In-town business growth and cooperation were the themes of Mayor John Harkins’ address on the state of Stratford.
In what will be his last State of the Town address, Harkins told town officials and business leaders Tuesday that Stratford is a town on the rise.
“So many positive things have happened here in Stratford, not only over the course of the last 12 months, but indeed over the last several years,” Harkins said Tuesday. “Having first been elected your mayor as the Great Recession was still holding on in 2009, we chose to take the challenges we were facing head-on.”
Among those was attracting new business to town and boosting economic development. Harkins said the push to bring new businesses and helping the companies already here paid dividends.
“By aggressively pursuing new businesses and assisting companies here in Stratford who wanted to expand, we have seen our taxable grand list grow by more than $600 million in the last seven years,” Harkins said, praising new Economic Development Director Mary Dean as “a welcome addition to our team here.” Dean, who was previously director of the Stratford Chamber of Commerce, took over for Karen Kaiser, who left to take a job at Fairfield University.
Harkins said the town is “finally closing in” on the long-awaited redevelopment of the Stratford Army Engine Plant. Federal and state officials have been working with the town on moving that forward. Point Stratford Renewal LLC has been selected to transform the 77-acre property near Sikorsky Airport into a mixed-use development.
“Recent discussions on remediation of the tidal flats have proven promising, and we are hopeful that a definitive time frame will be approved this year on this transformative project for our town and region,” Harkins said.
Harkins noted how businesses have come into Stratford during his tenure, including Two Roads Brewing, FedEx Ground and St. Vincent’s Urgent Care. He also talked of how existing companies like Nuovo Pasta and Connecticut Distributors have chosen to expand.
Perhaps the biggest success for Stratford was the retention of Sikorsky Aircraft, which chose to remain at its Main Street headquarters for at least 15 more years after parent company Lockheed Martin reached a deal with the state that gives the company some tax breaks.
“The deal between Lockheed and the state will keep the Sikorsky headquarters in Stratford and maintain Connecticut as a primary production facility for its government-based helicopter business, and will retain and grow Sikorsky’s full-time employment in Connecticut to more than 8,000 by the end of year,” Harkins said.
Harkins saluted the town’s departments for their work, noting that the Stratford Fire Department and the EMS ambulance are highly rated. He also made note of the nationally accredited Stratford Health Department and the police department under the direction of Chief Joe McNeil. McNeil took over as police chief after Frank Ridenhour left last July to take the same position in Danbury.
Harkins thanked the Public Works Department for maintaining the town’s streets, buildings and beaches.
“Our parks in town have never looked better for the 52 years that I have lived here. Short Beach is one of the nicest beaches in the state of Connecticut and continues to get better every year,” he said.
Harkins said the town is in better shape financially after “decades of mismanagement” after getting the issuance of pension bonds “under control.”
“Beginning in the next two years alone, pension costs will drop by more than $7 million,” he said. “The bottom line is that while it increased costs in the short term, the pension bonds will save taxpayers an estimated $90 million over the next 25 years.”
Harkins touted the construction of a runway safety zone near Sikorsky Airport, completed in 2015 by the state Department of Transportation, and the coming construction of an Exit 33 interchange on Interstate 95, expected to be completed in two years.
“The completion of these ramps will provide easier access for our residents to I-95, but more importantly will bring much-needed convenience and commerce opportunities to Stratford,” Harkins said.
Harkins once again saluted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to move Raymark waste from sites throughout town. Some of the waste will be taken out of town, while most will be capped at the Raymark Ballfield site off Barnum Avenue.
“This cleanup will do much to spur economic growth by resulting in clean sites for potential redevelopment and to finally rid our town of Raymark’s toxic legacy,” he said.
Prior to announcing that he would not seek another term as mayor, Harkins said townspeople can accomplish plenty by working in unison.
“It is truly amazing what can happen when people can set aside personal and political differences and work together for the collective betterment of all of our residents,” he said. “I am particularly proud to have always looked at Stratford as one town. Not north and south, but one united Stratford.”