Lauretti, the ‘taxpayers’ mayor,’ seeks 15th term in Shelton
Mark Lauretti, often the focus of sharp criticism, says his 28-year record of success as the city’s mayor speaks volumes — from open space acquisition to sizable commercial growth to the continued rebirth of downtown.
And the mayor now seeks his 15th consecutive term with an eye on continuing commercial growth, downtown development and managing the city’s money in a way that allows residents of all ages to remain in Shelton.
Lauretti was first elected in 1991, and once in office had to deal with a $28 million debt.
“There are challenges all the time,” said Lauretti, who will face Democrat John Harmon next month. “The business of the city never ends — there are always roads to fix, always disputes to settle, always issues of managing money, always issues that the state imposes that are unrealistic. The business never ends, but that’s what I enjoy.”
While deemed by critics as someone who acts alone, shutting out others’ viewpoints, Lauretti said, “I listen twice as much as I talk. Sometimes, people have valid points, and I try to solve it. But how could I spend 28 years in this profession and not have an open mind and not listen to people and not respond to what they want? People say a lot about me at election time.”
During his years in office, Lauretti has spearheaded the purchase of some 2,000 acres of open space, the building of both Perry Hill and Shelton Intermediate schools, the rehabilitation of the wastewater treatment plant, and the revitalization of what had become a dormant downtown, all while the city received awards from the federal government for its brownfields remediation.
“It was hard 28 years ago,” recalled Lauretti. “There were a multitude of problems, and no answers and no money. We have been able to bridge all of that. It didn't take 30 years to pay off, and, in the meantime, we built schools, we built roads, infrastructure in downtown. We spent $42 million on Perry Hill School, $32 million on the intermediate school, and the intermediate school is paid off.”
“When I first ran, I called myself the taxpayers’ mayor, and I think I have held true to that,” added Lauretti, as Shelton sits with a mill rate of 22.42, according to the tax collector’s office.
Lauretti has been criticized over the dip in general fund money, which he attributes to the Board of Education not properly accounting for its expenditures in the past couple of years. His disputes with school Superintendent Chris Clouet and the Board of Education have led some to call him anti-education, but the mayor disagrees, saying he just wants money spent more efficiently.
“Some of my political opponents want to compare us to Trumbull,” said Lauretti. “Shelton’s debt is about $15 million, Trumbull is $155 million, not only that, it will take Trumbull 30 years to it pay off. Right now, Shelton is four years away, if I do not borrow anything, from being debt-free. Who needs the rating agencies? I am not bonding, and I do not care what they say or what they think. Who would you rather be? Shelton or Trumbull?”
Regarding the general fund, Lauretti said the city has been in this situation before, after he purchased 400 acres of open space with $3.4 million from the general fund.
"I depleted the general fund, and the rating agencies criticized me,” said Lauretti. “Four years later, we had a $6, 7 million surplus. The same will happen here. Our grand list grows, our grand list grew substantially this past year.”
Lauretti remains enthusiastic about the city’s commercial growth, particularly downtown, in which more private money is being pumped into more development along Howe Avenue and Canal Street.
"It’s exciting to be in the lead of downtown right now,” said the mayor. “When people spent their own money to put up new buildings, it takes you to a different place. We’ve waited 25 years to get this private investment.”
Lauretti said he believes a vibrant downtown is only five to six years away.
“People will be in awe of what they see there based on what’s in the books now,” said Lauretti.
Lauretti said a study was done years ago about creating a parking garage downtown, and he has discussed this topic with prospective developers.
“The city has parking. I would ask people behind this, which building should be condemned to be knocked down for the parking garage? Whose building should we take? They can’t answer that, just point fingers and criticize, but they have no solutions. If parking is such an issue, why is there private money on the table? The last three projects, all private money. Why, if there is no parking?”
Critics also attacked the mayor during the opening weeks of school about the city’s handling of student transportation — a job Lauretti claimed for the city in 2018. Parents complained of late buses, children either not being picked up or dropped off at wrong locations, and no one responding to concerns. Lauretti said those issues were quickly rectified.
“The bus situation was no worse this year than last several years,” said Lauretti. “It was much worse last year. Educators won’t admit it, but I am sure it was much worse last year. We spent our time resolving the problems that existed.”
Lauretti said the Board of Education is guaranteed $1 million in savings in its budget by the city taking over the bus operation. Any additional costs above the budgeted number will fall on the city, but he said early indications are that the city will not be spending much more than planned.
When asked about the pending lawsuit the city filed against the Board of Education related to overspending its budget in fiscal years 2016-17 and 2017-18, Lauretti said the case remains stagnant.
The suit charges the school board with overspending its budget allotment by some $3.1 million over the two-year period. While regaining what he called overspent funds may not be possible, Lauretti said filing the suit was a way to make the public understand the situation and let the Board of Education know it must better manage its money.
“I have been criticized, more lately than in the past, but consistently over the years about my lack of communication,” said Lauretti. “They are not wrong. But I’d rather spend my time and my energy fixing problems, creating prosperity, getting things done. I know people say ‘you have to hire someone to do communications.’ Maybe I will, but this is who I am.”