State of City: Mayor Blake says Milford is strong and proud

Following is the text of Mayor Ben Blake’s State of the City speech, which he made Friday, May 17, during a Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Today, I've been asked to share with you, the state of our city.  Ladies and gentlemen, the state of our City is strong and might I add – proud.  How proud we all were, as we watched our stricken city respond to two of the worst natural disasters in its history.

The people of Milford came together, we rallied, neighbor helping neighbor, young helping old, stranger helping stranger - through flooded neighborhoods and snowbound streets.  We came together and again demonstrated, as I so often say - that if you're lucky enough to live in Milford, you're lucky enough.

As the Tri-State area was hit with the worst storm since the Long Island Express of 1938, our Fire, Police, Public Works, Health, and other city personnel responded, and through their incredible and tireless efforts, Milford stood toe to toe with Superstorm Sandy and withstood its wrath while protecting the safety of our residents.  From Woodmont to Smith’s Point our shoreline experienced tremendous devastation and damage but our will remained strong and our commitment to each others’ safety and well-being prevailed.

Still, today we continue to help provide the relief and recovery for the thousands of residents affected by the Storm, including those whose homes were torn apart, shifted off foundations, collapsed completely, or were washed out to sea.

Sandy was all too fresh in our minds when we were tested yet a second time by Storm Nemo which dumped a record setting 38 inches of heavy snow on Milford’s streets and pushed the limits of conventional snow removal. Public Works labored tirelessly around the clock to clear the 1,200 city roads, starting with primary thoroughfares, and then onto secondary arteries, and finally side streets and cul-de-sacs.  Impossible to plow, the depths of snow required pay-loaders and front loaders, and the labor was intensified because each street needed to be dug out, not merely plowed out.  In due course, our city streets were cleared from the storm, well before the surrounding towns.

We brushed ourselves off and got back to our lives and labors, still helping out our elderly and less-able neighbors.

Through it all and in the end – we emerged a remarkably more engaged, resourceful and determined community.  Sturdier and more resilient than before because we were tested; ladies and gentlemen – the state of our city has never been more solid.

These devastating storms were not the only challenges we faced over the past year. We came together as a community to share the horror and to grieve after the tragedy which is now known starkly as “Sandy Hook.”  With broken hearts, we stood by our neighbors in Newtown, united in our tears, and mourned the unimaginable loss of our young teachers, our beloved educators, our children and their promise.  “Community,” in all meanings of that word, helped us through one of the most difficult and emotional challenges of our lives.

Away from tragedy and storms, we accomplished much this past year.

I know some of you were on hand at the opening of our new East Side Fire Station which has now been up and running for over two months.  The consolidation of Stations 5 and 6 into the East Shore facility yielded significant costs savings for the city while also providing improved coverage by our Fire Department.  Milford Fire Department, I will proudly share, was recently reaffirmed as one of the finest in the nation.  Every ten years, the Insurance Services Office analyzes the fire suppression services of fire departments across the country.  Milford was again designated a Class 1 Department - a designation awarded to less than one tenth of one percent of Fire Departments in the country.  In addition to enjoying the best in public safety, the Class 1 designation means Milford property owners will pay a reduced rate for their homeowners insurance.

While on the subject of our Fire Department, I am very pleased to announce a plan to generate new revenue.  We will now be billing insurance companies for the Advanced Life Support and other medical services our paramedics provide.  Until now, the ambulance company, AMR, has been charging patients for those services carried out by employees of the Milford Fire Department.

At their May 6, 2013 meeting, the Aldermen approved a contract with the company EMMS which enables Milford to begin billing for those services we already provide.  I am anticipating approximately $300,000 a year in new revenue as a result of this new program, so I am obviously very excited about this new direction and the appropriateness of this latest income stream.

