Mortgage Balances Rise, Borrowers Defer Payments, and Officials Target Abusive Collections

Although complaints of abusive collections remain relatively flat across Connecticut, state and federal officials see a growing debt problem that is ripe for abuse. According to Quarterly Reports from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the amount of debt that the public has accrued nationwide has gone up since the start of the pandemic.  Total household debt balances increased by $155 billion in the first quarter of 2020, an increase that was mainly driven by mortgage balances, which grew to $9.71 trillion. Household debt dropped in the second quarter by $35 billion, but mortgage balances increased by and additional

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Nurses at Backus Hospital Schedule a Two-Day Strike as COVID Cases Jump for Norwich Region

NORWICH — Nurses at Backus Hospital in Norwich are prepared to strike next week if the union and the hospital cannot come to an agreement over a new contract.  The Backus Federation of Nurses, part of the local AFT, gave notice on October 2 that the strike is scheduled to last from 7 a.m. on October 13 until 7 a.m. on October 15.  Sherri Dayton, president of the Backus Federation of Nurses, said that the negotiations had been “a nightmare.”  “Tonight’s negotiation will be negotiation number twenty,” said Dayton, who has been a nurse in Backus’ emergency department for 16

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Regal Cinemas Announces Shuttering of Theaters

Regal Cinemas announced today in a press release that it will be temporarily closing all 536 of its U.S. theaters, beginning this Thursday, October 8. There are currently four Regal Cinemas locations in Connecticut — in Waterford, Stonington, Waterbury and Branford.  Cineworld, Regal’s parent company, attributes the closing to the fact that certain key areas — particularly New York — have not allowed movie theaters to reopen.  The statement said that the reluctance of certain areas to reopen theaters have caused film studios to postpone releasing new films. Last Friday, producers of the James Bond film “No Time to Die”

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As Legislators Debate Economic Benefits, and Burden for Homeowners, New Environmental Cleanup Rules Receive Unanimous Vote

HARTFORD — During special session, a number of state senators debated legislation that would modify the Transfer Act, a law dating to 1985 that regulates the way that polluted properties are handled in Connecticut.  The legislation shifts state law from a “transfer-based” system — one that requires hazardous waste spills to be cleaned up when a property changes hands — to a “released-based system,” requiring that property owners clean up pollution as soon as they are aware of the problem. The new legislation passed the House on Wednesday by a vote of 143-0 with an amendment which would prevent peripheral

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Officials Urge Caution, but No Delays to Reopening, as COVID Cases Jump across Southeast Connecticut

COVID positivity rates in southeast Connecticut have grown significantly this week, according to data from state and local health departments.  According to Ledge Light Health Department, which encompasses East Lyme, Groton, Ledyard, Lyme, New London, North Stonington, Old Lyme, Stonington, and Waterford, the region has confirmed 154 new COVID cases this week, the largest increase since April. Last week, the region confirmed 60 new cases.  In New London County, the number of COVID cases has increased from 1,882 to 2,126 over the course of the week, a 13 percent jump. The number of deaths increased by two, from 87 to

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Legislature Approves Early Processing of Absentee Ballots

HARTFORD — On Thursday, the Connecticut General Assembly passed a bill that would make it possible for absentee ballots to be processed on the Friday before election day. The bill passed the House on Wednesday 139-5 and the Senate on Thursday 35-1.   In July, the legislature passed a measure allowing any voter to use COVID-19 as a reason for voting by absentee ballot, a change that could substantially increase the number of absentee ballots that municipalities receive.  State Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, the chair of the Government Administration and Election Committee, said the purpose of the bill was to ensure

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Legislature Overwhelmingly Passes Environmental Justice Measure

HARTFORD — Lawmakers in the special session passed a bill that would revise the state’s environmental justice regulations, and require facilities that impact the environment to improve communication with the public and provide services or funding that would mitigate any environmental effects on the surrounding community.   The bill passed the House on Wednesday 139-5 and the Senate on Thursday 35-1.  State Rep. Geraldo Reyes, D-Waterbury, who co-authored the bill, told Connecticut Examiner that the changes came out of an experience he had in his home district of Waterbury, when an F&G Transfer Plant decided to expand its activities. Although large

