The future of the State Office Complex in Waterbury has become a key issue in the race for Lt. Governor.
The size and scope of the rehabilitation of the State Office complex is unclear because federal officials haven’t committed to a specific figure to reimburse the state for damage caused by Tropical Storm Irene.
FEMA might give the state $85 million or the figure could be far lower.
Incumbent Republican Lt. Governor Phil Scott says the state needs to be ready to modify its current plan of constructing a new state of the art, energy efficient building, if the federal funds fall well short of what the state is expecting.
That’s because Scott is concerned that the state’s debt level is growing too quickly and he says taking on a lot more debt would be a mistake.
"I am optimistic that we will get something out of FEMA that will allow us to move forward in some fashion," said Scott. "I think that we’re resourceful, I think again that we will live within our means, if we can’t build what we wanted we’ll build something that will make sense."
Before Irene, there were roughly 1,500 state employees in Waterbury. Under the current plan, about 800 of them, mostly in the Human Services Agency, would return. Scott says this number should hold firm even if the project is scaled back.
"We may have to do something different but I think we all remain committed to moving state employees back into Waterbury in some capacity and I look at maybe half the employees that were there before moving back in."
Cassandra Gekas is the Democratic and Progressive candidate for Lt. Governor. She thinks the full reconstruction of the Waterbury campus should be the state’s top priority, even if it means that other projects have to be delayed.
"So what I would like to see is, regardless of what FEMA does, us find the most logical and efficient way to move forward," said Gekas. "And reprioritize some other projects look at state bonding, as long as it’s not going to hurt our bond rating, and find maybe some other revenue sources here."
And Gekas says money spent on the Waterbury project should also be viewed as an investment in the town of Waterbury:
"You’re not just talking about those workers, you’re talking about the larger impact on the whole Waterbury economy."
The Shumlin Administration is hoping that FEMA will clarify its funding levels by the start of the 2013 legislative session but it says pushing FEMA for a final answer could be counterproductive.