Town Leaders Along the Shoreline Mull Beach Closures as Summer Approaches

With sunny days and temperatures in the 60s forecast for this weekend, towns around the region are facing decisions on whether to keep their beachfront parks open against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic. “We are struggling with what to do with our beaches,” East Lyme First Selectman Mark Nickerson told his town’s Board of Education at a Thursday night Zoom meeting. “We’ll figure out something in the next couple of days. We’re going to see how the weekend goes. Beaches around us from both sides — Waterford and Old Lyme — have closed. The state’s [beaches and parks] are

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East Lyme School Board Votes for $826,900 Reduction to 2020-21 Budget Request

EAST LYME — The Board of Education Thursday voted Thursday night to reduce their 2020-21 budget request by about $826,903 amid concerns about the impacts of the coronavirus on the town’s finances. The cuts come three days after the Board of Selectmen voted to recommend the finance board make a $312,000 reduction to the selectmen’s budget. After the cut, East Lyme Board of Education is requesting that the Board of Finance approve a $50.87 million budget, a 3.30 percent increase over the school board’s 2019-20 budget. The $826,900 reduction consists mostly of reductions in requests for added staff — $304,650 for

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East Haddam Draft Budget, Flat Mill Rate, Goes to Hearing May 5

EAST HADDAM — The Board of Finance will present a 2020-21 budget proposal with no anticipated change to taxpayers’ mill rate at a public hearing broadcast on the town’s YouTube page on Tuesday, May 5. Expenditures in the budget proposal total $34.18 million, which would be 1.8 percent or about $614,000 more than the current budget for fiscal year 2019-20. Residents and taxpayers will be able to email questions ahead of the meeting to budget.questions@easthaddam.org and then have their questions addressed at the meeting, according to Board of Finance Chair William DiCristofaro. The zero percent increase in taxes is possible

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East Lyme Selectmen Recommend $312,000 in Reductions to 2020-21 Draft Budget

EAST LYME — In two separate back-to-back meetings by teleconference Monday night, the Board of Education and Board of Selectman refined plans for reducing 2020-21 fiscal year budget requests in response to the economic downturn and uncertainty caused by the coronavirus. Both boards had drafted budgets before Governor Ned Lamont declared a state of emergency across the state of Connecticut on March 10. Since then First Selectman Mark Nickerson and other local elected leaders have said that they would seek to reduce the burden on taxpayers of a budget originally recommended to the Board of Finance at $77.63 million. “This will

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Friday Marks Start of Ramadan for Muslims Across Coastline Connecticut

Muslims across Connecticut begin fasting for Ramadan with sunrise on Friday, and congregations, communities, and businesses around the state are grappling with how to celebrate a holy month imbued with a communal spirit at at time when mosques and most other public spaces are closed to slow the spread of the coronavirus. “This will be the most unique Ramadan of our lifetimes because none of us have lived through this and we hope that we don’t have to again,” said Imam Omer Bajwa, Muslim chaplain for Yale University. Abdul-Rehman Malik, a journalist and guest lecturer in Islamic Studies at Yale

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Across Connecticut Towns Choose Options for Local Tax Relief

Municipal governments across Connecticut have until Saturday, April 25 to choose one of two local tax leniency programs mandated by Governor Ned Lamont in executive orders signed on April 1 and April 9. The two options, one a tax deferment program and the other a low interest program, would apply to local tax property taxes and many other levies typically collected by local government between March 10 and July 1 of 2020. Local Government Tax Program Clinton Low interest rate Deep River Low interest rate East Lyme Deferment Essex Low interest rate Lyme Low interest rate Old Lyme Low interest

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Masks the Latest Mandate Of 28 Executive Orders Since March 10

Effective Monday night, Gov. Ned Lamont has ordered all Connecticut residents to wear masks or similar protection in public and shared spaces unless prevented by medical or equivalent reasons. This mandate is included in the 28th executive order issued by the governor since declaring a state of emergency across Connecticut on March 10, in the process radically altering business and daily life in the state in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Last month, the governor ordered the cancellation of classes at all public schools effective March 17, and more recent orders have extended that closure until

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Under Governor’s Order, Towns Offered Two Programs for Local Tax Leniency