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Bennett’s Books Stocks Community Fridge for Families in Need

In the back of Bennett’s Books in Deep River is a small pink fridge stocked with milk, eggs, cheese, juice, and frozen burritos and spring rolls, free for anyone who might need them.   Colin Bennett, the owner of the store, got the idea for the fridge after hearing about Freedge, a worldwide network of community refrigerators. The refrigerators are stocked with food donations and are left outside for individuals to take food when they need to.  Bennett aired his idea on social media platforms and started to receive donations from “random people.” He received the donated fridge in March, but

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Tourism Grant Program Accepting Proposals Through October 31

The Eastern Regional Tourism District is offering grants of up to $25,000 to help regions expand their marketing budget and draw in more tourists.  If a campaign is chosen, the district will contribute double the funds raised by the campaign for up to $5,000. They will then match up to $15,000 of additional funds raised, with a cap of $25,000.  The district has so far awarded two grants of $25,000 each to the campaigns Think Mystic and Wide Open.  Chris Regan, manager at Olde Mistick Village and chairman of the marketing committee, said that the district wanted to support programs

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Survey Suggests Lack of Confidence in Connecticut’s Business Climate

The sharp economic downturn as a result of coronavirus has exposed a lack of confidence among business owners in state policies, according to a recent survey from the Connecticut Business and Industry Association.   The survey of 962 business owners in a variety of sectors found that 61 percent said that the business climate in Connecticut is “declining,” and 59 percent are predicting the state economy to contract in the next year.  57 percent of the companies surveyed had cut hours, laid off employees or furloughed workers during the pandemic.  While part of this decline is the direct result of the pandemic,

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Audit Recommends State Police Reduce Overtime, Focus on Recruitment

A recent audit report of the Department of Emergency Services and Police Protection recommended that the department decrease State Police overtime hours which cost the department more than $26 million in 2019.  The report found that 80 officers — in 3 barracks and 4 other locations where overtime had increased substantially in the past year — were earning between $50,968 to $190,677 in overtime pay — anywhere from 100 to 244 percent of their base salaries. The audit also found 3,114 instances in which these same officers worked between 15 and 29.5 hours in one day.  The report recommended that

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Lamont Announces Broader Reopening Scheduled for October 8

Gov. Ned Lamont announced on Thursday new guidelines for the third phase of reopening from a state-mandated shutdown to contain the spread of COVID-19. The new rules are scheduled to go into effect on October 8. Under the guidelines, restaurants, hair salons, personal services, barber shops and libraries will be able to increase capacity from 50 to 75 percent indoors.  Outdoor events venues, such as race tracks and soccer stadiums, will be allowed to increase from 25 to 50 percent capacity, and indoor performing arts venues will be able to open at 50 percent capacity, with masks and social distancing. 

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COVID Exposure Sparks Staff Shortage, Forces Colchester School to Close

Colchester Elementary School has moved to remote learning for 14 days after 10 staff members were exposed to or tested positive for Covid-19.  Jeffrey Burt, superintendent of Colchester Schools, explained that a staff member tested positive for the virus on September 15. By the weekend, two more had tested positive.  Burt said he worked with the local health department over the weekend to engage in contact tracing. The department identified seven other staff members as having had contact with the positive cases, and they were asked to quarantine. This, said Burt, left the school with a staffing shortage.  Colchester Elementary

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Partnership with State Government Keeps Mystic Aquarium Afloat

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MYSTIC — Gov. Ned Lamont and Mystic Aquarium President and CEO Dr. Stephen Coan today announced a $31.5 million public-private partnership that will eliminate the aquarium’s debt and allow it to continue functioning through the pandemic.  The package includes $10 million raised in private donations, $14.5 million in debt elimination and a $7 million long-term loan from the state for working capital. At a press conference at the aquarium, Coan said this partnership will enable the aquarium “not only to survive, but to thrive.” Tourism is an $18 billion industry in Connecticut, making up 7 or 8 percent of the

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Lyme Debates Switch to Town Manager Model of Local Government

