Station Situation

An alert “06880” reader named Craig writes:

I wonder why the lower parking lot at the Saugatuck train station (Lot #1) is in such bad shape.

It has become a minefield of large potholes, loose asphalt, cracked pavement, etc.

Train station 3

It is in serious need of repaving/resurfacing, and it seems like an injury waiting to happen.

Train station 1

Given its current state and the potential liability of someone falling and suing, it seems to me that this would be a priority. It seems so hazardous, as well as out of step with the other lots, that I thought there may be some reason (political or otherwise) why it is this way.

Am I missing something?

Train station 2

43 responses to “Station Situation

  1. Susan Iseman

    I agree it looks bad and will only deteriorate in winter. Does anyone know why they aren’t considering construction of a parking garage anywhere near the station?

    • Who is going to pay for this parking structure? By the way….parking structures deteriorate also and if the train stations existing surfacing cannot be maintained properly, what makes you think the parking structure will be maintained. Additionally, do we need to contribute to the further urbanization of Westport?

  2. This is a parking lot — does it need to be in tip top shape when there are many roads/streets in Westport that could use a repave long before a train parking lot??? Priorities people…

  3. James Holmes

    Owned by the State, now a Town issue

  4. Denise Torve

    Craig is right and unfortunately the poor condition of this lot is mirrored in so many other places. Main Street for instance is getting a beautiful makeover by the stores. But try walking from there, say, to 323 – it’s in terrible condition and again, an accident waiting to happen.

  5. Here’s the real answer: Westport collects about $2 million of annual RR station parking fees that the State allows us to keep in order to do such repairs. Unfortunately, in Westport, our police dept administers that fund instead of it being administered at Town Hall or by an independent contractor company, as it is in other neighboring towns. The Westport police assign traffic patrol at the RR on a 100% overtime basis (paying the assignees time- and-a-half), and refuse to assign anyone on patrol there on a straight time basis, even though a recent study shows it absolutely can be done that way. There is no reason for it being done on a 100% overtime basis because our police dept head count in Westport is high relative to other towns. (Typically, there is an inverse relationship: high head count/low overtime. Low headcount/ high overtime. In Westport, we have relatively high police dept headcount compared to other Fairfield County towns AND high overtime). It is not just that $350k/year is wasted on 100% overtime for RR patrolling when it could be done for $350k less/yr on straight time, but given that more senior police are assigned, and retirement pensions are based on the last years of one’s work, if a retiring police officer whose base salary is $90k, for example, is paid $130k/yr because of overtime during his last few years of work, then for the next thirty years of his retirement pension, we as a Town are paying that extra pension amount. This activity of putting one’s foot on the pedal with overtime is costing us as a Town millions over the years. A previous audit some years back suggested that our Town should transfer this RR parking administration away from our police dept (as it is in the vast majority of other Fairfield County towns). If we did do so, a white paper I am working on for the RTM Transit Committee demonstrates that we would have the money (without raising taxes) to fix potholes and other parking problems. Moreover, our Deputy Chief of police is presently allocating the majority of his salary costs to the RR parking fund (thereby further depleting the RR funds we could use to fix potholes), because the police claim that he spends the majority of his time on RR administration. His talents would be better used to fight crime. Other Fairfield County towns also love their police but find the political will and good budgetary mgt skills to rein in overtime and to administer properly their RR parking receipts.

  6. As has been stated above, the parking lots are owned by the State. The condition of the lots is the responsibility of the State and the Connecticut DOT (The same DOT that wants to replace the Cribari Bridge and can’t seem to get the job done on North Avenue bridge for whatever reason.) If you ask Malloy for help you will certainly hear about the need for more tax revenues, his first response to any and all requests for aid from his regime. You might even hear about the need for tolls on CT highways to pay for the DOT’s efforts to repair the lots. So, it may be better to just deal with an unfortunate situation brought about by neglect, mismanagement, and the passage of time.

    If there is ever an effort to build a parking structure at the station, the Minuteman himself will rise up in rebellion, and well he should.

    • Michael Petrino: I am on the RTM Transit Committee. You are incorrect that this is Malloy’s responsibility. Westport has had a contract with the state for decades in which we are allowed to retain the RR parking fees (presently $2million/yr in fees) so long as we use it for maintenance of the parking lots and for other transit-related activities. If we want to give that $2 million/yr back to the state, then you might have an argument that it is the state’s responsibility. But since we opt to keep that $2 million/year, then, pursuant to our lease agreement with CT, maintenance of the RR parking lots is the Town of Westport’s responsibility. Kristan Hamlin. RTM District #4

      • Am I wrong; does the state not own the lots? If the lots are not kept in repair, has the state not put in place the mechanism to continue the disrepair? The State cannot absolve itself of its responsibility by delegating it to the Town of Westport. But, based on your analysis, the Town has to answer some questions.

