Here’s a look at the news and events that shaped life in Durham, Middlefield and Rockfall in 2017.
The most read story of the year is a profile of Allan Poole, a Middlefield resident and long-time arborist who retired in November after losing his right hand in a mechanical accident two months earlier.
The local election brought out voters and supporters. In Durham, residents watched the races for contested seats on the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals closely, while in Middlefield residents were surprised by a last-minute write-in candidate for First Selectman.
The impact of the state budget continues to unfold, as elected officials contended this year with town budget shortfalls.
“Our budgets were turned upside down,” said Middlefield First Selectman Ed Bailey on Thursday, Dec. 21. Property taxes had to face increases, he said, “and as result, we’ve had to do a lot of revamping of town budget to try squeeze some savings out.”
Bailey said reductions in state revenue made it a “challenge” to maintain services and opportunities for recreation while approving the mill rate refund.
Durham, which reduced its mill rate this year, also felt the impact of the unfinished state budget.
“We were hindered by the state budget this year in term of our planning process,” said Durham First Selectman Laura Francis on Thursday, Dec. 21.
Not only were current projects put on hold, she said, moving forward with future planning was difficult.
“We went six months back and forth with different budget scenarios while waiting for state budget approval,” she said.
One of those projects included Durham’s plan to acquire the former Korn Elementary School for a community center.
The plan was revealed in June; Durham would swap with Regional School District 13 a six-acre parcel of land on Tuttle Road near Brewster Elementary School for the Korn building and its surrounding six acres of land.
Before that deal can move forward, the town wants to conduct a feasibility study to avoid getting stuck with a building it doesn’t have a resources to renovate.
The plan to install a water main running potable water from Middletown to Durham faced delays this year. The location and height of a water tank remains a sticking point with Middletown. The tank is part of remediation efforts to bring water to properties in Durham above and around the Durham Meadows Superfund site where the groundwater is contaminated by years of industrial pollution.
Middlefield dealt with its own water issues. Plans have stalled for a small water utility on Lake Beseck to be converted into individual wells due to red tape at the state level.
In business news, popular Durham spot Perk on Main closed after its lease expired this month. The announcement, made in May, cited a disagreement with the landlord on a water use restriction placed on the restaurant’s lease in December 2016.
Powder Ridge introduced a year-round synthetic snow park, and the Lyman Orchards summer sunflower maze raised more than $14,000 for the Connecticut Children's Medical Center.
Annual events drew large crowds for the Taste of Durham in February, which sold out for the first time in several years, and the Durham Fair in September, which featured a concert by Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo.
The community mourned the death of high school coach Walter “Wally” Camp, who passed on Jan. 11 at age 87. Camp coached boys basketball and other teams for more than 30 years at Durham High School and Coginchaug Regional High School, starting in 1957 and continuing until 1990.
Two local students won accolades for their academic achievements and community projects. William Foster, of Durham, then an eighth-grader at Independent Day School, won the Connecticut Geography Bee in March. Mercy High School junior Kaitlyn Leahy, of Durham, launched a t-shirt business called Heart over Hunger in October to help in the fight against hunger, with the profits going to Amazing Grace food pantry in Middletown.