LYME — The Succession Planning Committee is debating whether to recommend that the town keep its current board of selectmen or shift to a town council and town manager model of government.  According to First Selectman Steven Mattson, the committee was formed in July in response to the upcoming retirement of 19 town employees over the next few years. Those departures may  leave positions that are difficult to fill and possibly require an alternate form of local government.  At a meeting of the committee on September 16, the nine committee members considered four potential models:  The current model A board

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Students Learning English Face Added Challenges with Remote Learning

Teachers and education experts in Connecticut are using a variety of methods to reach out to English language learners and their families, who have experienced extra challenges with remote learning.  Maribel Oliviero, the director of bilingual, ESOL and world programs at the New London Public Schools, said that when the schools were forced to go online in March, English learners, and particularly those in high school, were one of the least engaged populations. The reasons were varied. Some students didn’t have a reliable internet connection, or their families had changed residences and weren’t receiving messages from the schools. Olivero estimates

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Repeal of ‘Transfer Act’ Would Shift Burden For Environmental Clean-ups in Connecticut

Legislators and policy makers are proposing to change the way that hazardous waste cleanup works in Connecticut — a shift that advocates hope will both boost the economy and better protect the environment.   The changes are outlined in two bills that if approved by the legislature will switch over the state of Connecticut from a system that is transfer-based — in which the owner is responsible for cleaning up hazardous materials only when a property changes hands — to a release-based system, in which the cleanup must be done as soon as the owner becomes aware of the problem.  This

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New Guidelines For Connecticut Ease Bartending Restrictions at Restaurants and Events

The Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development has revised reopening guidelines to allow more flexibility for bar service at restaurants and events.  According to revised guidelines announced Thursday, workers at restaurant bars are no longer required to be behind a plastic shield when taking orders, serving food and drinks or collecting bills. They do, however, have to remain behind a shield while at “work stations” — areas where they are mixing drinks. Earlier regulations allowed patrons to sit at bars, but only as long as the entire bar was covered with plexiglass. Scott Dolch, executive director of the Connecticut

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Latina Leaders in Connecticut Meet to Encourage Women of Color to Run for Local Office

Latina leaders in Connecticut are encouraging women of color to run for local office in order to represent the needs of their communities.  In a Zoom conversation hosted by Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz on Thursday afternoon, eight elected city councilwomen, representatives and alderwomen shared their experiences and their suggestions for getting into politics.  Many of these women faced similar obstacles in running for office — lack of funding, difficulty networking, and being branded as overly emotional or being told to “wait their turn.”  “The first thing that I would say to women that decide to run in, don’t read the

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New Regulations Require Children Three and Up to Wear Masks in Daycare

The Connecticut Office of Early Childhood has released new regulations requiring that children ages three and up wear masks in daycare and childcare centers beginning Monday, September 21. The regulations are based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics, which say that children ages two and older can and should wear masks in order to create a safe school or childcare environment.  Beth Bye, commissioner for the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood, said that the recommendations came on the heels of a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, which shows that young

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Westbrook Debates Mural Design by Tony Falcone

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Westbrook is trying to liven up its downtown business district with an outdoor mural, a project that has drawn both support and criticism from residents.  The project is a three-and-a-half-year-old effort between the Town Center Revitalization Committee and the Economic Development Committee. They recently created an online survey, available on the town website, that allows residents to vote on their favorite of two potential paintings. The winner will be featured on the wall of the Turtle Cafe on Westbrook Place in Westbrook’s downtown.  Both murals include a rendering of David Bushnell’s submarine, the Turtle, known for being the first submarine

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Residents of Eastern Connecticut Invited to Talk With US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo Tonight

U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo is giving a virtual talk at Connecticut College on September 14 to discuss her memoir, Crazy Brave.  Connecticut College is hosting Harjo as part of a partnership with “One Book: One Region,” a program that was formed to bring together communities in eastern Connecticut to discuss literature.  Jefferson Singer, dean of the college, said the partnership was an effort to create ties between the college and the local community.  Laurie Wolfley, a professor of English at UConn, and a member of the committee responsible for choosing the book, said that Harjo’s memoir was a timely

