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Branford First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove is running uncontested for a fourth consecutive term in the Nov. 5 municipal election. He said he will continue to support the town's track record of fiscal responsibility and strength, while moving projects forward with a focus on infrastructure, environment, coastal resilience, economic development, and community. Photo from Friends of Branford Republicans )
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Branford Republican First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove is running uncontested in the municipal election on Nov. 5, after which he will begin his fourth consecutive term. Cosgrove said he will continue to support the town's track record of fiscal responsibility and strength, while moving projects forward with a focus on infrastructure, environment, coastal resilience, economic development, and community.
Branford recently reaffirmed its long-standing AAA bond status (Standard & Poors, 2019) and continues to be a ratings leader among state municipalities, said Cosgrove.
"Over a number of decades, the town has established a cultural guardrail, really making sure we make prudent financial decisions. That's certainly continued to be a priority of the town, as shown in our rating reports," said Cosgrove. "I have tried to promote that further with the Coastal Resiliency Fund [and] accelerating some of our debt payments as we look to future to maintain a strong fiscal position."
Earlier this year, taking the view that climate change impacts are a long-term liability, Branford established a Coastal Resiliency Fund, then took the concept to the state, bringing about Connecticut's new Municipal Climate Change and Coastal Resiliency Reserve Funds act. The new state law adds muscle to municipal investment options, growing and compounding funds at a faster rate. Additionally, bond rating agencies see strength in towns and states acting to address climate change and coastal issues.
On Oct. 10, the town completed the biggest bond (debt service) sale in the history of the town, selling $45 million in long-term bonds. Proceeds from sale will help finance the current $88.2 million Walsh Intermediate School (WIS) expansion/renovation project, recently completed $12.1 million Community House expansion and renovation, and $5.2 million Blackstone Library addition/renovation underway.
Keeping Things in Balance
"When I took office and I first decided to run, I knew it required a balance in order to maintain the level of services, or even improve the level of services and programs, that we have for the town and the quality of life," said Cosgrove. "You have to restrain the budget growth, but you have to do that without short-term thinking. We've always taken a longer-term view and prudent process in evaluating our future liabilities and taking measures to address those. So there's a balance there: restraining budget growth, but understanding there may be incremental tax increases to address future liabilities."
Using Process, Moving Projects Forward
During his first term (2013-'15) as first selectman, Cosgrove said he wanted to address facility needs facing the town. Since that time, Branford has moved forward with major projects to expand and renovate Walsh Intermediate School (WIS, serving grades 5-8) and the Community House (new home of Canoe Brook Senior Center and Branford Parks & Recreation).
"A responsibility of my position is moving projects forward—that was a priority of mine when I came in—and also to be able to show the process that we went through, to be able to gain and hold on to the support through the appropriating bodies as well as the community," said Cosgrove. "With the school project and community center project, we were able to always document and show a process that we went through that engaged the community and engaged the stakeholder. So the projects were able to move forward and keep the process as we moved through them."
Transparency, Open Door
Cosgrove said he'll continue his open-door policy and invite participation and engagement from the community on issues.
"This is something I've stated in the past and will continue to state: If somebody chooses not to engage or to participate or show up, you can't argue a lack of transparency," said Cosgrove. "My door is always open. I have, many times, whether it's on the floor of the RTM or it's in the public, always offered to meet with any elected official or member of the public who wishes to discuss items. I've never shied from a question [whether] it's in a public forum or if people stop by and want to know more about an issue, I'm here.
"There may be a certain direct question I cannot answer, whether for personnel or legal issue, but I'll explain why I can't answer," he continued. "Certainly, if somebody has question, I try to get them the information that they need in order to get a rational decision."
This year, in particular, Town Hall has been called into question on a couple of fronts. For several months, "Town Hall Corrupt" lawn signs have been posted by a resident, Wayne Cooke. In April, Cooke brought a lawsuit against town representatives that claims a violation of his rights led to the withdrawal of a Costco proposal to build on Cooke family land off I-95 at Exit 56. Litigation remains underway.
