New Norwich mayor upbeat about city's finances, future

Norwich - Despite the sluggish economy, Norwich will enter 2014 "with a sense of vibrancy," Mayor Deberey Hinchey said in her first State of the City Address Monday after outlining major achievements by several city departments in 2013.

Hinchey started with a review of the city's finances for 2013, which resulted in a fund balance surplus of $11.2 million - 9.8 percent of the city's annual general fund expenses. Hinchey said the outlook for the end of the current fiscal year is much the same, with a projected surplus of 8.5 to 9 percent.

Hinchey gave highlights of activities of several city departments, including the $8 million expansion of natural gas lines by Norwich Public Utilities and the re-emphasis on community policing that she said has given the city "a robust return on investment," with a preliminary estimate of a 10-year low in crime.

"I am pleased to report to all that the state of our city is sound," Hinchey said. "Our finances are in order. Our services are the highest quality. Outside investment in our city is expanding, and together we are moving toward a brighter future for all."

Hinchey only hinted at the upcoming 2014-15 budget season. Last spring, the City Council made late budget cuts that eliminated two positions in the Human Services Department and a fire code clerk at the Norwich Fire Department. Hinchey said this year, the city administration "fully understands" the need to continue operations with limited resources. A Positive Workforce Committee was formed with a cross section of employees at all levels to discuss how to improve city functions, eliminate duplication and "reinforce to employees that they too are our agents for economic development."

Hinchey noted that 2013 started with the Jan. 7 armed standoff in which police officer Jonathan Ley was shot several times. Hinchey told the nearly full Council Chambers audience that Ley has since returned to full duty as a police detective.

"We want to be able to increase the number of police officers, allowing the police department to expand its emphasis on community policing," Hinchey said.

Several city projects that got underway in 2013 will continue this year, Hinchey said, including the voter-approved $5 million bond for road paving, bridge work and drainage upgrades that will result in resurfacing or treatment of 35 to 40 miles of roads over the next five years. The Public Works Department also purchased the state's first natural gas-powered dump/plow truck in 2013.

Hinchey also touched on the major undertakings by the city public school system, which is receiving more than $3 million in two state school reform programs while revamping curriculum, teacher and administrator evaluations and implementing a new state standardized testing system this spring.

"We enter 2014 with a sense of vibrancy and the anticipation of moving this city forward," Hinchey said. "Norwich will continue to define itself by the sound financial management we experience, by the talented staff and department that work diligently, and most important, by the people who live and work here."

c.bessette@theday.com

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