Given the coronavirus and economic downturn, all of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities have options for making local tax collection more lenient for local residents by taking advantage of one or both of two options laid out in Governor Ned Lamont’s executive orders on April 1 and April 9. “We do believe a great majority of people will be paying their taxes on time and that’s important for cash flow reasons for the town, but we do know and recognize that there are those who are having economic difficulty,” said Mark Nickerson, first selectman of East Lyme. The East Lyme Board of

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$38.96 million Old Lyme Budget Proposal Goes to Monday Night Teleconferenced Hearing

OLD LYME — The Board of Finance will present a fiscal year 2020-21 budget proposal of $38.96 million — a 0.13 percent or $54,217 increase in expenditures over the current fiscal year — at a teleconferenced public hearing on Monday, April 20 at 7:30 p.m. Board of Finance Chair Andy Russell credited “conservative spending” for the modest increase, but said that the town’s tax rate will increase more significantly than its expenses due to a drop in assessed value of taxable property on the town’s most recent grand list. The mill rate in the finance board’s 2020-21 proposal is 23.30,

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Groton Council Approves Purchase Agreement for Former Seely School, as Town Moves to Redevelop Public Properties

GROTON — The Town Council on April 7 approved a purchase agreement with a North Haven developer, laying out a plan to eventually sell the town-owned William Seely School. The school is one of several unused, publicly-owned properties in Groton that town leadership have sought in recent years to redevelop and return to the tax rolls. DonMar Development Corporation, based in North Haven, has presented plans to construct about 280 apartment units with added community amenities at the property on 55 Seely School Drive. Once completed, the development — called Triton Square — would generate an estimated $750,000 in annual

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Lyme Budget Proposal Heads to Virtual Hearing on April 28 with 3 percent Cut

LYME — The Board of Finance will present on April 28 a 2020-21 budget proposal of $10.6 million, which would be a 3 percent decrease from the passed budget for 2019-20. Residents and taxpayers will be able to submit questions to the finance board by email in advance and also dial into the teleconferenced hearing. Finance Board Chair Dan Hagan said in a Monday phone interview that this budget should require no mill rate increase, but that won’t be settled until the finance board gives its final approval for the budget and sets a mill rate at their May 12

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East Lyme Leaders Consider Reducing 2020-21 Budget Proposals Amid Economic Uncertainty from Virus

EAST LYME — First Selectman Mark Nickerson and Superintendent Jeff Newton said at a Wednesday Board of Finance meeting that their boards would discuss potential reductions to the proposed fiscal year 2020-21 budgets given the economic uncertainty brought by the coronavirus pandemic. “We know [a 4.98 percent budget increase] is not appropriate right now with what’s going on in this community,” Newton said during the teleconference meeting. “We are working really hard to make some reductions and we plan to bring that information forward soon.” In late February, the Board of Education voted to send the finance board a $51.7

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Religious Leaders Encourage Fellowship in Easter, Passover Amid Coronavirus

“They didn’t cover how to deal with a pandemic in school. We don’t know how to deal with this, but we do know how to care and we have two thousand plus years of dealing with adversity,” Rabbi Marci Bellows of Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek in Chester. Rabbi Rachel Safman, of the Conservative Beth El Congregation in New London, said in a Friday phone call that she’s heard both practical and religious concerns about the upcoming holidays from her congregation, but “the most central and obvious is that this is typically a time families and friends come together. And

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Old Lyme Selectmen Seek Clarity Before Responding to Governor’s Lodging Restrictions

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OLD LYME — First Selectman Timothy Griswold said that town government should do more research before acting on Gov. Ned Lamont’s April 2 executive order restricting hotels, short-term rentals, and other lodging for use by first responders, essential workers and special cases, for as long as the coronavirus public health emergency lasts. Griswold, speaking during a teleconferenced meeting of the Board of Selectmen Monday night, said that canceling most short-term and seasonal rentals would be “disastrous” for property owners who depend on that income, and he said that it wasn’t clear from the order who would have to enforce the

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Courtney Talks Business and Worker Relief, Protecting Medical Staff, and Potential Next Steps for Congress amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Congress passed three major relief efforts in March in response to the coronavirus, the largest totaled approximately $2 trillion. In a Thursday morning teleconference hosted by the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, Rep. Joe Courtney said he thinks the crisis will push Congress to act further and that the country’s shortage of personal protective equipment is the “desperate critical issue of the day.” “We have got to get a better plan out there to help health care workers and frontline folks who are out there interacting with the public,” said Courtney, whose district covers most of the eastern half

