2009's Top 10 stories
1 Jobs are scarce and growing scarcer.
Money is tight, and individuals and organizations from families and business owners to schools, town governments and New Milford Hospital have tightened their budgets.
It's about the economy, folks.
One could debate whether the recession is over but there's certainty to the fact that it's impact is still felt mightily in unemployment, deflated 401K accounts and the slowing of the retail market.
The lessened stream of money coming to towns from federal and state sources has manifested itself in many ways.
In New Milford, for example, the police department pulled its valued school resource officers from Schaghticoke Middle School and Sarah Noble Intermediate School due to budget constraints, only recently returning a cop to duty at Schaghticoke.
In Kent, the town decided not to spend money to have a resident state trooper.
Throughout the Greater New Milford area, there are many empty storefronts.
In 2009 alone, new auto sales cease at such venerable car dealers as Bennett , Southworth and Park Cadillac in New Milford, as well as Southworth Dodge in Kent, although Bennett and Southworth in New Miford still offer used cars and Wetmore Jeep acquires the Dodge franchise at its Route 7 dealership.
There are other bright signs as we begin 2010:
New Milford's Village Center Organization is taking a pro-active approach to marketing the downtown businesses, especially by debuting its inaugural Bank Street Festival in October; the town is hoping soon to strike a deal to sell its property at the former Century Brass site; and hope springs eternal that the similar town-owned Still Meadow property between Fort Hill and Route 7 will prove a revenue source in the near future.
This year, among the new businesses to open are a bevy of restaurants: Matteo's, La Piccolina, Gary's Rib House, the Sweet Spot, Tivoli and Bruster's/Nathan's in New Milford and the White Horse Country Pub in Marble Dale.
Many other longtime businesses celebrate anniversaries -- among them, 35 years for Davis IGA in Kent and 20 years apiece for Il Colosseo Restaurant, Steve's Deli and East Coast Carpet in New Milford.
2 Ask those who frequently travel here, there or anywhere in Greater New Milford area what the number one problem is and many would respond "traffic."
The shovel finally hits the ground in May for the long-delayed, much-anticipated Grove Street/Route 67 project and, ever since, that section of town is being reshaped. Whether the new intersection will prove to be the panacea for safety and traffic flow that so many have forecasted remains to be seen.
At the south end of town, the newly opened Route 7 bypass has considerably shortened the trip to and from Danbury and points south, for commuters and shoppers alike. How that ultimately will affect local business and traffic flow is a question crucial to this area's long-term well being.
What is clear, however, as the area continues to grow and traffic ever increases, there is need for a frank discussion about some alternative method of moving traffic through or around the New Milford village center, whether it be an east-west connector from routes 7 to 202 or some other solution.
3 It is a year of highs and lows for New Milford Hospital as it continues its fight to provide excellent health care for the Greater New Milford area while maintaining its fiscal viability.
All during 2009, President/CEO Joseph Frolkis steps down in May and is replaced on an interim basis by Richard Henley in 2009; the hospital trims its nursing staff by 11, loses its status as an emergency angioplasty center, and settles a $5.25 million malpractice suit suit brought against former chief of surgery Dr. Ramon Mabasa and the hospital by a woman whose left leg had to be amputated as a result of complications from spinal surgery performed at the hospital in 2005.
The year had started under a cloud during the hospital's annual meeting when former its Plow to Plate initiative.
The facility also begins construction in December on a self-contained MRI building while celebrating several awards earned earlier in the fall for its quality service.
4 Throughout the Greater New Milford area, communities show their foresight by moving ahead with construction of much-needed new facilities and renovations to existing buildings, some funded in part via federal or state funds and some that will require local tax monies.
Headlining the projects in New Milford is the start of the expansion and renovation of the sewage treatment plant on West Street and the construction of a larger, state of the art ambulance barn at the intersection of Housatonic Avenue and Aspetuck Ridge Road.
Sherman and Roxbury are in various stages of renovations to existing firehouses (just a year after Kent made the transition to a new firehouse) and Warren is eagerly awaiting the planned wintertime opening of its new town hall on Cemetery Road.
In New Milford, Sherman and Kent, plans for expansion to their respective public libraries are among the hot topics as those communities move into the New Year.
