Laura Francis, First Selectman of Durham joined Ray Dunaway for Mayor Monday.
She discussed Park Clean up for sports season, City conservation working on better parking near hiking properties, and the Durham Fair.
The budget for Durham can take a big hit with state budget, even as the town is leading the way on regionalism.
“The great thing about Connecticut is the whole small town thing,” says Dunaway, and then asks Francis, “Are you a First Selectman…person…or woman…?”
“I am refereed to as the First Selectman,” she replies.
“I just want to make sure,” says Dunaway, “because everything can get you in trouble…but you know this by being in politics.”
“Yes it can,” says Francis, “without even trying.”
Francis describes Durham as both a rural and bedroom community, with a small population of around 7,000 people. It’s a bedroom town to professionals who work in New Haven and Hartford in the University systems or medical field. It’s rural component is marked by its hundreds of acres of open space and working farms. A heritage that the townspeople are “proud of.”
“And you have the best ice cream place in the state,” says Dunawy.
“Dari Serve is open,” says Francis, “so it’s officially Spring in Durham!”
When asked to characterize the town, Francis points to the park, “We’re getting ready to clean up for Little League,” she says, “We have hundreds of kids involved in spring and summer sports. And the Cheerleaders will be practicing for Fall football season. Also, our conservation commission has been working with public works to put new and approved parking areas near our open space property where people love to hike all year round.”
The Durham Fair which happens in September is one of the largest fairs in the nation that is entirely run by volunteers. “We have no paid staff working on the Fair,” remarks Francis proudly.
The Selectman also explains that the town is looking toward agriculture as a possible way to promote local economic development. Farms have recently sprouted up that sell CSA’s, along with two working dairy farms and lots of open space that is rented out as hay fields, as well as boarding facilities for horses.
Dunaway brings up the seemingly painful topic of a recent budget meeting. With a heavy sigh, Francis explains, “I start every budget season saying it’s not a punishment or reward, it’s simply a statement of what it is you need to do to do your job. But this year, it seems like a punishment.”
“Well, you are being punished,” agrees Dunaway.
“We are,” says Francis, “The Governor’s budget is a big shift in policy, and has hit Durham quite extensively. Our ECS (Education Cost Sharing Formula), was cut 60% – that’s going to be a huge challenge for us. Our town budges is $6.5 million, if you cut $2 1/2 million – it’s hard to cut your way out of that…overnight.”
Dunaway asks if it’s possible for Durham to consolidate services with neighboring towns, to help cut costs.
“Durham is a poster child for regionalism,” points out the Selectman. “We have a regional school system and a regional transfer station with the town of Middlefield. We’re part of the Resident State Trooper program, which I believe is regional police force. We’re also part of a regional probate court.”
“So, you’re doing it,” says Ray, commenting how perfectly “New England” it is to have the town meeting at the local Fire Department. However, the difficult discussion at hand, “won’t be so perfect.”
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