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Passero recommends 4.48% Mill Rate Reduction for New London in 2020-21 Budget Presentation

NEW LONDON — Mayor Michael Passero’s budget recommendation for fiscal year 2020-21 calls for a 4.48 percent decrease in the city’s property tax rates, made possible by growth in overall taxable property and the retirement of some city debt. Passero presented his budget recommendation to the City Council by teleconference Wednesday night. “Despite the remarkable improvement in the City’s fiscal health over the past few years, this budget reflects a continued emphasis on lean spending to minimize year-to-year growth in expenses,” Passero wrote in his budget message to the council. “This philosophy has allowed us to continue the goal of

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With Big Implications for Connecticut, the Census Moves Forward Even as Field Operations Suspended by Coronavirus

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Over a third of Connecticut households have already been counted, but federal, state, and local officials acknowledge that the coronavirus and social distancing are adding extra challenges to the decennial count of every person in the United States. You can still respond by phone, and this is the first year that the U.S. Census Bureau is accepting responses online. Bysiewicz and state officials say that Connecticut could expect to lose about $2,900 each year for the next decade for every individual who fails to respond to the census. “This is a challenging time to be pulling off one of the

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Groton Town Council Sends RTM $130.4 million Budget, Preparing for Coronavirus Uncertainty

GROTON — The Town Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to send a $130,453,984 budget for fiscal year 2020-21 to the Representative Town Meeting.  With a budget increase of 1.1 percent over fiscal year 2019-20, Mayor Patrice Granatosky said the council had streamlined the budget process and cut expenses to prepare for the economic uncertainty and likely financial strain coming onto many taxpayers as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. “We don’t know what’s going to happen,” Granatosky said in a Tuesday phone interview. “We know unemployment is up by unprecedented numbers. We don’t know if businesses are going to be able

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Two weeks into State of Emergency, Old Lyme Leaders Focus on Helping the Vulnerable and Isolated

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Almost two week after the Board of Selectmen declared a local state of emergency, Old Lyme has yet to see a confirmed case of the coronavirus, but First Selectman Timothy Griswold said town staff, emergency personnel and volunteers need to move quickly to help residents who could be vulnerable amid state orders for people to social distance and businesses to close Griswold said he’s particularly concerned about town businesses that could struggle, residents who could lose their job or lose hours, and seniors potentially feeling isolated. “We’re obviously concerned about individuals who depend on their jobs to keep going,” Griswold

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Food Pantries Seek Donations and Volunteers as Social Services adapt to Coronavirus

As the coronavirus spreads and the state sets stricter guidelines for social distancing, food pantries and other nonprofits around southeastern Connecticut have to find new ways of serving their populations while also meeting a sudden rise in needs. Many of the area’s senior centers, nonprofit childcare centers, and other face-to-face services have been suspended amid the outbreak, but nonprofit leaders say too many people depend too critically on nutritional aid like Meals on Wheels or the Gemma E. Moran United Way / Labor Food Bank to stop those services. “We have managed our Food Bank budget for a lot of

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Fear, Stigma, Blame — UConn Prof Considers the Novel Virus

There are human tendencies in times of a epidemic that drive people to fear, bogus medical advice, and casting blame on society’s most vulnerable, said University of Connecticut Professor of English Thomas Long, who studies social reactions to epidemics in culture and literature. “Epidemics have often, not always, but often been described as having a kind of dramatic arc with an initial first act moving into rising complication, catastrophe, and climax and then a denouement at the end. There’s a sort of dramatic arc to epidemics and hopefully we will see that soon — that it will pass quickly.” As

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Essex Selectmen Propose $24.6 million Budget, Debate Financial Impact of Coronavirus

ESSEX — As they presented the Board of Selectmen’s $24.6 million budget proposal for fiscal year 2020-21 to the Board of Finance in a Thursday night teleconference, First Selectman Norm Needleman and Finance Director Kelly Sterner said that the town has not yet seen the financial impact of the coronavirus, but that Essex should take extra steps to prepare for potential losses of revenue. Board of Finance Chair Keith M. Crehan noted, in opening the remote meeting on Zoom, that Gov. Ned Lamont had suspended in-person public meeting requirements on March 14 in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus

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Calling Impact Worse than 2008-9, Lamont Outlines Aid and Possible Further Steps

