became first selectman in 2015, has overseen the renovation and reopening of the Niantic Boardwalk. It complements a village of Niantic that seems to grow in charm and vibrancy with each passing year.

Soon to add to the village’s appeal is the pending conversion of a centrally located parcel from an outdated service station to a small park overlooking Niantic Bay. Firmin calls it unnecessary given other needs, but voters overwhelmingly approved the purchase. By enhancing the village’s attractiveness, it is well worth the investment.

Nickerson deserves much credit, but certainly not all credit, for this progress. He has kept things moving in the right direction after the successful service of his predecessor as first selectman, Paul Formica, now a state senator.

Firmin tries to make the case that Nickerson, because he has two GEICO offices, cannot give the job his full focus. But anyone bothering to watch knows the incumbent puts in long hours.

The Day endorses Mark Nickerson for re-election as first selectman of East Lyme.

Board of Selectmen have approved plans to make our police force independent.  Watch and read:

Nickerson announces he will seek re-election
Published June 23. 2017 8:06PM 
By Kimberly Drelich   Day staff writer
 k.drelich@theday.com   KimberlyDrelich

East Lyme — First Selectman Mark Nickerson has announced that he will seek re-election in November.
Nickerson, a Republican, became first selectman in Jan. 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 Nov. 2015. 

"Being the First Selectman of East Lyme has been an incredibly rewarding experience," Nickerson wrote in part of the announcement on his website. "In my position, I have the unique perspective of seeing the entire town’s operations, boards/commissions, volunteer 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. And THAT makes all the difference!"

In the announcement, he listed the completion of the Niantic Bay Boardwalk, the purchase of the former Mobil gas station on Main Street and plans for a park there, the independent police force, improvements to the Community Center parking lot, the schools project, new band shell at McCook Point Park and plans for a dog park as accomplishments.

Nickerson said by phone Friday that being first selectman is an awesome opportunity to give back to a great town and work with professional department heads and commission members.

"I don't think my job is finished here yet," he said. "I think there is still a lot to accomplish and a lot that I can do. Three years just isn't enough."
He added that he is up for the challenge of leading the town and its citizens through the state's economic recovery that he is optimistic will happen at some point.

East Lyme first selectman recommends independent police force
Published September 29. 2016 8:34PM | Updated September 29. 2016 9:07PM
By Kimberly Drelich   Day staff writer
 k.drelich@theday.com   KimberlyDrelich

East Lyme — First Selectman Mark Nickerson announced Thursday that he is recommending his town move to an independent police force, a move that two other area towns — Montville and Ledyard — have considered, with different results.

Nickerson said East Lyme has had a great relationship with the state police and a long legacy of good resident state troopers, but the town has grown since it first joined the resident trooper program decades ago — and so have the duties of the police force. 

"This is a decision simply about who should manage our force of 22 police officers in our town of 20,000," Nickerson said.

An independent police force would mean a hired police chief and a police commission comprising about five to seven town resident volunteers.

The Board of Selectmen is expected to hear a presentation and begin discussions on an independent police force at its next meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Town Hall.

In East Lyme, Nickerson said the creation of an independent police force has long been a topic of conversation and the subject of several studies.

"I think going to an independent status will give us more value for the money we are paying on public protection, but also more accountability," he added.

Nickerson said the town currently spends more than $200,000 for the resident state trooper program, with costs expected to increase.

By moving to an independent police force, the town could avoid paying $150,000 for upgrades to the state police's radio system, which will be required this year or next year, he said. 

He said he thinks the town could move to an independent force for the same cost as the current department, but he noted that it would be worth it to taxpayers if it costs a little more, but brought in more value.

Nickerson said that under the state contract, the resident trooper, a state employee, works 40 hours a week. The state police have established a chain of command for when a town's resident state trooper is not on duty for the town.

But he said an independent police force would provide continuity and an "in-house" chain of command at all times. For example, a lieutenant or deputy chief could serve as second in command to the police chief.

Nickerson added that state police services — for example, the investigation of major crimes — still would be available if the town moved to an independent force.

In September 2015, the Ledyard Town Council approved a move to an independent department, with strong support from the town's officers and residents. Facing an increased cost of staying in the resident state trooper program, the Town Council unanimously voted for the change despite facing costs of about $70,000 to pay for a new vehicle for the chief, a fingerprinting scanner, breath-testing equipment and radio signal boosters.

In Montville, an ordinance creating an independent department in January of this year was shot down in a townwide referendum.

Despite endorsements by the Montville Town Council and a committee that said an independent department would bring stability and more grant opportunities to the town, more than 1,500 residents voted to repeal the ordinance in March.

A group of town residents convinced many that an independent department would mean higher taxes and would be unnecessarily expensive, despite the 17,000-square-foot public safety building built in 2010 to one day house an independent department.

It was the second time Montville voters had rejected the plan; a referendum overturned an independent department proposal in 2002.

In East Lyme, a task force studying the issue of an independent police force is expected to present to the selectmen on Wednesday. The task force is comprised of Thomas Gardner, Kathleen Miller, Joseph Perkins, Mark Powers, Stephen Rebelowski and Steve Kelley.  

A group of the town's police sergeants are also studying the issue, Nickerson said.

Nickerson said Wednesday's meeting will be the beginning of the conversation and the dissemination of information, but the selectmen are not in a position to yet take a vote that evening. 

He said the selectmen would hold a public hearing in the future, before voting on an ordinance.

"We will want to hear from the public on their opinions and any factual information they may have," he said. "This is an open discussion."