The towns in the Greater New Milford area — New Milford, Washington, Sherman, Roxbury, Kent, Bridgewater and Warren — faced challenges and celebrated successes throughout 2019.

Traffic/transportation

Traffic woes have for years plagued downtown New Milford, with motorists vying for the best north/south and east/west routes.

While those issues continued, the state-made changes to the traffic lights at Main, Railroad and Bridge streets caused the most havoc in town and encouraged motorists to voice their frustration this year.

While traffic remains a point of contention in town, New Milford welcomed two new modes of emergency transportation.

Water Witch Hose Co. #2 took possession of a new ladder truck that will not only serve the town, but surrounding towns, and the New Milford Police Department received a helicopter.

Education

Both public and private schools in the region saw changes this year, including the opening of a new agriscience academy at Shepaug Valley School in Washington and new administrators in New Milford.

School openings were celebrated in Region 12 when it opened its doors of the long-awaited agriscience academy, which teaches students about agriculture with a STEM focus, and at The Pratt Nature Center in New Milford, which opened a new outdoor preschool program.

Canterbury School, a private school in New Milford, broke ground for its new student center, and The Gunnery, a private school in Washington, announced it received a $100,000 grant from the Edward E. Ford Foundation to establish a Center for Ethics, Leadership, and Civic Engagement on campus.

New administrators came aboard in New Milford, including Superintendent Kerry Parker, principals Eric Williams and Gwen Gallagher at Hill and Plain and Northville, respectively, and assistant principals Kevin Best, Catherine Calabrese and Sasha Salem at New Milford High School, Northville and Schaghticoke, respectively.

In addition, Debbie Clark assumed the role of special ed supervisor for PreK-5 and Brandon Rush came aboard as district director of technology.

In New Milford, a financial conflict was settled when, in August, the school board decided to pay $350,000 to end a multi-year legal dispute between the teachers and school officials.

The decision came about three months after the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the teachers union, saying the New Milford Board of Education violated the collective bargaining agreement by extending the workday for teachers on multiple occasions.

The money is spread out among the teachers who worked during the 2015/16 school year, based on their salaries and the amount of time they worked.

Budget

This year’s budget passed on the first try, but it wasn’t without controversy.

Town Council cut the Board of Education’s request by hundreds of thousands of dollars, though still more than the prior budget.

The main reason for the cut was concern the state wouldn’t give the town all of the money promised. To prevent the town being left with a shortfall like a few years ago, they cut the budget in preparation for the money not coming through but said they would reinstate some of the money if the state did actually deliver it.

However, the budget was passed at $600,000 less than the school board’s request and so the schools had to make the cuts anyway, though they were able to preserve popular programs. They also used the surplus from the previous year to cover some expenses and put the state funding in the schools’ capital reserve.

Health

The Greater New Milford area continued to see the effect of opioid use this year and implemented strategies to help those in need.

Tony and Tracey Morrissey of New Milford became fierce warriors in the fight against opioids after their son, Brian Cody Waldron, died of an overdose at age 20.

Since Waldron’s death, the family has worked with the mayor, police chief and legislators to fight the epidemic in town and on a larger scale.

Their proposed bill, Brian Cody’s Law, will help those seeking treatment and crack down on ways people get the drugs. It is in the initial stages but is expected to be introduced in February.

The police department announced it would be cracking down on those bringing drugs into New Milford and introduced a community care coordinator, Justin Cullmer, to immediately connect victims and their families to resources after an overdose.

The NMPD also rolled out an overdose online map to help law enforcement better track drugs moving through the region.

If officials see a spike of overdoses in a nearby town, they can reach out to see if it’s connected to a new drug or possibly a bad batch of a drug that could be coming toward New Milford.

Also on the health front, the health network that runs Danbury, New Milford and Norwalk hospitals completed a deal with a four-hospital group in New York to form a medical system, known as Nuvance Health, that stretches from the Hudson River to the Long Island Sound.

The merger, in 2018, places under single ownership Connecticut hospitals in Danbury, Norwalk, New Milford and Sharon, and New York hospitals in Carmel, Poughkeepsie and Rhinebeck.

Controverseries

The year was not without controversy in the region.

Residents of Connecticut and New York continued to lift their voices against the Cricket Valley Energy Center, a natural-gas powered plant being built on a 193-acre lot on Route 22 just over the Connecticut line in Dover, N.Y

The plant will generate 1,100 megawatts of power once it comes online next year.

