Members of the Mansfield town council disagreed Monday over the possible ramifications of a report released Aug. 20 on the economic impact of Next Gen CT initiatives on the University of Connecticut and the town.
Next Generation Connecticut is an initiative to increase UConn’s standing as a top public research institution by expanding the university’s programs in science, technology, engineering and math fields. The state of Connecticut’s financial investment is designed to increase the number of highly skilled STEM graduates and create jobs in order to fuel the state’s economy.
The university began the planning and construction of premier research facilities and new residence halls dedicated to the growing STEM undergraduate community at UConn.
Council member Virginia Raymond was frustrated by the hierarchy and “big wigs” that initiatives such as the Storrs Center and Next Gen CT have introduced. Raymond said she felt the community was not consulted for many details regarding Storrs Center construction.
Raymond said she was weary of the report, adding the town is “fastly becoming not the town of Mansfield, but the town of UConn.”
Mayor Elizabeth Paterson countered these statements by reminding the council that more meetings were held for the Storrs Center construction than any other event in town history.
“It was incredible,” Paterson said. “We held several public meetings that were well attended.”
She said Cynthia Van Zelm, executive director of Mansfield Downtown Partnership, had over one hundred meetings with organizations on and off campus to give presentations and receive ideas and feedback.
Other council members were eager to discuss the statistics the economic impact report cited. Council member Antonia Moran pointed out that 800 construction jobs could be created by the initiative. However, she believed outside companies would use very few Mansfield residents for the construction.
Senior vice president and principal of Econsult Solutions Lee Huang was present via phone conference to answer questions such as this. He explained that estimates for jobs in the report are based off of industry averages and in no way comment on promises made by the UConn or outside vendors.
Overall, the impact report outlined potential statistics for job growth, expenditures and benefits as a result of Next Gen CT. The report suggested that Next Gen CT could have “significant economic impacts within the Town economy and significant fiscal benefits to the Town government.”
Another council member, Stephen Kegler, wondered if Next Gen CT could become a burden on the town of Mansfield, especially if payment in lieu of taxes because of UConn from the state decreased and expenditures increased.
PILOT payments to Mansfield have already been cut by $81,000 in the current fiscal year but Paterson offered support for the initiative later on.
“We cannot continue as a town to rely totally on state aid,” she said.
Paterson said cuts like these will continue until the economy is fully recovered.
Paterson said town planning and zoning has identified areas for expansion for years like the Storrs Center and new construction for Next Gen CT.
She commented positively about Econsult Solutions report despite its use of estimates.
“You can’t expect a report like this to be precise,” Paterson said. “There are too many unknowns.”
Brittany Cangelosi is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.