Gov. Ned Lamont outlined measures that his administration is taking to soften the economic impact of the Coronavirus outbreak in a Thursday afternoon conference call with business leaders. These steps include loans, an expansion of unemployment benefits and delayed payment deadlines. “I came out of running a small business,” said Lamont. “I went through the 2008-2009 freefall, and this is worse.” Lamont said the challenge facing businesses is a sudden drop in revenue without a drop in fixed costs like payroll, rent, debt, health insurance, and utilities. “I’m doing everything I can to reduce those fixed costs and make it

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States Adapt Governance and Public Access to Telecommuting in Wake of Coronavirus

Facing an outbreak of Coronavirus, Gov. Ned Lamont suspended parts of state statute to give local government and public agencies the ability to hold meetings entirely by teleconference in an effort to limit spread of the virus. Transparency advocates caution that public access depends on state and local officials using that technology properly, but experts say that requirements still in place uphold the spirit of the state’s open meeting laws. “In theory, it’s a great idea. We want to avoid people gathering in large groups now as much as possible,” explained Mike Savino, president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom

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Lamont: 10,000 Filed for Unemployment in State on Monday Amid Coronavirus Fears

HARTFORD — In a 30-minute press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Governor Ned Lamont urged healthy citizens to donate blood, daycares to stay open, and people over 60 to stay home, in the face of the Coronavirus outbreak, while also acknowledging that this crisis has led to pain for the business community and a massive spike in unemployment claims.  “We usually have about 40,000 people over the last average couple years on unemployment compensation,” Lamont said in a televised conference outside his Hartford residence. “That’s been in pretty good times. Usually when a recession comes in a place like CT, maybe

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East Lyme Declares State of Emergency, Closes Town Hall to Public, in Face of Viral Pandemic

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EAST LYME — All town buildings are closed to the public until further notice effective Monday night, after the Board of Selectmen unanimously voted to uphold First Selectman Mark Nickerson’s declaration of a local state of emergency in response to the global coronavirus pandemic. Nickerson told the selectmen at a Monday night emergency meeting that this declaration was about “being flexible and being prepared to change on the fly as appropriate.” Nickerson used his power to declare the emergency at 1 p.m. and the selectmen voted to uphold it at their 7 p.m. meeting. Town staff will continue to work,

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Old Lyme Declares State of Emergency Likely to Restrict Town Hall Access by Wednesday

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OLD LYME — The Board of Selectmen on Monday authorized First Selectman Timothy Griswold to declare a local state of emergency and said they plan soon to restrict most public access to Town Hall in response to the global coronavirus pandemic. “The idea is to restrict as much as possible public interaction because that’s how this thing spreads,” Griswold said at the meeting. “We want to keep the doors open for business, so to speak, but not just have the public coming in the way they have.” Old Lyme Director of Emergency Management David Roberge will meet with Griswold tomorrow

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As Town Halls Close, Residents Asked to Call Ahead Across Southeast Connecticut

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Many of southeastern Connecticut’s local governments are restricting public access to town halls and asking residents to call or email rather than show up in person in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus. As of Monday, Waterford, Stonington, and Lyme have closed their town halls to the public, although staff continues to work and will offer services if contacted by phone or email. Libraries and public works facilities in those towns have also closed. Transfer stations in Waterford and Stonington will remain open but staff may be limited in how much they’re able to help the public,

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In an Era of Cyber Threats, Tight budgets and a Shortage of Trained Professionals Challenge Town Defenses

In the early morning hours of January 10, the Lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Governments in Essex was hit with a ransomware attack that left their files encrypted with a demand to pay a foreign attacker. The agency’s work was “severely impeded,” according to Executive Director Sam Gold, because computers left on at the time were rendered inoperable and staff access to email was lost. Gold said that his agency does not currently have an estimate on the total costs of the attack, but said he “would not be surprised if the ultimate costs are close to $100,000” after

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Old Saybrook High School Drama Club Stages “Thoroughly Modern Millie” Opening March 12

OLD SAYBROOK — Old Saybrook Senior High School students have been practicing their tap dancing and hair bobs for a production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” a musical set in the Jazz Age, opening March 12. “The story itself is pretty traditional musical theater… naive young girl comes to New York hoping to find a man and her goal is to marry the boss,” said director Lenore Grunko, an adjunct theater lecturer at Eastern Connecticut State University. “And then there’s a subplot that gets very convoluted where she’s staying in a hotel with a hotel owner who’s running a white slavery ring

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