Sen. Seminara listens to Harwinton’s needs

January 26, 2024

Criss’ voice heard at Capitol

Harwinton first selectman shares town’s needs with legislators



HARWINTON — First Selectman Michael R. Criss is a voice “known in Hartford,” said state Rep. John Piscopo, R-Thomaston.

The local administrator often testifies before the General Assembly, but his legislative agenda starts even earlier when he hosts Piscopo, a longtime representative for the 76th House District, and state Sens. Henri Martin, R-Bristol, and Lisa Seminara, R-Avon, for lunch and talks in his office.

Criss had a laundry list of issues to discuss when he met with them earlier this month, including roads and bridges, retention of volunteers, affordable housing and homelessness. The 2024 legislative session begins Feb. 7.

Criss noted, for instance, the state Department of Transportation paved Route 4 through Burlington, but only patched it in Harwinton.
“The road is falling apart,” he said. “I was shocked that Burlington was paved before us.”
He said local crews must plow some state roads because they can’t even get to the town garage.
“Every storm we have an issue with Center Hill not being plowed,” Criss said. “The state delays coming out to sand and plow it. I’ve been told it’s a staffing issue or a funding issue.”

Summer mowing is another issue.

“For the last four years, (state workers) haven’t mowed along the roads, and the town does it because the town is responsible for sight lines. We’re mowing all the time because if we didn’t do it, we’d have accidents,” Criss said.

Even where the state has acted, he is not happy. Entry onto busy Route 4 can be difficult and the state has installed large stop signs to prevent accidents.
“The signs are huge,” Criss said. “It’s super overkill and they say they are going to put up more. We don’t want the signs. It’s not a sign issue.”
Criss said lights are needed. “Everyone is stopping at the signs, but there is no break in the traffic, so people are trying to jump out,” he said. “Sometimes you wait 15 or 20 minutes to get out and the traffic speed is pretty high. A traffic light would allow a break in traffic.

Volunteerism is a challenge in small towns, and better incentive programs are needed to lure and retain volunteers, but Criss said he worries about a state fund created to help firefighters who develop cancers because of exposure to toxic materials.

“My biggest concern is you will get small towns paying into a large fund,” he said. “What’s to prevent bigger cities from drawing that down?”

Harwinton carries workers’ compensation for its firefighters.

“The state fund only offers a reprieve for workers’ compensation, not for the towns because we already pay,” he said. “I don’t see how it will help anyone.”
Criss contends small towns cannot meet the state’s 10% benchmark for affordable housing, “but the state can cut our funding if we don’t reach that ratio. It’s unrealizable in Harwinton, where large amounts of land are controlled by state and water lands. We want local control.”

Seminara mentioned the huge increase in homelessness and applications for heating assistance.

Criss said part of the problem results from eligibility not being adjusted to reflect net income.

“If you have a single parent raising a few kids and their gross (income) is $86,000, they don’t qualify for heating assistance, but that is not what they are living on,” he said. “They should look at those thresholds to see if they are in line with (cost-of-living adjustments).”


Harwinton First Selectman Michael R. Criss, left, meets annually with state legislators who represent Harwinton. This year’s conversation was held earlier this month with state Rep. John Piscopo, R-Thomaston, right, and Sens. Lisa Seminara, R-Avon, and Henri Martin, R-Bristol.