        • Michael Petrino, Yes, the State owns some–but not all– the RR parking lots in Westport. But your analysis is incorrect because it ignores the burden-shifting created by our lease agreement with the State. Here is how it works: Westport collects in excess of $2 million/yr from the state in parking fees, which would otherwise be the state’s money, but which Westport takes, so long as we agree to use that money for RR and transit-related activities like maintaining the parking lots. Westport cannot have it both ways: We cannot both keep the State’s $2 million/yr in RR parking receipts, and abnegate our responsibility for using it for the contractually promised purposes. The real answer to the pothole problem is this: we have enough money in RR parking fee receipts to fix the potholes, but the Town has been diverting those funds to the police dept, inter alia, to pay for patrolling in the area of the RR on a 100% overtime basis when it could be done on a straight-time basis. (Imagine: even at 2-4 pm each day, they cannot find a single police officer to assign on a straight-time basis on a single day of the year, even though we have a high police head count?) Eliminating that overtime waste alone would free up $350k/yr –plenty of money to fix the RR parking potholes ($3.5million over ten yrs). At this juncture, under the Town’s contract with the State, we are taking the State’s money with the promise we will use it for things like RR parking maintenance. Westport’s failure to use the money for that is where the problem lies. We need to find the political will to do what’s right and take the administration of the RR parking fees away from our police dept, and have it administered out of Town Hall, as it is in certain other Fairfield County towns (where the RR parking is administered more economically AND there is lower crime because the police in those towns are freed up to fight crime instead of engaging in RR parking administration at high Dep. Chief police-salary rates). We also need to manage police overtime waste more carefully. Kristan Hamlin, RTM District #4 (RTM Transit Committee member)

          • The burden may be shifted, but the responsibility is not shifted, and cannot be shifted as long as the State owns the lots. If the Town is not meeting its obligations under the terms of the lease, and the Town was chosen by the State, why has the State allowed the behavior to continue? The fish stinks from head. Maybe we should once again follow the money.

            BTW if the town were to repair the damage would ii be required to get competitive bids before awarding the contracts, or could the Town use a no bid friends and family approach to awarding the contracts?

            • Mike Petrino, I am going to have to disagree, respectfully, with your suggestion that the “burden” and the “responsibility” are not intrinsically intertwined contractually. No one in Westport who is studying this issue wants us to lose the $2.1 million in annual RR receipts we collect from the State, so we should fix the potholes and keep the money, but manage the use of those receipts in a way more directly tied to their intended purpose. Regarding your question regarding competitive bidding, that is an excellent question. To address that issue, I am the lead petitioner for a competitive bidding ordinance I have drafted. My RTM colleagues Clarissa Moore, Lauren Karpf, Sylina Levy and Brandi Briggs are co-petitioners. This new proposed competitive bidding law would set legal standards for competitive bids for all Westport municipal contracts to prevent what you address above. The objective of our new proposed ordinance is to ensure that Westport taxpayers are not gouged by inflated municipal contracts presented by outside contractors, and to ensure that we get the highest quality goods and services at the best possible price–thereby improving both quality of life and ensuring lower taxes in Westport.

              • Kristan; I don’t see why any one who is pursuing the best interest of the taxpayer would oppose your ordinance, but I imagine there are a few who feel quite comfortable with the ability hand out contracts without competitive bids no matter the cost to the taxpayer.

                • Good point, Michael Petrino. The co-petitioners and I will be presenting the new competitive bidding ordinance proposal at 7:30 pm this Tuesday, Oct. 6 at Town Hall at the public RTM meeting. Anyone who supports getting the best quality goods and services for the most reasonable prices should come and hear the co-petitioners present our proposed ordinance. So come Tuesday night! And make your voice heard, by voting on Nov. 3 for those in your particular district RTM who have worked hard for you and for all of Westport. Kristan Hamlin. RTM District #4

              • Kristan–thanks for all of the detailed information and your efforts.

  7. You are quite welcome, Fred Cantor. I greatly value that you took the time to express your appreciation. Come Tuesday night!

