Community News

Botelle School’s Future Looms Large at Meeting

Both money and Botelle School’s future loomed large in discussion at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting.

With few young families able to live in town, enrollment figures have dipped to 56 students and the total cost of education—about 52 percent of the municipal budget—is an annual source of discussion. Botelle’s budget for 2024 is $2.6 million.

Board of Finance chairman Michael Sconyers wrote to school superintendent Mary Beth Iacobelli inquiring about four non-resident faculty members’ children who attend Botelle. Iacobelli explained that Board policy offers teachers a reduced tuition option for their children and explained that it is an incentive to attract and retain quality staff. The parents are responsible for the children’s transportation and any additional services they might require. They pay a $2,000 annual tuition directly to the town. 

“It’s to our advantage to have larger class sizes,” she said, asserting that the students do not add to the budget’s bottom line.

But board member Walter Godlewski said there must be extra costs for books and the like. He quoted a figure of $39,000 per pupil to educate Norfolk students. Iacobelli and board chairman Ann DeCerbo protested, saying that figure was not accurate and stated that the cost-per-pupil figures used by the state and in comparison with other schools is not determined by simply dividing the budget by the number of students. The cost-per-pupil figure is a highly complex calculation involving many factors. 

Iacobelli said the building must be maintained no matter how many students there are, and that most of the budget goes toward salaries and benefits. She termed money paid for student supplies “a very teeny thing,” adding that more students affect the bottom line only when more teachers are needed.

In response to public comments and the financial discussion, Godlewski asked that consolidation be put on the next meeting’s agenda but members of the Board remarked that there has been no indication that neighboring Colebrook is interested in consolidation. It resoundingly rejected the idea in 2015 and has since invested in its own school facility. 

Talk turned to the Economic Development Commission’s “Norfolk Looking Forward” initiative. An extended day program was suggested as being desirable in an EDC survey. Godlewski noted such a program would need an employee with salary and benefits. “Who pays for the program?” he asked.

Iacobelli said it would not be the school and that extended day programming was not widely used by Botelle families in the recent past.

A suggestion for a second added position—a coordinator between the school and the town—was more positively received. DeCerbo explained that a community outreach person could focus on coordinating town and school resources and help market the school to outsiders. “Schools attract people to towns,” she said. “Marketing the school makes sense to me in changing the demographics of the town and attracting more young families.”

Godlewski said that a large segment of the town does not view the school favorably and that “not a cent” should be spent on the position. Jay Whitaker suggested an intern (supervised by a more experienced person) might staff the position at no cost.

Amy Bennett said the school’s negative image is based on a lack of engagement by the public and misinformation. “I think it is to our advantage to show off the great things our kids are doing. If you don’t see it first-hand, you don’t have information. I would love to support that position if we could have it without paying.”

Consolidation and additional discussion about proposing a Community Outreach and Program Development Coordinator position are expected to appear on the Board’s June agenda. 

Newsletter Editor

5/13/24— This article has been edited to reflect the actual percentage of the budget attributable to education; it is 52 percent, not 70 percent.

Lost Something? Try the Selectmen’s Office

Lost something in Norfolk? Items are sometimes turned into the Selectmen’s office, so if you are missing an item, call 860-542-5829 and ask.

Library Associates Launch Pop-up Store

The Norfolk Library Associates have long held an enormously successful late-summer book sale. Now they are extending their bookselling activities into May with a month-long pop-up bookshop, The Dog’s Ear, in the Royal Arcanum Building, 3 Station Place. 

A grand opening is planned for Sunday, 4:00 to 6:00 p.m., coinciding with art exhibition openings at the HUB and the library.

The bookshop, which is open Thursday through Saturday, 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., sells used and antique books. All proceeds benefit the library associates, who underwrite the cultural enrichment programs at the library as well as the artists’ receptions held monthly.

Volunteers are needed to help run the shop. Those interested in helping should contact Michael Selleck or Tricia Deans.

Newsletter Editor

Annual Town Meeting Set for May 13

The annual town meeting will be held Monday, May 13, at 7:00 p.m. at Botelle School. There are six items on the meeting call, the most important of which will be acceptance of the more than $9.1 million budget approved by the Board of Finance following a public hearing Tuesday. If the budget is approved, the Board of Finance will meet immediately afterward to set the mill rate.

