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7/6/2014 - Moving Beyond: Securing Waterbury's Resurgence

Neil M. O’Leary

Mayor, City of Waterbury

The Republican-American recently ran an article that discussed the annual designation by the Department of Economic and Community Development of Connecticut’s 25 most distressed municipalities and the fact that Waterbury ranked #1 on that list. Unfortunately, this designation is an example of what I and every resident of Waterbury have witnessed for a generation.  We have all lived through the slow decline, watching industry close or leave, ineffectual efforts to pursue economic development, crumbling infrastructure and the devastating impact of political scandal and fiscal insolvency.  Charting a new direction and realizing a true rebirth of the City we love is THE reason I sought to be Mayor two and a half years ago. It remains the unrelenting focus of this administration every day.

Waterbury residents should ask themselves, “What do we have to do to get off this list ?”

Despite many challenges we have had to overcome I am proud that we have indeed made real progress in addressing every one of the components that determine DECD’s Distressed Municipalities list. The current list discussed in the Republican-American article was issued last September.  Almost all of the data used to determine the rankings are from 2011 or earlier and pre dates this administration’s efforts.

There are many milestones we must reach on our path to a new future but I want to share a few of the key building blocks we have put in place and the impact they have had on helping to get us off “the list.”

Economic Development has become a core function of the Mayor’s Office in this administration. As a result, 26 new businesses and over 300 jobs were created during my first term.  In the last year alone we have brought in 14 new businesses resulting in an additional 302 new jobs in our City. We are currently assisting 8 companies who have committed to expanding employment by 75 jobs in the next 6 months. Lastly I am thrilled to report that we are in the final stages of transactions with 13 new businesses such as King Industries which will result in the creation of 623 ADDITIONAL permanent jobs and well over 200 construction jobs.

Blight in our neighborhoods has lowered property values, hampered economic development and done harm to one of the City’s greatest assets, our vibrant neighborhoods. As a result I made it a priority to improve on the conditions that were allowed to exist for far too long. Thus far we have demolished 31 blighted buildings and my budget for the upcoming Fiscal Year provides funds to continue that progress.

The existence of an incredible number of brownfields sites in our City has left us with a legacy of blight, reduced property values and a negative impact on our grand list. Rather than continue to drive past these sites and recall with nostalgia what they once were, I have committed to aggressively identify, cleanup and redevelop them.  In fact we have received national acclaim for these efforts and will reap significant benefits in the years ahead. We have assessed 31 properties across the City, have already redeveloped 7 sites and have identified 5 new targets for assessment and redevelopment.

Thanks to the efforts of the Oversight Board and the sacrifice of our residents and employees, our City is in the most solid fiscal position it has known in modern history. I determined that we needed to continue to improve on that progress and instituted strict budget and management processes to do so. These efforts have recently been recognized by the major credit rating agencies awarding a significant upgrade in our Bond rating to a level second only to Stamford of the state’s large cities.

The establishment of 5 new and upgraded neighborhood schools along with a system wide focus on education reform will have an enormous impact on moving the City down the Distressed Municipalities list. These initiatives improve property values in those neighborhoods and most importantly enhance the educational experience for our children.  It has already been a valuable tool assisting our efforts to attract new business to our City.

Waterbury’s aging housing stock was one key factor that led to our position on “the list.” Recognizing this, my administration has worked with multiple partners across our City to improve on this metric. As a result we now have 511 new housing units that have come online or are currently under development.

As we work on these and many other areas to realize a new future for Waterbury, an ongoing initiative of this administration has been in forging partnerships. I recognize that the City government alone cannot improve on our City’s fortunes. I am honored to have worked to establish and strengthen collaboration with business leaders, the Chamber, community groups, and other key City stakeholders as we chart a new course. In the end, the most important partnership we must continue to foster is with the people of Waterbury.

Together, we must believe that a new future is possible. This administration has worked very hard to motivate and recognize the volunteer efforts of our citizens over the past two years. The nationally recognized shovel brigade, construction of the KaBoom playscape, the mosaic art piece on South Main St. , and improvements to all of our magnificent parks including the construction of PAL Park. We have all lived through too many missteps and failures in our past to easily believe that something different is possible, yet over the past two and a half years we have proven that by working together nothing is impossible.

All these accomplishments are still only the beginning. The expansion and improvement of health care in our city and region continue to be a top priority, as well as downtown revitalization. Stay tuned for WATERBURY NEXT… won’t want to miss it.