In another case, a unanimous vote of the Board of Selectmen (BOS) began the town's attempt to "initiate condemnation proceedings" to take, by eminent domain, privately owned property on Crescent Bluff Avenue. The action was questioned by the property owner, who came in front of the Board of Selectmen, RTM, and Planning & Zoning Commission. While Town Charter was followed, ultimately, the town withdrew its request and instead re-entered discussions with the property owner, which are still underway.
"We're still working to resolve that issue, and we're optimistic that will be resolved. You see the process that we went through," said Cosgrove of the Crescent Bluff item.
Driving Economic Development Forward
Cosgrove said a major factor in driving economic development forward in Branford lies in engaging "not only the people in government, but the stakeholders and the community at large."
He said it also involves restraining budget growth while promoting development that not only supports and grows current industry in town, but also maintains the town's vibrancy and character. Cosgrove pointed to Branford's new 10-year Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) as well as Branford's completed Transit-Oriented Design as guides to help address the balance of development with maintaining Branford's character.
"Planning and Zoning is now considering to support some of those things that were identified, such as development along the [I-95] interchanges, as well as zoning amendments that may support the vibrancy of downtown. Those things are happening right now," said Cosgrove.
Work to support existing industry, such as the town's bioscience and biotech industry, is also underway, he said.
"Historically, we've had a small but stable cluster of those here for a number of years. We certainly want to see that continue to expand, not only for those direct industries but for the industries they'll support," said Cosgrove. "So right now, the Economic Development Commission [EDC] has started a Bioscience Strategic Plan, where they're really looking to engage and connect those industries to help provide support."
Cosgrove has also asked the EDC to get involved in giving central Branford a boost.
"Another area we're just starting to explore now, and I've asked the ECD to be a part of this, is to look at the center district a little bit further than planning and zoning is doing, a little bit deeper than the POCD, and say, 'Okay, what types of things could we do to further increase the vibrancy of downtown?'" he said.
A Sense of Place
"One thing that's been a priority of mine since I've taken office has been rather than just looking at [the downtown] Main Street section, let's look [from] where the Atlantic Wharf project is, to Main Street, down to the Fourth Ward and to the train station," he said, adding those aren't hard set boundaries, but a general idea of incorporating the area into one vision.
"How do we really improve that, so when you come here, there's sense of place: This is all connected," he said.
Cosgrove said part of the answer is improving connectivity, including bike paths and pedestrian ways, but also "small things, like the Tyler's Green area project," near the Blackstone Library. Such streetscape improvements are changes the town can be making to support the businesses and properties that fall in that area and engage the community, he said.
And, while the town-approved Atlantic Wharf residential/commercial development (site of former Atlantic Wire Factory) has been stalled by a lawsuit brought in April by the developer against the property owners, Cosgrove is optimistic it will move forward.
"Certainly it's a project we'd like to see get underway," said Cosgrove. "I remain optimistic that the developer and the property owners will get their situation worked out, and we'll see something happening there."
Plans for the Next Term
Together with the recent completion of the Community House renovation and work underway and on schedule at WIS, some other projects are the pipeline to keep Branford's infrastructure on track, said Cosgrove.
"We are looking forward to working on some additional projects that aren't as visible as a new school, but things that need to be done to invest in our infrastructure," such as improving sewers, roads, and seawalls, Cosgrove said. "So we're going to be working on that over the next couple of years, as well as some smaller projects we're going to be doing that enhance our town."
Project ideas range from enhancing more streetscapes to improving neighborhood connectivity to further accessibility to the Branford River. As an example, Cosgrove points to the success of renovating and improving facilities at Branford Hills Park in 2018-'19, following the demolition of the former Branford Hills School.