Other items on the call are housekeeping issues, including authorizing a positive fund balance of no less than 15 percent of the approved town budget, authorizing the Board of Selectmen to expend up to $7,500 from the Moore Bailey Trust to maintain plantings in the town, authorizing the selectmen to apply for and expend state and federal funds for town purposes, and authorizing the selectmen and the town treasurer to issue notes in anticipation of the receipt of taxes. If bonds, issues or notes are tax exempt, the selectmen and treasurer would be authorized to bind the town to the “representations and covenants” they deem necessary.

Finally, townspeople will be asked to nominate and elect a representative to the Region 7 Board of Education.

Region 7’s $21 million budget will be taken to referendum May 7. Voting will take place from noon to 8:00 p.m. at Town Hall.

Residents who are registered to vote, and any individual who is a U.S. citizen of 18 years of age or more and who is liable to the town for taxes on property assessed at $1,000 or more before any exemption(s), may vote on any town business matter brought to a vote at a town meeting or referendum. Joint property owners who pay qualifying taxes may both vote if both names appear on the grand list.

Newsletter Editor

Firehouse Committee Moving Quickly

The firehouse committee is moving quickly to raise money to build a new firehouse. At present, the town has a commitment for a $2.5 million grant from the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection and $500,000 in privatey donated seed money for a capital campaign.

Tony Kiser is chairing the fundraising subcommittee and First Selectman Matt Riiska has contacted the offices of Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy seeking a $1 million federal grant (minimum $500,000). He has also contacted Representative Jahana Hayes about a $500,000 Community Fund grant. 

There are also other sources for funding for other components, Riiska said, such as a ventilation system grant through the federal Department of Emergency Services. 

The new firehouse is estimated to cost $8 million.

Newsletter Editor

Tobey Pond, Transfer Station Fees Set

The Board of Selectmen discussed fees for town services during their Wednesday meeting, voting to keep permits for the town’s transfer station at $90 annually and stickers for Tobey Pond at $85 per resident vehicle and $60 for those 65 years and older. Both figures are unchanged from the current fee schedule and permits may be obtained in the Town Clerk’s office.

Transfer station stickers go on sale June 1 and must be affixed to the car windshield by July 1. Tobey Pond stickers go on sale June 1 and must be in place to park there. 

But there are issues swirling around both municipal services. First Selectman Matt Riiska reported that some private individuals are purchasing transfer station stickers and then are being paid to take other residents’ trash to the dump. These are apparently not registered trash haulers.

“My feeling is that the people whose trash it is should have a permit,” Riiska said. “We can’t take trash for people who haven’t purchased a sticker.”

He suggested a solution of “guesstimating” how many households’ garbage is being hauled by a single person and then pricing permits differently for that person. The transfer station attendant apparently can identify the individuals. 

Town Clerk Linda Perkins brought up a separate problem. Residents who move to town part way through the year often want their stickers pro-rated. After discussion, the selectmen decided that the purchase price would be $90 through the first three quarters of the year and drop to $45 April 1.

Perkins also brought up the price of Tobey Pond car stickers, saying that “with the cost of lifeguards going up, it’s an issue.” Lifeguards have been hard to find in recent years and their pay has been boosted to $18 an hour.

Because people without stickers sometimes come to the beach, at least one lifeguard would be needed to check vehicles and ask unpermitted drivers to leave. And, Perkins said, beachgoers often park out on the road, then walk through the woods to get to the beach.

Newsletter Editor

Women Seek to Establish New Swap Shack

Four energetic women are seeking to bring back a swap service similar to the old Norfstrom’s, formerly located at the transfer station. Their goal is to save the money it would cost the town to dispose of those items and to satisfy those who like to see useful things reused. 

Immediately after the Norfstrom’s container was removed from the transfer station last fall, these women began planning to resurrect the service.

The Norfstrom’s trailer, leased by Norfolk NET, ran into problems through a lack of adequate supervision. Items were left outside the trailer during off hours, materials that were often trash. The selectmen ended the service last year.

“Their intentions were good, but they didn’t have enough volunteers,” said First Selectman Matt Riiska. 

Susan Sloan, head of the ad hoc committee, approached Riiska to discuss a new recycling effort. “We realized all the problems from before and we talked to Jim [Powelzyk, the transfer station attendant] and Matt,” she said. “We didn’t want to do anything without their blessing.”