Over the past two years, we have been working very hard to consolidate our Police and Fire dispatch centers into one operation.  I am happy to report that on May 7th, our dispatchers made a seamless transition to the new consolidated center.  We now have improved public safety with enhanced inter-departmental communication and better response times to emergencies where both Police and Fire are required.  In addition, the efficiency of maintaining a single communication infrastructure means the City will realize millions in cost savings.  And lastly, the State of Connecticut has incentivized this project and Milford will now receive more than $100,000 each year in new 911-funding from the State.

The consolidated dispatch center was not the only news from last week.  We also closed on the long anticipated sale of a portion of the John Downs property to Milford Hospital.  In the process, we have saved the historic home and repaid $860,000 to Milford’s taxpayers.  In addition, this sale will generate new economic development from the future construction of a new medical facility on the Post Road.

Bringing us from last week to last night, the Board of Aldermen last night adopted the final 2013-2014 budget.  This year we faced significant pressures including two million dollars in increases of required pension contributions, 1.5 million dollars in increased insurance premiums, over one million dollars in contractual wage increases, and an additional million dollars in new debt services as a result of the recently completed sewage treatment plant upgrades. Moreover, the unforeseen costs associated with Storm Sandy and Blizzard Nemo have also stretched finances. The inherent challenge each year is to strike that delicate balance – balancing the need to ensure quality service and public safety with the pressure that taxes put on our residents.

It is never easy – it’s always too little on the spending side and too much on the tax side – but we have worked hard to find that balance – and as a result, we were able to hold this year’s budget increase to a modest 6/10 of a mill.

Ladies and gentlemen, I should stop here.  I could go on for some time about the many exciting things underway in Milford today – things such as the long awaited and much needed improvements to East Shore Middle School.  Since 1991, when I was a member of the first graduating class of East Shore, there have been no substantial improvements to that school.  So this long overdue project has finally broken ground and I know the parents and teachers at the school are all very excited about this work.

And of course, there’s the “Walkable City Initiative” - a project very near and dear to me.  Milford is the kind of city you need to walk or bike to fully experience.

Through better sidewalks, crosswalks, and bike paths, especially for the pathways leading to our Downtown, our schools, our parks and our beaches, we strive to make Milford a more walk-able and bike-able city to get around for work and for play.  At this very moment, crews are pouring fresh concrete adjacent to Gulf Beach, our Engineering Department is finalizing a property survey for sidewalks along Seaside Avenue, and over the next year, residents will see improvements across the entire City.  This project, I believe, is fully consistent with the small New England spirit Milford embodies.

Indeed, I should stop here.  Of course, I could go on about, for example, our flood mitigation projects.  With 17.5 miles of coastline, drainage challenges, and other unique flooding concerns, “flood mitigation” has been a focus and the city has worked on improving its drainage.

We have recently commenced a multi-million dollar drainage project on Naugatuck Avenue funded mostly by Federal dollars.  Moreover, we have teamed-up on several joint flood mitigation projects with Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection.  And, just this week, we have enlisted the services of the US Department of Agriculture to develop a plan to clear-out the silt, sediment and other flood-causing debris from the Calf Pen Meadow Creek.  The city will continue to make flood mitigation a priority.

Moreover, a new Vac-All vehicle went on-line last month to clear and better maintain the 7,500 catch basins and storm drains throughout the city.

Again, I should stop here…but, as most of you know we went to Single-Stream Recycling in August 2011 and as a result, we have significantly reduced our solid waste disposal costs while protecting our environment.

Just recently we renegotiated our recycling contract and Milford will, for the first time since the City’s recycling program began over 20 years ago, be compensated for each ton of recycling materials collected.  Based upon last year’s tonnage, we project over $80,000 in new “green” revenue each year.  Also, we have expanded the list of acceptable recyclable goods which now includes large toys made of rigid plastic, beverage crates, laundry baskets, recycling bins, telephone directories, plastic storage containers and hard-cover books. So, I am more than satisfied with this new contract and extended list of recyclables.

But really, I’ll stop here – I could go on about the many exciting things we have accomplished and the many things we are striving to preserve and protect to improve the character of our good city, a city we all love.  So with that, I will thank you for your time and attention.