"That has been successful, and we continue to improve that," he said. "Every area of town should have some type of open space, or recreational park, or at least be connected."
He adds that's something he hears from residents, too.
"I hear a lot regarding the recreational aspect of town, whether [for] active, passive or just making other areas more accessible," he said.
One such area being embraced by town during Cosgrove's tenure is Branford's Tabor property. The land includes Ecology Park, a commercial/town arranged solar installation, and a handicapped accessible, newly upgraded segment of the Shoreline Greenway Trail.
"We continue to expand some of the amenities and improvements along that trail, and we have some other areas where we're going to continue to improve what we have. But we're also going to continue to expand, as well," said Cosgrove.
Enviornmentally Conscious, Fiscally Conservative
The Tabor property's one-year-old, 4.5 acre solar farm was established through a power purchase agreement. The town provided the site, and a commercial group, Tesla, built, operates and maintains the system, including producing electricity sold to the town at a lower-than-market rate to help power Branford's wastewater treatment facility.
Cosgrove noted the solar installation is an excellent example of a municipality that can be fiscally conservative while also environmentally conscious, collaborative, and forward-thinking.
"The solar [installation] is a perfect example of that," he said. "Now, is somebody's taxes going to go down because we built the solar installation? No, but it gets to that restraining budget growth. We essentially provided a certainty with a significant portion of the wastewater treatment plant's energy costs for 20 years at a favorable rate."
That type of thinking also helped establish the Coastal Resilience Fund. It's good environmental practice combined with good business practice for the town, he said.
"When you start to look at the environmental benefit, but also what the public purpose of doing something [is]—what's the greater good—I think this is beyond just the environmental," said Cosgrove. "When you look into a lot of these initiatives we're taking on, there's also an economic benefit to doing them."
The bottom line is stewardship, said Cosgrove.
"'Stewardship' is a key word I've always said. Getting back to the land and infrastructure we have, we have to be good stewards. That is something that I try to promote when working with others, the boards and commissions, as well as the Board of Selectmen, the RTM, and Board of Finance. In order to move forward with anything you have to make a decision, and be able to accept that there are others' points of view. And you really have to evaluate what is for the greater good of the community—what's the public purpose, not a party line or even just a faction or individual."
Cosgrove first served the town as a Republican on the RTM in 2009, then as a selectman in 2011, followed by being elected to his first term as first selectman in 2013. He and his wife, Nicole, are raising two daughters here. His professional background in construction includes running the Branford company founded by his late grandfather, Daniel P. Cosgrove, a well-known Branford Democrat and philanthropist. Before he passed away at 98 in 2016, Cosgrove told his grandson to "go do some good" upon being sworn in as first selectman in 2013.
Cosgrove thanks those who have served with him as town officials and in appointed and elected roles during his past three terms as first selectman, and looks forward to working collaboratively with them in the next two years, as well.
"In Branford, by and large over the last number of years, we've been able to move things forward because things didn't become strongly partisan," he said. "Certainly, I could probably point to individual examples where somebody [was] taking a strong partisan position, but really I think, whether it was the budgets we adopted, the projects that we moved forward, ordinances that we've passed, I think by and large they've looked at, 'What does the community want?'"
Cosgrove also feels much of what has been accomplished in the past three terms can also be attributed to the work of a Branford Republican team that's held the majority among the town's elected posts for the past three terms.
"I'm hoping my team wins. When you look at what we've accomplished these last six years and the team has been in place, it's been a team approach," Cosgrove said. "At the end of the day, we've had a strong team that's made rational decisions on behalf of the community."
He also said he's honored be entering his fourth term leading Branford as first selectman.
"It certainly is an honor to serve again," said Cosgrove. "I know I am uncontested this year, but I've always taken the approach that once elected, I'm here to represent the town and everybody in it. That's the approach I have, and hopefully moving forward these next couple years, we'll remain successful and moving forward in a positive direction, on a lot of fronts."
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