To raise funds, Sloan started retrieving recyclable bottles and cans from the waste stream. “You wouldn’t believe the number of bottles and cans people throw away, even at 10 cents a can,” she said. The effort has raised almost enough money to buy a trailer valued at $2,800 to $3,600. 

Shelving will be installed and it will be painted, perhaps with a mural on the side. The bin will be renamed the Norfolk Swap Shop and only Norfolk residents with transfer station permits can bring items.

“We don’t want people using it to get rid of their bulky waste without paying a fee. If it’s garbage, you know where it goes,” Sloan said. “People must be respectful of others’ hard work, or it will go away.”

Sloan stressed that there is still much work to do. Signage and a pamphlet will be developed listing guidelines. Everything will be stored inside, and recyclables will be restricted to small items.

The women plan to be onsite during warmer months and to close in the winter. “We are trying to keep it fun,” Sloan said.

Riiska and Selectman Henry Tirrell voted at Wednesday’s selectmen’s meeting to allow the project to go forward. Selectman Sandy Evans, who is opposed to it, abstained. She objected based on past experiences and did not like the selectmen reversing a previous decision.

“It soured a lot of people before because of how it was run,” Riiska said at the selectmen’s meeting. “I know Susan is clear about how it will be handled, but we will keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t get messy and burden the staff.”

The ad hoc committee will give the container to the town if the project does not work. 

Newsletter Editor

Region 7 Students Plan Special Plant Sales

WINSTED—Northwestern Regional School’s Agricultural Education Center will be the site of Saturday Plant Sales on May 11 and 18, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. There will be a large variety of plants to choose from, including hanging baskets, herbs, vegetables and bedding plants for containers and gardens.

Norfolk is among the four Region 7 towns. The school is located at 100 Battistoni Drive in Winsted.

The plants have been raised by students enrolled in the vocational agriculture department’s plant science program. 

Newsletter Editor

Board of Finance Approves Proposed Budget

After answering a handful of questions, the Board of Finance approved the $9.1 million town budget proposed for the 2024/25 fiscal year. There will be a Town Meeting at Botelle School on Monday, May 13, at 7:00 p.m., for townspeople to vote on whether or not to accept the budget. A special meeting of the Board of Finance, to set the mill rate, will follow immediately.

Susan MacEachron

Löfvall Named Choral Union Director

Gabriel Löfvall has been named music director for the Litchfield County Choral Union (LCCU) and is busy planning its 125th anniversary concert, set for August 4 in the Music Shed on the Battell-Stoeckel Estate. 

Löfvall is planning a more modest program than the 2023 concert, the LCCU, members of Yale choral ensembles and regional singers performed Mendelssohn’s choral cantata, “Hymn of Praise.”

“Last year was a great collaborative effort with Yale,” Löfvall said. This year, the LCCU will be joined by the children’s choir, Chorus Angelicus, and its adult counterpart, Gaudeamus, as well as a small chamber orchestra.

“I love collaborations,” he declared. “It’s always a great win. I think Chorus Angelicus and Gaudeamus will help to diversify and rejuvenate the program.” 

As artistic director of both, he admits to an ulterior motive in including them. Part of the mission set by the LCCU board of directors is to attract more singers. “After Covid, we had half the numbers we had in 2018 and ’19,” he said. “We’re rebuilding notch by notch, but one of the ways I will do that is to bring in the young singers and any members of their families who can sing.”

The program for August 4 will be enjoyable to perform, Löfvall said. It will start with  two pieces by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, including his ‘Sparrow Mass,’ “It’s a glorious piece he wrote when he was 16,” he said. 

The second part of the program shifts to contemporary composer Ola Gjeilo. “He’s a little new age-y, but writes gorgeous choral music,” said Löfvall. “I will use three … beautiful pieces with lots of strings and piano and sustained notes. The singers will love it, I know.”

Löfvall and rehearsal accompanist Elizabeth Allyn will hold a meet-and-greet and initial rehearsal at Trinity Episcopal Church, 220 Prospect St., Torrington, on Thursday, May 16, at 7:00 p.m. Anyone can audition and those interested are invited to contact the LCCU or e-mail them.

The LCCU continues the vision of Carl and Ellen (Battell) Stoeckel, passionate music lovers who brought many music world luminaries to Norfolk in the 19th and early 20th century. It was established in 1899 in memory of Mrs. Stoeckel’s father, Robbins Battell, an outstanding figure in the musical life of Northwestern Connecticut.

Newsletter Editor