For the past three years, it has been my honor to serve as the Mayor of West Hartford, the town I grew up in and the community where I raised my four sons. West Hartford is a Connecticut success story.
I believe that one of our community’s greatest strengths is our diversity. West Hartford is truly a microcosm of America today, a great melting pot of residents from all backgrounds and walks of life. I am proud that the Democratic slate is representative of this diversity.
One of the most important qualities for elected leaders is the ability to understand the experience of their constituents. From young millennials and working parents, to small business owners and retirees, the Democratic team brings a diverse set of life experiences to the table. We are united in our commitment to making West Hartford an inclusive town that is respectful and responsive to all residents.
It goes without saying that our diversity is far from our only strength. From public education, to economic development and environmental sustainability, West Hartford is looked to as a leader and a model for other towns.
Our public schools are consistently ranked among the best in the country. But it’s not just awards and national recognition that make our neighborhood schools so special, because it is about more than test scores. West Hartford teachers equip students with the life skills they will need to thrive beyond the classroom. We deliver this great product at a cost per pupil that is well below the regional and state average.
We also have thriving commercial districts that attract new businesses and residents alike. A recent analysis by the Hartford Courant found that West Hartford is one of only ten Connecticut towns and cities where median residential sale prices have exceeded or matched their values from before the Great Recession.
More businesses want to come to West Hartford than we have space for, and the most frequent complaints we hear from Realtors is that there simply isn’t enough commercial space to meet demand. This is a good problem to have, and proof that West Hartford is an attractive place to do business.
None of this is to say that there isn’t still work to be done. One of our most difficult tasks continues to be managing fixed costs as well as legacy debts and liabilities.
In the 90s, both Republican and Democratic administrations made the unfortunate decision not to contribute any money to the town’s pension fund, saddling the current generation with what are essentially “catch-up” payments. Although it’s been difficult, I am proud that we have made actuarially recommended contributions to the pension fund every year I’ve been mayor.
Under recent Democratic leadership, we have also refused to use one-time revenue or gimmicks to balance the budget. This is how we’ve maintained a highly coveted AAA bond rating, and it’s why we have been nationally recognized for fiscal transparency and reporting.
Sewer costs assessed by the MDC are another major cost driver that must be addressed. The MDC is one of the only water systems in the country in which sewer costs are levied through property taxes, putting member towns like West Hartford at a competitive disadvantage to non-MDC communities.
Year after year, the MDC adopts significant budget increases that are then passed onto our residents, hidden in their property tax bills. I hope to continue working on a bipartisan basis with my Republican colleagues to educate our residents about these challenges and work on transparency, equity and finding a sustainable way to provide our residents clean water and working sewers at a reasonable and fair price.
We must also continue to prioritize our environment, responsibly manage our waste, and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. This is necessary for reasons of health, safety and affordability.
Over the past decade, West Hartford has reduced its municipal electricity use by 20 percent, resulting in a cost savings of more than $700,000. A few weeks ago, I personally flipped the switch to turn on a new solar array atop of the town hall. This is one of 12 solar projects on town property, and it will help us achieve our goal in the near future of deriving all of our energy needs from renewable sources.
We’ve also prioritized complete streets, connecting neighborhoods via sidewalks and installing miles of new bike lanes. This has had the dual benefit of making our town safer for pedestrians and reducing emissions from motor vehicles.
Finally, as this election season comes to a close, I want to thank all of the candidates and residents for their civility and good will. Our town benefits from a wonderfully engaged and informed electorate. At a time when the vitriol and dysfunction in Washington DC is at an all-time high, West Hartford shines as an example of how democracy is supposed to work.
Working together, we can make sure West Hartford remains a place where businesses want to grow, and where families want to work, live and retire.
Shari Cantor is the Mayor of West Hartford and a Democratic candidate for Town Council.