As Applications for College Aid Drop 9.4 Percent, Connecticut Solicits Local Initiatives

For high school seniors dealing with the fallout of a pandemic, college financial aid applications sometimes end up on the backburner. “Getting into that whole college mindset is a little bit difficult this year,” said Laura Sangster, a counselor at New London Multi-Magnet High School. “A lot of students, their reality changed with COVID.”  It’s not just New London, and it’s not just Connecticut. National data shows that the number of completed FAFSAs, or Federal Applications for Free Student Aid, are down 11.4 percent as of January 1 in comparison to January of the previous year. As of the first

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Police Commission Approves Budget, After Discussing Contracts and New Initiatives

OLD SAYBROOK — The Old Saybrook Police Commission voted 5-2 to approve a budget of $5,333,360 for the town’s police department on Monday night — an increase of $95,088 over last year. The draft budget will next be sent to the town’s board of selectmen for a final vote. The budget includes a 2.25 percent raise in salaries, an increase in workman’s compensation and an increase in retirement benefits for officers as negotiated in the collective bargaining agreement with the police union. Dispatchers will also receive a two percent salary increase.  Other increases in the budget came from unfunded mandates

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Conley Reintroduces Bill Increasing Access to Specialists for Medicaid Patients

State Rep. Christine Conley, D-Groton, is reintroducing a bill in the state legislature to make it easier for New London County residents with Medicaid to access medical specialists.  The bill is meant to fill in a gap that exists, said Conley, for individuals who need “a little more care than primary care, but not emergency care.”  She said the bill targeted at, as an example, a person with mild high blood pressure, or a diabetic, or someone needing follow-up care after a surgery more specialized than they can receive at a Community Health Center. And not all private practices or

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ECSU Video Series Proves a Lifeline for Educators During the Pandemic

With nearly 900,000 views over the last year, an online video series from Eastern Connecticut State University’s Center for Early Childhood Education has become a lifeline for instructors in the field whose students no longer have the opportunity to practice teaching skills in a classroom.  “I and so many others would not have been successful in a remote learning environment without these videos,” wrote Carol LaLiberte, the early childhood education coordinator at Asnuntuck Community College, in an email to the center’s director, Julia DeLapp.  “I used them before the pandemic but they were literally the difference between not being able to

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Looney Would Shift Sports Betting, Marijuana, Capital Gains Taxes to Distressed Communities

State reimbursements for tax-exempt properties have steadily declined over the past five years, leaving already distressed municipalities even more strapped for cash.   The PILOT, or Payment in Lieu of Taxes, program, pays municipalities a percentage of what they would receive for a property if that property were not either state-owned or being used for a tax-exempt purpose, such as a hospital or a community college. The current PILOT program is authorized to reimburse 100 percent of lost property taxes for any towns where more than 50 percent of the town is state-owned property, and at 45 percent for all other

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Republican Legislators See Role in Distribution of Federal COVID Funds

As the state legislature reconvenes amid a continuing pandemic, Connecticut Republican legislators are raising questions over who should be responsible for the allocation of any additional Coronavirus relief funds that may come down from the federal government.  According to State Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, some legislators are considering a bill that would place a certain amount of existing and future Coronavirus federal relief money under the control of the state legislature.  State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, said that no matter where the funding ends up being spent, the critical point was that the legislature should be able to have

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Connecticut Health Policy Project Director Weighs in on Needed Reforms

Ellen Andrews has served on over a dozen health policy committees in Connecticut. If it were up to her, they would all be eliminated.  “The best thing Connecticut could do is do away with all its committees and boards and task forces,” said Andrews.  Andrews has been the director of the non-profit Connecticut Health Policy Project, which publishes research and briefs about Connecticut healthcare policy, since it was founded in 1999. She also serves on the state Medical Assistance Program Oversight Council, which advises on Connecticut’s Medicare Program, and the Health Care Cabinet for the state Office of Health Strategy,

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Lyme-Old Lyme Board Approves Turf Field, By a 6 to 3 Vote

