WATERBURY – Fresh off his victory over Republican Dawn Maiorano, Democratic Mayor-elect Paul Pernerewski Jr. said there will be no honeymoon period as he plans on getting straight to work after he’s sworn in on Dec. 1.
Pernerewski, the city’s Board of Aldermen president for the last 14 years, ran on a campaign of being tough on crime – both nuisance crimes and more severe crimes – and working closely with Police Chief Fernando Spagnolo.
He said the city’s crime problem was the top issue he heard from residents during his campaign door-knocking – and will be his top priority.
“People are really concerned,” said Pernerewski, 62, who lives in the city’s Bunker Hill neighborhood.
“The Legislature will be going back into session soon and I will work with our delegation to get some kind of legislative package to deal with the issue.”
Specifically, there need to be changes to the state crime statutes for with both adults and juveniles, those 17 years of age and younger, Pernerewski told CT Examiner at Waterbury City Hall on Monday afternoon.
Pernerewski, who recently retired as general counsel of the Connecticut Airport Authority, said police have told him that “about 70 percent of people who are being picked up for violent crimes have either a record or are on pretrial release. We need to do more to hold them and not make it easy for them to get out.”
As it relates specifically to juveniles, he said the system has become “like a revolving door.”
“They know they will get out the same day they are picked up,” Pernerewski said. “As I keep saying, it’s not that I want to send juveniles to jail in adult prisons for a long time. But, we need to have a mechanism within the statutes by which judges can put the offenders – as part of their release – into alternative programs.
He said that adults can be sent to counseling or drug treatment as part of their condition of release but not juveniles.
“I’d like them to be able to do that with juveniles because I think that can make a difference,” he said.
He said that the city’s ATV Task Force, established earlier this year by the police chief, has reduced the “nuisance offense” of people – primarily youth – riding ATVs on the city streets. It is illegal to drive an ATV on city streets, but it is legal to drive them off-road on private property.
Pernerewski said the task force has worked with former Mayor Neil O’Leary’s “ATV Tipline,” started in 2015, which pays $200 to people who inform local police of illegal ATV use.
“The award program is akin to ‘Crimestoppers,’” Pernerewski said. “And, it’s been successful.” To date, he said, about 25 ATVs have been seized since the summer.
Economic growth and bringing more development and businesses into the city, primarily the downtown, is also a top priority, Pernerewski said.
He said he’ll offer incentives like tax breaks to encourage businesses – primarily small ones – to relocate to Waterbury and to stay in the city. He said a number of organizations could help the effort – like the Women’s Business Development Council, a non-profit that provides funding to businesses that have been established in the city for at least a year.
Pernerewski said he’ll continue where O’Leary left off in making Waterbury attractive to developers, and noted several ongoing projects including the last building on Freight St. currently under demolition.
“There are 20 acres of very developable property there,” he said. “We will be able to start looking and working with developers to see what we can get in there, whether it’s mixed use or purely commercial. It’s right in the heart of downtown; right off Routes 8 and 84, so it’s a perfect location.”
He said he’s hopeful about a plan by Amazon to buy a 147-acre site on the Waterbury/Naugatuck line for an e-commerce fulfillment center that could employ about 200 people. The project is estimated at $6 million.
Amazon representatives, Pernerewski said, have told city leaders they need another year to assess the site, but he’s optimistic it will pan out in the end.
“I’m really behind that project,” he said.
In order for more businesses and people to move into the city, Pernerewski said, he will work to amp up the city’s marketing efforts. He said he’ll continue to work and brainstorm with Worx, a Prospect-based branding, digital and marketing agency that the city of Waterbury hired several years ago.
One tool he said he’ll promote is a three-hour YouTube video of Waterbury that Worx developed last month. “[It’s] a history of the city’s different players and how the city got from where it was to where it is today,” he said.
Pernerewski also said he’ll work to continue to grow the Grand List, which stands at $6.7 billion, by encouraging development in the city.
“We need to grow the Grand List and push the taxes more toward commercial and development than residential development to help our homeowners,” he said. City residents saw a decrease of 6.02 mills for real estate, and personal property in 2022 based on a four-year phase-in and a state-mandated revaluation. The tax rate is 54.19; the second highest in the state.
Pernerewski also said the city’s Career Academy doesn’t receive the attention it should. The school, established in 2013, is a college and career readiness institution located on the city’s North End.
“You can go onto college from there, but you can also get job skills if you are not going on to college,” he said. “There is a part of that building that actually has like a small factory within it where you can use the machines. And, there is a portion of the building that has medical offices where you can get hands-on training. The academy has been a success ever since it opened.”
Pernerewski added that he’ll “continue working with UConn Waterbury, which is expanding downtown and has done a great job. They’ve got a new director who is just a dynamo.”
Pernerewski said he has sought advice from O’Leary, who was mayor for 12 years but declined to run again.
“The best piece of advice he has given me is to be myself and be comfortable in the decisions you make,” Pernerewski said.
Pernerewski said O’Leary, who is also a friend, “jump-started the city of Waterbury and, I think, moved it forward especially related to Bronwfield redevelopment. He has also spent a lot of effort upgrading the city’s parks.”
O’Leary has also kept the city on strong fiscal footing, Pernerewski said, noting Waterbury’s AA- bond rating, with a stable outlook.
Asked where O’Leary fell short as mayor, Pernerewski said “one area that he just didn’t get enough done” was in education, specifically related to communication with school officials.
Case in point, Pernerewsk said, is the current U.S. Justice Department probe of the unusually high number of school-based arrests.
“[O’Leary] didn’t find out that [the Justice Department was] investigating for like three or four months after the school superintendent knew. We have to have adequate communications so things like that don’t happen again,” Pernerewski said.