  8. Yes, we are in charge of the railroad parking lots. Our responsibility and improvements have to be in accordance with the State of Connecticut. Right now we are in the design phase of redoing the whole railroad parking lot. This requires the involvement of the State DOT, Metro North, Ct. Highway Department, our local conservation department, planning and zoning department and others. Forgive me if I missed a few. Bottom line it is a process. The process has been approved by the town.

    To discuss this issue further as Chairman of RTM Public Protection Committee, I would be happy to set up a meeting with the Police Department, our committee and those from the public who have questions concerning the funding railroad parking, maintenance scheduling (pot holes), and work that has been done like the renovations of railroad stations, patrolling by our police of these stations.

    I appreciate and respect my colleague Kristan Hamlin and her concern about railroad parking and how we fund it, but I disagree with her comments that our police is overstaffed and wasteful of overtime use. In my opinion they do a great job and if anything are “undermanned.” Our Police force is down over the last 9 years from 72 to 64 today.

    Just for everyone’s edification, in most every town and city in our state, police manpower is 15% on average higher then fire department manpower. In Westport this is not the case. We have as many firefighters as police officers if not more.

    But those numbers are not my issue or in my opinion for us to judge how many of each we should have. As a representative, and Chair of Public Protection, our job as a committee in my opinion is to work with our Police and Fire Chiefs with their departmental needs.

    We are fortunate to have a dedicated police and fire department made up of highly qualified men and women. Both departments have been nothing but accessible and straight forward on any and all questions I have raised over the years.

    A public meeting going forward would be a great place to continue this discussion with police, RTM, and public input. Maybe we can even get Dan to stop in!

    Jimmy Izzo
    RTM 3
    Chair- RTM Public Protection Committee

  9. Has anyone noticed the road condition of Riverside Avenue starting at Saugatuck Ave intersection and running to the station platform? It’s embarrassingly deteriorated.

  10. I respect and appreciate my RTM colleague, Jimmy Izzo. Just like Jimmy, I am on the RTM Public Protection Committee. Unlike him, I am also on the RTM Transit Committee, where I have been working on a white paper regarding these RR parking fee issues. The RR Parking issue is, respectfully, not within the purview of the RTM Protection Committee. It is within the purview of the Transit Committee. The White Paper establishes pretty clearly that, relative to other comparable Fairfield County towns, we have a rare combination of high over time, and high head count with our police dept. Jimmy is right that the head count has indeed come down, but it is still high, relative to many of our comparators. Moreover, a fact of which Jim may not be aware (because it’s a Transit Committee issue, not a PP Committee issue) is that 100% of the police RR-area patrol time ($350k/yr) is billed to the RR parking fund on a purely overtime basis (at 150% — time-and-a-half). Not one single hour of patrol time –during the entire year– that is charged to the RR parking fund is done on a straight time basis. As the only RTMer with a law-enforcement background, these issues jump off the page for me, and have to be addressed. Like Jimmy, and like other leaders throughout Fairfield County, I honor the work of the police. My grandfather was a detective, my uncle was a deputy chief of police, my cousin is NYPD; another cousin was a 9-11 first responder (rest his soul), another uncle was a fireman, a great uncle who was a police officer lost his life in a fire saving a girl and I am a former federal prosecutor who worked in the homicide capital of the nation during the height of the crack epidemic. But government leaders in other Fairfield County towns– who also love their police — have found the political willpower to rein in their overtime and head count costs and to administer economically their RR parking costs — because, after all, it is the residents of our towns that we are elected to represent. And it is with the residents and the taxpayers of Westport where our fiduciary obligations lie.

  11. As often is the case, this is not as simple a situation as it seems on the surface. (No pun intended.) I’m wondering what the story is behind the main parking lot at Compo. It, too, is in dire need of repaving. I used to take my 92-year old mom to the beach to walk, but the lot has gotten too treacherous for her to navigate with a walker.

    • Prill Boyle– Filling a pothole is, in fact, a pretty “simple situation” given all the RR parking funds we SHOULD have available to do the maintenance. I do not think my colleague intended to imply that before Westport can do such simple RR parking maintenance like fill a pothole, remove snow and detritus, etc., that it needs the involvement of “the State DOT, Metro North, Ct. Highway Department, our local conservation department, planning and zoning department and others.” That would not be correct. Westport can unilaterally fill the potholes and remove snow, garbage etc, without involving any of those listed entities and should do it promptly. I drove by the lower RR parking lot yesterday to check on the situation and there were potholes far worse and more dangerous for pedestrians than the ones shared above. Understandably, the police have more pressing things to take care of (like fighting crime) than RR parking lot maintenance–unless and until someone gets hurt there. That is why we urgently need to reassign this work to someone who has the time (as is done in other Fairfield County towns) like either an outside contractor, or a Town Hall RR Parking/Transit dept– at significantly lower costs. Kristan Hamlin, RTM #4 (Transit Committee).