OLD LYME — The Lyme-Old Lyme Board of Education voted on Wednesday to approve the installation of an artificial turf field, with one modification: swapping the controversial crumb rubber infill for what was described as a more environmentally friendly substance.  Diane Linderman, chair of the Board of Education, said that the Facilities Committee had met in December and changed the plan for crumb rubber infill to a product called Brockfill, which are small organic pellets engineered from southern pine.  Neviaser said he hoped that the change would address some of the concerns that people had raised at previous Board of

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How I Started Out in a Pandemic

I took my first reporting job in the middle of a global pandemic. I’m sure that this will define how I approach reporting for the rest of my life.  Coming onboard at the Examiner, I had the rare opportunity to write about an incredible variety of topics – housing, law enforcement, education, taxes, domestic violence, energy, politics, business and, of course, public health.  Essentially, what I got was a birds-eye view of the state of Connecticut. From that vantage point, it became easy to see how everything – especially this year – is interconnected.  Physics tells us that any object

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Groton Launches Database to Aid Police Interactions with People with Autism and Disabilities

GROTON — The Groton Police Department is launching a new database to aid officers interacting with individuals with autism and disabilities. The Citizens At Risk Database, or CARD system, stores information about individuals who are on the autism spectrum or have handicaps or other disabilities. The system is voluntary – the individuals or their guardians fill out a form listing home address, physical characteristics and emergency contact information.  For people on the autism spectrum, the form includes spaces where people can list an individual’s likes and dislikes, atypical behaviors, things that calm them, and whether they have other risk factors,

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Contrasting Solutions as Pandemic Adds Urgency to High Insurance Costs in Connecticut

Democratic and Republican state legislators are offering very different proposals on how to deal with one of the more pressing issues facing the legislature in January: the rising cost of health insurance.  Their proposals are not new. The cost of health insurance was a topic of debate long before the pandemic hit, but lawmakers from both parties agree that the pandemic has added urgency, and pushed government solutions to the forefront of what some until recently have treated as largely a personal problem. “If your neighbor doesn’t have health insurance, that affects you,” said State Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, who

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Groups Press Lamont to Allow Medical Assistants to Administer Vaccinations

The Hartford and Fairfield County Medical Associations are asking Gov. Ned Lamont to draft an executive order that would allow medical assistants to administer vaccinations.  In the letter from the Fairfield County Medical Association, the association’s president, Craig Olin, said that allowing medical assistants to administer vaccinations would help address the anticipated demand for the COVID vaccine.  “We anticipate that medical practices in Fairfield County and across the state will be deluged with requests for the vaccine,” read the letter.   Mark Thompson, executive director of the Hartford and Fairfield County Medical Associations, echoed this, saying that having medical assistants perform

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Small Gyms and Large Chains Make a Case as Healthy Outlets During the Pandemic

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As the public debates the role that gyms may play in the spread of COVID-19, small local fitness centers are saying that their businesses are fundamentally different than large chains, as large chains assure the safety of their members. “Not all gyms are created equal,” said Sharon Marr, manager at UP Fitness, a privately-owned gym in Stonington.  At the start of the pandemic, Marr said, UP Fitness had to completely change its business model. They relocated to a much smaller facility and reduced their services to private classes of 10-15 people and one-on-one personal training. During the summer, they held

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Advocates on Domestic Violence Plan for Life after COVID

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The Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence is proposing legislation that would allow victims of domestic violence to apply for a restraining order online even after the current state of emergency to limit the spread of COVID-19 is lifted. Liza Andrews, director of public policy and communications at the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said that the organization plans to present the legislation to the Judiciary Committee in January. Advocates for victims of domestic violence say that the ability to file restraining orders online during the pandemic has been a great help to their clients.  Karen Foley O’Connor, executive director at

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Tourism Grants Announced for Eastern Connecticut

The Eastern Regional Tourism District announced last week that it would distribute a total of $152,267 in grant money to nine partnerships that are developing marketing campaigns to promote local tourism.  The selected campaigns include the Airline Trail, the Thames River Heritage Park, the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce, and efforts to promote tourism through partnerships in Voluntown, Windham, New London, Norwich and Old Lyme.  Two other organizations, Olde Mistick Village and the Last Green Valley, each received $25,000 in October, increasing the total amount of grant money distributed to $202,267. To fund the grants, the district set aside $180,000