5 In the wake of a state Supreme Court decision supporting Bridgewater's right to host its own school, Region 12 settles on leases for its elementary schools, thus for the foreseeable future ending some advocates' hopes for a consolidated elementary school.
Amidst ongoing budget battles in each of the area's school districts, several longtime school administrators retire or take buyouts -- New Milford's assistant superintendent of schools, Tom Mulvihill, as well as New Milford High assistant principal John Lee and Northville School principal Tom Atticks, and Shepaug Valley High School principal Gene Horrigan.
6 Chief executives across the Greater New Milford area maintain their status as 2009 heads into 2010, except in Kent where Democrat Ruth Epstein stepped down after two terms.
Fellow Democrat Bruce Adams defeats GOP hopeful Karen Casey to take Mrs. Epstein's place as first selectman.
In New Milford, Republican incumbent Pat Murphy easily turns back the challenge of Democratic candidate Bob Coppola to earn a fourth-two-year term and lead the GOP's near sweep of the town's elective municipal offices.
Around the area, Democrat Andrea O'Connor in Sherman, Republican Barbara Henry in Roxbury and Democrat Bill Stuart in Bridgewater win re-election, although the latter's margin of victory over longtime fellow selectman Neil Cable is slim, 516-469.
During the latter part of the election campaign, emotions run high in Bridgewater as the result of questions about Mr. Stuart's handling of the town's Burnham Fund; in Roxbury over whether the town should have elective or appointed zoning officials; and in Washington due to a battle for zoning board seats ultimately won by the GOP's Gary Fitzherbert and Ray Reich over Democrat Valerie Anderson.
In Washington and Warren, respective GOP first selectmen Mark Lyon and Jack Travers are unopposed in their re-election bids.
7 During its 80th year in service to the Greater New Milford area, New Milford Community Ambulance makes the transition to shared volunteer/paid staff while looking ahead to the move into its new barn along Aspetuck Ridge Road.
As it begins 2010, the organization has as its highest priority adhering to a "Plan of Correction" mandated in November by the state Department of Public Health and agreed to in December by ambulance officials.
Community Ambulance was placed on 36-month probation and instructed to improve its procedures as the result of a complaint by New Milford resident Francis Hapke dating to a February 2008 ambulance call for his wife, Marge.
8 The probate court system in Connecticut is about to have a new look.
As decided by the state Probate Court Administrative Office in December, the number of courts in the state will drop from 117 to 54, as of Jan. 5, 2011.
Beginning then, New Milford, Bridgewater and Sherman probate cases will be decided by a judge also presiding over Brookfield and New Fairfield.
Litchfield will host a probate court for Kent and Warren, as well as Morris, Thomaston, Harwinton, Sharon, Cornwall, Salisbury, Canaan, North Canaan and Norfolk.
Washington and Roxbury residents will settle probate issues in a Southbury court also shared by Bethlehem, Watertown, Woodbury and Oxford.
9 As the slowed economy continues to take its toll, community spirit in New Milford and surrounding towns rallies in many ways to help make the area a great place to live.
Among the 2009 charitable gifts of the ad hoc non-profit MVP-SOS is a $10,000 donation to help get a new community playground off the ground at Pettibone School in New Milford. In concert with an anonymous donation of $50,000 and many smaller gifts by area residents and businesses, more than $110,000 is raised and the playground is built by year's end.
On the front burner for many residents is a quest for a full-time homeless shelter.
Still in the planning stage yet likely to happen in the near future is a community dog park.
The year 2009 proves a memorable year for such entities as the McCarthy Observatory, the Friends of Harrybrooke Park, the New Milford Lions Club, Weantinoge Heritage Land Trust, the Housatonic Valley Association, the New Milford Veterans Committee and farmland preservation advocates in New Milford as they extend their respective efforts to serve the Greater New Milford community.
10 The fight for federal recognition remains a losing battle in 2009 for the Schaghticoke Indian tribe.
In October, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York takes less than two weeks to render a unanimous rejection of the Kent-based, 300-member Schaghticoke Tribal Nation's decades-long bid for recognition.
It is unknown at year's end if the tribe would make another appeal, although Chief Richard Velky reacts to the latest rejection by saying, "We've been in this state before it was a state. We're not going to go anywhere."