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Connecticut Announces Sharply Lower Rate Hikes for Health Insurance Plans

Connecticut’s approved rates for health insurance premiums in 2021 are vastly lower than what companies have requested, according to the final rulings released on Friday by the Connecticut Insurance Department.  The approved average rate increase was 0.01 percent for individual plans and 4.1 percent for group plans. Last year, the average increase for individual and group plans were 3.95 percent and 9.19 percent, respectively.  The department said in a press release that it expects the proposed changes to save 214,600 Connecticut residents $96 million.  In a public hearing on September 2, the insurance companies defended their proposed increases, arguing that,

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East Lyme Police Report Rise in Reported Opioid-Related Overdoses

East Lyme has seen an unusually high number of overdoses in the last two months, East Lyme Police Chief Michael Finkelstein reported at a meeting of the town’s Police Commission on Thursday night.  Out of a total of 15 reported overdoses in East Lyme in 2020, seven occurred between July 1 and September 10, compared to three during the same period in 2019. Additionally, two of the three deaths attributed to overdoses this year occurred between July and September.  Finkelstein told CT Examiner that the majority of these overdoses were caused by heroin or fentanyl, a synthetic opioid similar to

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Symphony Kicks Off Fall Outdoor Program with Free Concert at Hygienic on Friday

The Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra will kick off a program of outdoor musical performances with a free concert on Friday at Hygienic Art Park in New London. The orchestra is giving five outdoor musical performances as part of their fall “Soundscape” program. Rather than full orchestra performances, the organization is opting for a series of smaller performances — ensembles of two to five musicians on strings, woodwind and brass. Their repertoire will range from traditional classical movements to contemporary popular songs.  The first three events, performed at Hygienic Art Park, will feature violin and cello, a bass duet and clarinet

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Board Of Selectmen Debate Sewers, a Resolution on Racism, and Sidewalks (UPDATED)

The Old Lyme Board of Selectmen held a public hearing last night to vote on whether to grant an easement for sewers to be installed by Old Lyme and three chartered beach communities. The system would establish a shared trunk sewer, pump station and force main between Old Lyme and the communities of Old Lyme Shores Beach, Old Colony Beach and Miami Beach. The pipes would run along Hartung Place, cross Hartford Avenue and Swan Avenue to reach the shared pump station at the corner of Pond Road and Portland Road. The shared force main would run up Portland Avenue

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As Connecticut Evaluates Rate Hikes for 2021, Health Insurers Push Back on Reports of Large Profits

As the Connecticut Insurance Department deliberates over whether to allow insurance premiums to increase for 2021, health insurers pushed back against reports of large profits during the pandemic as premature. On Aug. 5, the New York Times reported that many of the large insurance companies that serve Connecticut, including Aetna, Anthem and United Health Care, reported second-quarter earnings that were double what they earned in the previous year.  Insurers, however, are predicting that these earnings will be offset by a coming increase in elective surgeries and treatments postponed due to the pandemic. Most said they experienced a decrease in claims

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With One Month to Go, State Officials Seek to Boost Census Numbers for Connecticut

With one month to go before the reporting deadline for the U.S. Census, eight percent of Connecticut households still remain uncounted, currently the ninth-best completion rate in the country and the second-best response rate in New England after Maine.  In August, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that it would stop collecting responses for the census on September 30, a month earlier than previously stated.  According to Elizabeth Porter, chair of the Complete Contact Committee in Groton, the abrupt change in the deadline for collecting responses has created some challenges. “That, to me, was just unfair,” she said. “If you set

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As Events Remain Sharply Limited by COVID, a Coalition Tries for Middle Ground with Lamont

As winter approaches without any indication of when restrictions to contain the spread of COVID-19 will be loosened for Connecticut, the events industry  — catering businesses, event venues, designers, florists, party rental companies, musicians and DJs — are banding together to ask state and federal officials for economic assistance and for the chance to reopen. The guidelines, put in place in the spring in a series of executive orders by Gov. Ned Lamont, currently limit gatherings to 25 people indoors and 100 people outside, including staff.  Shiran Nicholson, owner of the Knowlton, a venue in Bridgeport, said that those restrictions

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