Development group submits budget to Preston selectmen

Preston - The Preston Redevelopment Agency submitted its proposed 2013-14 budget to the selectmen Thursday, asking for $216,420 in operating funds and possibly another $145,000 if the agency is successful in obtaining cleanup grants for the former Norwich Hospital property that require local matching amounts.

Agency Chairman Sean Nugent broke down the budget requests for the Board of Selectmen, which did not vote on the proposed budget.

The potential need for matching funds is the largest portion of the budget. Last year, the Board of Finance recommended listing that money separately from operating funds, because if the town does not receive the grants, then it wouldn't spend the money.

The PRA is seeking new state and federal grants totaling anywhere from $3 million to $7 million, depending on how much of a $1 million to $5 million state Urban Act grant the town could qualify to receive, Nugent said. The town is seeking a $500,000 Small Town Economic Assistance Program grant and three $200,000 federal Environmental Protection Agency grants.

The agency has been successful over the past three years in obtaining $1.8 million in federal grants and another $4.1 million in state grants and loans, including a new $2 million matching loan recently approved.

Town officials are hoping for a continuation of support from state officials, boosted by legislative leaders who have voiced support for promoting development of the former state mental hospital.

Selectman and state Rep. Timothy Bowles, D-Preston, said he met briefly Thursday with Republican House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk. Although his Norwalk area district is far from the Norwich Hospital property in Preston and Norwich, Cafero has submitted a bill that would call for increased state support for the former hospital property.

The bill would "commit economic and environmental resources to the redevelopment of the Norwich State Hospital property" and "require that the state explore potential partnerships with the federal government and the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot-owned tribal casinos to redevelop the property and strengthen the local economy."

Bowles said Cafero discussed general terms of support during their brief meeting Thursday and said he hopes for similar support from the majority Democratic legislators.

First Selectman Robert Congdon suggested the town seek letters of support from both Democratic and Republican General Assembly leaders for the town's state grant applications. Nugent also offered to meet with state legislators to explain how past and current grant money has been used to clean up the hospital property.

As for development prospects, Nugent said he expects to have concrete information by early March on the one potential developer currently studying a portion of the property. A second potential developer recently withdrew his interest, and a third has expressed preliminary interest.

c.bessette@theday.com

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