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Faculty, Board of Regents Stake Out Vast Differences on Collective Bargaining Agreement

The Board of Regents has proposed changes that, according union officials representing the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities faculty, would increase course loads, curtail academic freedom and limit faculty participation in the operations of the colleges.  “I was pretty disappointed that the Board of Regents is taking such a harsh approach, given that we’re in the middle of a pandemic,” said Patricia O’Neill, president of the Connecticut State University chapter of the American Association of University Professors.  O’Neill said that many union members were angry about the board’s proposals.  “We felt it was important to stand up and make a

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Clinton Chamber Raises Money for Small Businesses

CLINTON — The Clinton Chamber of Commerce is offering $200 grants to local small businesses that are struggling to pay their monthly bills.  Paul Orsini, executive director of the Chamber, said that the board decided to start fundraising for a grant program back in October, when they realized they were going to have to cancel all of their major events due to the COVID. He said that while $200 doesn’t seem like much, he knows from experience that it can mean a lot to a small business owner who is just starting out.   Through the support of some anonymous donors,

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Officers Say Toxic Environment Drives Departures from Old Saybrook Police

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OLD SAYBROOK — Since 2009, staff and officer turnover at the Old Saybrook Police Department has far outstripped other departments in the region — a fact that former officers attribute to a toxic work environment within the department.  Although the Old Saybrook Police Department has not provided CT Examiner with employment data requested in a Nov. 12 Freedom of Information request, a number of former officers, as well as past and present members of the town’s police commission, provided documents and spoke on the record to explain and confirm the unusual employment data. A document compiled by a former officer

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New Britain Announces Loan Program for First-time Homebuyers

NEW BRITAIN — The City of New Britain is accepting applications for a program that grants loans to individuals and families who earn under a threshold income and want to purchase a home. The funding, which comes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, acts as a second mortgage for people who already have taken out loans under Fannie Mae, the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, the Federal Housing Authority and other programs.  New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart said that in light of the housing boom in Connecticut, she felt it was time to revive the program, which had

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Private Medical Practices Shutter as COVID Compounds Business Pressure in Connecticut

Running a private medical practice in Connecticut has likely never been easy, but now there are signs that pandemic pressures may have hastened some practices to shutter.  Mark Thompson, the executive director of Fairfield and Hartford County Medical Associations, said that since the pandemic began, his association has fielded a higher number of calls from physicians asking for names of consultants to evaluate and negotiate the sales of their practices. According to Thompson, most cited the pandemic as the last straw. The doctors were unable to sustain themselves financially, and, in some cases, weren’t even able to obtain the necessary

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Business Has Been Good Says Mago Point Canvas in Waterford

WATERFORD — Tom Daily, owner of Mago Point Canvas in Waterford, said business has been booming — so good that he’s looking for a new, bigger space to lease.  And Daily said he’s not alone – any business that has a connection to recreational activities, he said, whether it be boating, motorcycling or installing outdoor pools, has been doing well.  “Everybody I know in the boat business did great this year,” he said. Because of the pandemic, Daily said, people who would normally spend two weeks in the summer going on vacation decided to find ways to enjoy themselves at

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Old Saybrook’s Police Commission Opts Out of Active Oversight

OLD SAYBROOK — Last month, the Old Saybrook Police Commission codified the town’s approach to handling civilian complaints, which gives the chief of police direct oversight and effective control of letters addressed to the commission and commission members regarding personnel matters. That approach was called into question earlier this year, after a letter of complaint postmarked March 2nd  was not circulated to commission members until September, according to commission member Renee Shippee. The complaint was from a man who was pulled over in Old Saybrook in February along with his 13-year-old daughter. The man asked that his name not be

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New London Teams Up with Local Nonprofits to Host Impromptu Classrooms

NEW LONDON — Impromptu classrooms are springing up around town as measures to control the COVID pandemic force district schools to close or reduce in-person learning. Non-profit educational organizations like Drop-In Learning, New England Science and Sailing and the B.P. Learned Mission have partnered with the City of New London and other churches and nonprofits to offer spaces where elementary and middle school students can study on days they are not physically in school.   The organizations have been running these centers — there are currently five — since September, when the New London School District opened in a hybrid model.

