Report by Paula Antolini
October 17, 2017 3:22PM EDT
Cynthia McCorkindale: ‘Sea Change’ Happening in Bethel; ‘Serious Hardship’ for Many Residents
By Cynthia McCorkindale
There is a sea change under way in Bethel. Taxpayers are finally waking up to the reality that Connecticut is in an economic death spiral, headed by a reckless Democratic governor who uses his pen as a weapon.
Those of us who have lived in Bethel for many years, raised families, and worked hard to maintain their homes, now face the unforeseen necessity of moving to more affordable parts of the country. Not because we want to — but because we can no longer afford to live here.
The 18 to 34-year-olds are already fleeing the town and state. Over the past 10 years, Connecticut has lost more residents in this age group than any other state in the union. The median age in Bethel is now 46 and the numbers are rising. The continual increase in Bethel’s median age reflects the rapid aging of area populations.
While my opponent touts how much better off Bethel is since he took office, excerpts from the former Social Services Director’s 2017 budget presentation state otherwise.
This is how she quantified the serious hardship of the many residents needing food assistance:
In 2012, Brotherhood in Action distributed 33,000 pounds of food to needy Bethel residents. In 2016, that amount skyrocketed to 89,000!
The Bethel Community Food Pantry went from 20 clients in January 2015 to 60+ in December of that same year. In 2016, the January number tripled to 60 and December doubled to 110 served.
Free and reduced school lunch recipients ballooned from 475 in 2011-12 to 660 as of January 2017 — 20 percent of the student population! The number of Bethel residents falling at or below the Federal Poverty Level is much higher than our neighboring towns, for example — Newtown 7.1 percent, New Fairfield 10.1 percent, Brookfield 7.5 percent, Ridgefield 3.1 percent.
Between 2014 and 2016, subsidies for back-to-school programs, holiday assistance programs, and park & rec activities have all increased dramatically. Students qualifying for clothing assistance ballooned from 10 to 70.
Do these numbers reflect my opponent’s claim that Bethel is better off since his first term? Heck, we’re not even better off than we were just two years ago!
And, these are trends, not anomalies. So, considering these facts, how can my opponent possibly claim that things are better?
Upcoming and current projects include $65 million school renovations, a $13.5 million police station (still missing a cost allocation chart and guaranteed maximum price), $1 million FEMA showers and emergency shelter in the municipal center, and $1.2 million for an artificial turf field. A real property revaluation is currently in progress, so those results are unknown. So many things are up in the air.
My opponent claims that his administration has solved all the serious problems they inherited, so he now wants to focus on “quality of life issues.” He has plans for bike paths, sidewalks, farmers’ markets, trendy restaurants. He claims that Bethel’s retail district is filled almost to capacity. Sounds dreamy.
But there is a huge gray cloud hanging over his sunny vision. Growing numbers of Bethel taxpayers simply cannot afford to live here any longer.
Sidewalks and bicycle paths are wonderful things; however, these are quality of life enhancers. Many in Bethel are struggling to meet their families’ basic needs, such as rent, mortgage payments, car repairs.
We currently have a $65 million bond referendum hanging over our heads — with no state budget in place, therefore the usual $8 million yearly Education Cost Sharing to the schools isn’t coming — at least not right now.
So here’s the kicker: Although the first selectman and superintendent of schools both promised to send out a mailing of the project details to all Bethel residents prior to the Town Meeting, they did not. Anyone who was on the school’s email list was notified multiple times of the importance of this project, where to find information, and links to videos. However, 30 percent of Bethel residents likely know nothing about the largest proposed appropriation of funding in the history of the town!
Bethel needs a first selectman who is in tune with the needs of every taxpayer and citizen, and not just one segment of the population. Education is a critical part of a community, but it’s not the only part. There are seniors, veterans, singles and couples without children as well. And we are in a period when school enrollment is declining. These new residents of Bethel simply do not fit the profile of parents of school-aged children.
It’s time for a new perspective. A more inclusive view. Relief for seniors. Equity for all. Total transparency. Creative cost-saving. Communication. Pragmatism combined with compassion. A town run for the people, by the people. This is what I offer Bethel.
Cynthia McCorkindale is presently a member of the Bethel Board of Finance and has also been on the Bethel Board of Education. She is a registered Independent candidate, cross-endorsed by the Republican Party, running for First Selectman of Bethel.