Community News

Botelle Students to Present “Aladdin Jr.”

Botelle Elementary School will present its annual spring play in three performances on Friday, March 31, and Saturday, April 1. Friday’s performance at 10:00 a.m. is for school children, followed by a public performance at 6:00 p.m. Saturday the play is presented at 2:00 p.m.

Director Ann DeCerbo selected Disney’s “Aladdin Jr.” for this year’s production, a shortened version of the Disney award-winning film and the Broadway play. 

“This version is for children,” said DeCerbo, “and is only about an hour rather than the full two-hour play.”

Seventeen students from grades 3 through 6 have been cast, some in multiple roles. They excitedly shared this week that their favorite moments in the play range from the opening song and dance to the scene in which Harrison Bennett, playing Aladdin, gets to act like a “doofus.” Belle Bracken, who is a co-lead with Harry, said she particularly liked the part in her role as Jasmine when the character finally stands up for herself.

“The play is about how you are the product of yourself, about recognizing your own worth,” said DeCerbo.

The children sing and dance many numbers, aided by the choreography of musical director/choreographerGinevra DeCerbo and professional choreographer Kristin Mudge. They will be attired in costumes by Kailyn Nadeau, with John DeShazo providing light and sound. Handsome sets have been created by Peter and Sarah Fiester and Ginevra DeCerbo. Helping backstage will be Heather Centrella, while the stage crew is composed of David DeCerbo, Sarah Fiester and Leif Johnson.

Cast members are Lorelai DeCerbo, Harrison Bennett, Chloe Keyes, Gudrid Johnson, Belle Bracken, Hillary Schneider, Anna Fiester, Gabriela Ongar, Bella Curtis, Blake Porter, Parker Bracken, Nate Schneider, Abigail Bennett, Elana Hunt, Evie Whitaker, Robbie Bazzano, Elana Hunt, Andrew Porter and Mini Genies.

All performances as free.

Frontier Fiber Optics Coverage Still Uncertain

It is still unclear what kind of accommodation the town can work out with Frontier Communications to provide high-speed fiber optics to the entire town. The company is currently stringing wire in the center and will expand its coverage area if the town pays for it.

“Frontier sent me a list of the houses they will cover, which is confidential,” said First Selectman Matt Riiska. “I took a map and marked the areas. I went through the list to see what will not be covered. Some areas that are not covered would be easy for them to service, but there is a large block in the northern section of town that would not have coverage. As I have mentioned before, I am not going to tax the town to increase coverage and not include everyone.”

He said negotiations are currently “vague.” Frontier gave a figure of $467,000 to do larger portions of town, “but it was uncertain what it meant,” Riiska said. “We need to find out more information.”

Nevertheless, money for fiber optics has been included in the proposed budget.

Proposed Town Budget Would Not Raise Taxes

In a special meeting Tuesday night, the Board of Finance perused the proposed $8,612,647 general government budget for 2023-24. First Selectman Matt Riiska presented the spending package and said that it is not yet final.

“It’s still being worked on,” he said. “The bottom line is, that it is pretty flat and would produce no mill rate increase. The Grand List is up about $6 million and when you calculate in other revenues, the amount to be raised by taxation is $7,739,262. That would produce a mill rate of 27.78, down from 27.86.”

The budget does include the major Maple Avenue upgrade, estimated at $2.2 million (money that will be bonded or borrowed); six capital projects, debt service for two bridges that are being upgraded; and funds to expand the number of homes to be provided with fiber optics by Frontier.

“The Board of Finance has to look at it and there could be a couple of tweaks, but it won’t go higher,” said Riiska.

Recording of March 7 Town Meeting Available

Links to a four-part recording of the March 10 town meeting held to update residents have been posted on the gas spill update page.

Region 7 Budget Presentation March 29

There will be a presentation of the $23,455,528 proposed budget for Northwestern Regional School District No. 7 Wednesday, March 29, at 6:30 p.m. in the Botelle School Cafeteria. Superintendent of Schools Judith Palmer and regional school board Chairman Molly Sexton Reed have been presenting the budgets to the four members towns.

The school district’s overall budget increase is 2.42 percent, or $553,159.

After revenues are factored in, the amount to be raised by taxation is $21,108,004, of which Norfolk’s portion is about $$1,804,736 if the budget is approved as presented.

Superintendent of Schools Judith Palmer said that all department chairs were asked to keep increases below 2 percent. Sixty-six percent of the 2023-24 budget will go toward salaries and benefits, with salaries increasing just under $300,000, (2.54 percent). Benefits rise $92,829, (2.83 percent).

Property services, which include energy, fuel, utilities, refuse and snow removal, increase $64,207 (5.16 percent), while other purchased services rise $86,944, (2.49 percent), even after subtracting $302,000 for state reimbursements for special education transportation and outplacements.

There is no new borrowing in the budget.

Like all schools in the region, Region 7 has been plagued by decreasing enrollments, a trend expected to continue through 2029-30. Enrollment has dropped from 941 students in 2019-20 to a projected 778 next year. For planning purposes, the administration projects that incoming 7th and 8th graders will decrease from 261 this year to 201 at the end of the decade.

The annual budget referendum will be May 2.

