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    Sunday, June 16, 2024

    Waterford, East Lyme officials discuss COVID-19 impact on business

    Elected officials are wary, but optimistic about businesses in East Lyme and Waterford as they deal with the difficulties posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

    On Tuesday, the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce continued its Town Hall Zoom series, in which the chamber hosts town, city and state leaders to discuss the economies in various municipalities. The topic of Tuesday’s Town Hall was how Waterford and East Lyme have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Waterford First Selectman Rob Brule and Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, ran through a number of examples of how the towns have dealt with COVID-19 and kept businesses afloat.

    Brule said that while the town spent approximately $179,000 on COVID-19 related costs, all of it will be refunded by the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He also detailed the 2020-21 budget process this year which resulted in a $95.9 million operating budget, $50.3 million of which is for education.

    Amid the precautions and changes caused by the virus, Brule said, “We never lost sight of business and economic development.” He pointed to the town’s social media campaigns to urge residents to support local businesses. He said the town assisted in setting up restaurants by getting tents, converting parking lots and taking other measures to keep diners safe.

    The town continues to develop Mago Point, where a new restaurant has been approved and a new office building is being constructed. The town also recently announced Hartford HealthCare will be building a new facility on the former Toys R Us property. The building will house offices for primary care, medical specialists, men’s health and rehabilitation facilities, among other services. Brule said he hopes having Charter Oak Credit Union on one end of town and Hartford HealthCare on the other will help the struggling Crystal Mall.

    Rep. Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford, praised Waterford for continuing to attract businesses.

    “You’d never know that we’re going through a pandemic,” McCarty said.

    Cheeseman spoke at length about East Lyme’s school budget. A total of $827,000 was cut from the original proposal but Cheeseman pointed out funds for technology were preserved, which she said was important with school moving online.

    “Even in relatively affluent communities like East Lyme, we have to accept that not everyone will have the same access to technology as everyone else,” Cheeseman said.

    Cheeseman lamented the loss of some local businesses during the pandemic, highlighting empty storefronts as some owners retired or simply shut down. 

    “We saw a town go from thriving and booming to having so many things shut down overnight,” Cheeseman said.

    In her conversations with business owners, Cheeseman learned many were having “record years,” but, “all of a sudden, the rug was pulled out from under them.”

    Still, Cheeseman said, the Niantic Bay Boardwalk is once more packed with people (walking one way), and “people are again visiting restaurants and stores downtown.”

    Before wrapping up, Cheeseman mentioned East Lyme’s proposed new police building. In June, the Board of Selectmen agreed to move forward with plans to renovate and remodel the town’s future public safety building while also approving a request to bond an additional $2.17 million needed to complete the project.

    Voters had approved bonding up to $5 million to purchase and renovate the former Honeywell building at 277 West Main St. at a referendum in early 2019. But now that the committee overseeing the project determined an additional $2.17 million will be needed to complete the renovations, voters will weigh in on whether to finish the project. Exact dates for a referendum have not been planned yet. The Board of Finance has not yet approved the request to bond the additional 2.17 million to finish the building, but board members are scheduled to discuss the issue during a Wednesday meeting.

     “I know people have had issues with the process, but if you ever have the chance to look at the police building in which our brave police men and women are required to serve, it has serious, serious issues,” Cheeseman said.

    On Wednesday at 11 a.m., the Chamber is scheduled to host a webinar about Paycheck Protection Program guidelines.

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