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Audit finds Lax Oversight of Public Campaign Financing

For the last nine years, the State Election Enforcement Commission has failed to report the use of grant money financing candidates running for the Connecticut General Assembly, according to a recent audit report.  The commission is responsible for the Citizen’s Election Program, which gives grant money to campaigns for state senate or state representative through the Citizen’s Election Fund, a pool of money that comes from the sale of abandoned property.  By law, the commission must report annually on the amount of money in the fund and the number of people who have contributed to it. The commission is also

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Artist Playing Cards to Raise Money for the Hygienic

NEW LONDON — Hygienic Art Galleries has elevated games of pandemic-induced solitaire into an art form with their latest fundraiser, a deck of playing cards featuring paintings and sketches by local artists.  “It’s nice for people to have an entire art show in their pocket,” said Troy Zaushny, an artist in residence at the Hygienic who contributed artwork to the project. Executive Director Bess Gaby said she got the idea from a similar project she’d worked on with another nonprofit, but the idea took on a new significance with the pandemic — pieces of art that could also be used

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Robust Fundraising, Limited Matching Grants for Arts Organizations

Demand for the $9 million in CARES funding allocated to theaters, orchestras, ballets and other arts groups across Connecticut far outstripped supply, as many organizations found themselves receiving substantially less in matching grants than expected under the grant’s original framework.  According to the initial terms of the grant, all eligible applicants would receive a $5,000 base amount. The Office of the Arts at the Department of Economic and Community Development would then use the CARES funding to match 50 cents for every dollar that the organizations could raise from private donors, up to a cap of $750,000.  However, the matching

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By Building Community, Natusch Guides New London Preservation

NEW LONDON — For Laura Natusch, historic preservation and building community go hand-in-hand.  “It’s very important to me that the history that we are preserving reflects our community – that people who grew up here feel like their lives mattered,” said Natusch. Natusch is the executive director of New London Landmarks, a non-profit in New London that teaches people about the area’s history through walking tours, narrative projects and the renovation of historic buildings.  Natusch said that preservation creates a kind of “community genealogy.”  Her goal is to highlight a history that reflects the entire community, not just a single

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Steep Fines Met with Mixed Response Before the Holidays in Connecticut

Gov. Ned Lamont signed an executive order yesterday increasing fines from $500 to $10,000 for COVID-related violations which include exceeding capacity limits, failing to wear masks and operating after the 10 p.m curfew. The steeper fines — which go into effect at 12:01 a.m. tomorrow — were met with a mixed response from local leaders contacted by CT Examiner. “We want to do everything we can to mitigate the further spread of this virus while avoiding the implementation of more restrictions or lockdowns on our already hard-hit economy and small businesses,” the Governor explained in a press release. According to

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Region 4 Walks Back Request for King to Resign

A joint statement released on Monday by Valley Regional High football coach Tim King and Superintendent Brian White announced that the school district was withdrawing its request for King to resign. “We both understand and accept that as educators and professionals we have a special responsibility to our students, staff and community during a pandemic and that we must place safety above all else. It is in this spirit that the request for Coach King to resign from the position of head football coach has been rescinded,” read the statement. Community members have been in an uproar since White requested

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Program Sends College Students to Public Schools to Relieve COVID Absences

Central Connecticut State University has agreed to send education majors to work in Connecticut’s K-12 public schools as a means of relieving pressure on districts experiencing COVID-related staffing shortages.  The partnership between the state’s public university and its public schools has been facilitated by the Office of the Governor through a project called Next Generation Ed.  The program is open to sophomores and juniors enrolled in the university’s early education program. Designed as a clinical placement, students will be assigned to their schools for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year. They will be able to lead small group discussions,

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