To view the superintendent’s budget presentation, click here. To view the working budget, click here

State of Emergency Declared for “Brenda”

First Selectman Matt Riiska declared a state of emergency Tuesday morning as the major snowstorm swept over Northwest Connecticut. This allows the town to take advantage of any service and funding that may become available through the state or the federal government.

Working with the local emergency management and the Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (DEMHS), the town applied for assistance through the Region 5 Public Works Mutual Aid Plan. Wednesday morning public works crews from Watertown and Thomaston came to Norfolk with equipment and crews to assist in the cleanup.

“This was a great help,” said Riiska, expressing his gratitude for the assistance.

The Emergency Management Team was in place from early Tuesday morning until Wednesday night, monitoring the public works radios, tracking outages, monitoring Eversource activities, keeping track of road closures and keeping track road blockages from trees and down wires.

The Public Works crew was out from 1:00 a.m. Tuesday until 8:00 p.m. that night and then again from 4:00 a.m. on Wednesday until 6:00 p.m., but still the work is not complete. Riiska said the cleanup of downed trees and branches will continue for some time.

Spring Will Bring More Gas Cleanup Efforts

Norfolk residents convened Tuesday evening for the fourth gas spill update meeting since the Nov. 5 spill.

First Selectman Matt Riiska reported that the meeting was businesslike with the exception of a question from the floor regarding allowing the remediation company to start work on private property. “There was a comment from the floor regarding when the landowners will give permission for [cleanup crews] to get onto their properties” Riiska said. “Right now, it’s a case of trying to work through this to address everyone’s concerns. We are trying to move this along for everyone’s benefit.”

Another question from the audience was regarding offering alternative housing during the remediation process planned for this spring. Riiska responded, “The Town has worked with a number of residents over the past four months, locating and providing funding for alternative housing. We will continue to assist in any way we can.”  

The cleanup is the top priority for more than one reason. In addition to wanting to remove all environmental contaminants, the town has projects in the pipeline that will be delayed until the cleanup is complete. 

Concern was expressed that there has been little activity in recent weeks, but the audience was assured that testing and remediation continues, with much more to come in the spring. Riiska commented that this is far from over and he wants Norfolk residents to understand that there are still residents whose lives have been disrupted by this event.

Verdantas, the firm monitoring the movement of contaminants in water and soil, has submitted a plan to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). It has yet to be approved, but Riiska anticipates it will be. “The plan is to have all remediation done sometime in June, if not sooner.” he said, but expressed skepticism about that schedule. “With the construction season opening up, we will need to move quickly to have Verdantas plan approved by the DEEP.”

The extensive work planned by the town for Maple Avenue will be affected by reclamation efforts, which are now projected to affect a wider area than originally foreseen. Bids for the town’s project are being reviewed, but Riiska said he is discussing the issue with the town’s lawyer. Guerrera Construction, Inc., of Oxford, a firm the town has worked with in the past, is working with the state on the cleanup and Riiska believes it might be prudent to have the same firm work with the town as well. 

“The cleanup area is getting bigger, not because of contamination, but because of all of the infrastructure that will be corrected, particularly the storm water damaged system on Pettibone Lane and Maple Avenue. This will require more coordination than we had originally planned,” he said. “It makes sense to have one company do all the reconstruction work associated with the remediation process and the refurbishment of Maple Avenue.”

Connecticut-Asian Cultural Center to Open

The Connecticut-Asia Cultural Center, 207A Westside Rd., will open for its 2023 Season April 1. It will open to the public the first weekend of each month through November between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Reservations are not needed.

The center has three floors dedicated to Eastern cultures: Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian. For more information visit, email, or call 877-274-2285. 

Each month, beginning Saturday, April 1, between 6:00 and 8:00 p.m., the cultural center will offer a dinner and seminar in the renovated dining room. Dinner, created by the center’s staff, is followed by an interactive, in-depth presentation and discussion of the cultures on display at the center. 

Norfolk Photo Contest Announced

Announcing the “My Norfolk” photo contest. Celebrate the beauty of our town by participating in our photo contest! The town website committee is looking for photos that best capture what Norfolk means to you…images that you find to be beautiful, interesting and unique to our town. See the rules and entry form, and send us as many entries as you like. Contest runs January 1 through March 31, 2023. Winners will be announced May 1.

Finance Board Wants Schools Agreement

The Board of Finance Tuesday night agreed that Chairman Michael Sconyers should write a letter to Botelle Superintendent Mary Beth Iacobelli and Board of Education Chairman Ann DeCerbo requesting that they begin negotiations with Colebrook to establish a cooperative education agreement. Such agreements are legal under State Statute 10-158a.

“We’re going to look into different plans going forward,” said First Selectman Matt Riiska following the meeting. “We have 64 students at Botelle now and next year’s projections are in the upper 50s. Is it advantageous to operate a school with just 56 kids? It’s even more than economics—it’s our job to provide the best education we can to get them ready for Region 7.”

An attempt to actually consolidate the Colebrook and Norfolk schools failed several years ago but Riiska said the statute allows a town to send students to another community on a tuition basis.

“Obviously, the best thing would be a consolidation because we have the facility, but if that doesn’t work, we have to look at other options,” Riiska said, adding that conversations have already started amongst town officials. “But it’s a Board of Education thing,” he concluded. “It’s their call.”