Those opposed to the project say the plant will emit harmful chemicals into the air, while proponents of the project say it will take a coal-burning plant offline and help transition to clean energy.

Protestors were arrested at various times throughout the year, including four climbers who scaled a 275-foot-tall smokestack to try to stall the construction of the plant this fall.

The controversial plant is five miles from Kent School, which has installed an air-monitoring station to establish a baseline of air quality before the plant comes online.

The Candlewood Solar Project in New Milford, which has faced a number of challenges since it was approved by the Connecticut Siting Council in 2017, also continued to draw ire from residents.

A group of residents filed a lawsuit appealing the decision in February 2018. The town then pulled the Payment in Lieu of Taxes agreement, which would generate $2.7 million to the town over 20 years, and filed a few petitions against the project.

DEEP rejected the stormwater management plan in March, but the company is able to make changes and resubmit it.

There was some recent good news though for Candlewood Solar, a subset of Ameresco, with the Siting Council’s approval of the management and development plan — the other document needed to start building.

This fall, three top New Milford officials addressed some allegations, including the investigation into former police Capt. Larry Ash and those into a complaint that a town employee and town council member had an illicit relationship.

Two former New Milford employees — Robert Rzasa, the former highway superintendent, and former Police Chief Shawn Boyne — filed lawsuits against the town.

Rzasa alleges wrongful termination amid the shakeup in the Public Works department that led to Director Mike Zarba’s resignation.

His wrongful termination suit follows the suit former Police Chief Shawn Boyne filed in April. That case is expected to go to trial in May.

Milestones

Numerous businesses, civic organizations and institutions celebrated milestone anniversaries this year.

Among them, the New Milford Lions Club and New Milford Community Ambulance each turned 90, the New Milford Police Department marked its 50th anniversary and the New Milford High School Grad Party recognized its 25th anniversary.

In Sherman, the Sherman Congregational Church offered events throughout the year in honor of its 275th anniversary and the Jewish Community Center celebrated its 25th.

Tragedies and deaths

The year was not without tragedy.

New Milford Joshua DaSilva and Leonel Salvador drowned in Candlewood and Bantam lakes, respectively, and Kent resident Christina Walters was killed when her vehicle collided with a truck along Route 7 in New Milford.

Pedestrian John Murphy died in March after being struck by a car near Pickett District Road in New Milford, an accident that renewed calls for the installation of sidewalks along the state road.

James Maharg of Sherman was arrested in March, days after police say he murdered his husband, Thomas Conley, inside their Church Road home.

Three well-known community personalities and professionals died: Hank Anderson, a co-founder of Cramer & Anderson law firm, Harry Cohen, a longtime New Milford attorney, and Barbara Hamlin, who founded the New Milford Children’s Center in 1971.

Fires broke out at numerous homes in the region, displacing several families.

Leadership

New leaders earned the top seat in Kent and Washington while others were re-elected for another term in the Greater New Milford area.

New Milford Mayor Pete Bass won a second term, defeating Democratic challenger Tom O’Brien.

In Kent, Jean Speck succeeded the town’s longtime first selectman and fellow Democrat, Bruce K. Adams, after beating Republican Ed Matson in the municipal election by more than 200 votes.

Washington also elected a new first selectman, Republican Jim Brinton, who defeated Democrat Michelle Gorra.

Following a recount, it was affirmed both Brinton and Gorra received more votes than the Republican selectman candidate Sarah Gager, meaning Gorra joined the board as a selectman.

COMMUNITY

Here are some other highlights:

Harrybrooke Park welcomed peacocks back to the park after 30-plus years.

Lynn Deming Park in New Milford received security upgrades.

The Silo at Hunt Hill Farm in the Northville section of New Milford, longtime home to Skitch and Ruth Henderson, closed its doors abruptly.

The Schaghticoke track and field team finished well this spring, finishing with an undefeated dual meet record, winning the Western Connecticut Conference Championship meet and placed second in the state championships.

The New Milford Senior Center and Community Culinary School of Northwest CT teamed up to provide lunches at the senior center.

Village Crest Center for Health & Rehabilitation in New Milford opens a memory care unit.

Loaves & Fishes Hospitality House in New Milford hits a road block that delays construction.

Developers donated affordable housing in Washington.

New Milford welcomes a new economic development director, Karen Pollard.

New Milford Library can finally begin its new chapter with the State Bond Commission approving a $1 million grant which will go toward the $8.5 million renovation and modernization project.

Lots happened in the business community, with businesses closing and others opening.

Katrina Koerting contributed to this story.