  12. A lot of information to digest. But one question has not been asked: when — probably not if — someone falls in the without-question-awful parking lot, who is liable?

  13. Not quite sure where Ms. Hamlin gets her pension info from, but she apparently has no idea how it is computed. It most certainly has nothing to do with OT.

    • Mr. Eason, why don’t you look at the Town negotiated agreement with the police dept –which is available to the public. Then let’s see whether you reiterate your position that OT during one’s last years of work does not affect pension draw. It calculates pension based on an average of income during the last few years worked. If that income is inflated by overtime during those last few years, that increases the pension draw.

  14. Harry Smiley

    So Ms. Hamlin is concerned about the money used to to patrol the train station parking lots and to to facilitate traffic flow during the commuting hours? If that is $350,000, why is she not concerned where the rest of the $2.1 million goes? As far as I know, Westport commuters are probably the only ones in the state where they have assistance in getting to the train on time with the help of traffic control. As far as her comments about the pension, she is completely wrong and unless I misunderstood an earlier comment, the DC of Police is not paid through RR funding also, I do not believe having town hall handle the fees will free up any more police to lower crime rates as stated.

    • Jerry MacDaid

      “As far as her comments about the pension, she is completely wrong…”

      Dude….Seriously??? I will admit that I have not read the Westport police contract but most traditional pension plans (which is what municipal and large company workers historically had but are rapidly disappearing from the private sector) have pensions that are formula driven based on actual compensation levels, including overtime.

      The impact of overtime padding for close to retirement police, fire and other state and municipal workers has been long documenteted all over the country as a quick Google search will show. For instance:

      As I said, I’ve not read the Westport contract but, given her role, I suspect Ms Peters has. I don’t begrudge anyone getting what they bargained for, particularly police and firefighters who potentially put their lives on the line for us daily. But let’s not be confused about the facts.

    • Harry Smiley

      Dude… Seriously!!! If you have not read the Westport Police Pension contract then do not comment on it. I know several retired Westport Officers and their pension is not based on beefing up their salaries the last few years or even the last year. That is a fact!! Many other municipalities have had or do have contracts like that. Not Westport Police. So, if Ms. Hamlin skews that fact she is probably twisting other numbers. All the talk about high head count of the police department but not one mention of how high the head count is of the fire department and the millions of dollars they receive for their budget and overtime. Sounds like more of a personal axe to grind.

      • Mr Smiley, I am not going to get in an on-line debate with you when you appear incapable of cordially discussing issues without personal attacks, and when I have already told you where you can access the actual numbers for yourself. Unless you want to operate in a fact-free zone, they are available in the RR parking budget, on pp 279-281. I will bring a hardcopy of pp. 279-81 to the next Transit meeting, which you can attend if you are a Westport resident. Your comments about why I have not discussed the fire dept budget or other budgets is nonsensical. The fire dept has nothing to do with either the administration of the RR Parking budget or RR parking lot pot holes, which is the topic of the above post.

      • Jerry MacDaid

        Harry – Please forgive me. All I could see was the Police labor contract on the website that incorporates by reference the “Pension Agreement dated February 3, 1972 and as amended”. Unfortunately, said pension agreement is not on the website. Since Westport did not start moving from defined benefit to defined contribution plans until 2012, my working assumption was that the 1972 pension agreement at least included similar defined benefits as other state and municipal contracts, at least for those who were grandfathered under the old contract. Perhaps Westport never counted overtime but clearly the plan for those hired after 1/1/12 has changed.

  15. Mr. Smiley, you appear to misunderstand the issues and certainly are incorrect factually. Why don’t you review the 2015-16 Westport Town budget, look at the pages referring to the RR parking budget, and turn to pp 279-281.We already pay millions for our police department through our regular police department budget that we approve every year. Relative to the size of the population, it is a very high budget, with lots of money in there to fully fund the police. Then, the police take additional money out of the RR parking budget for police personnel salaries in a number of different ways. Even though other towns’ police depts patrol the area around their RRs out of the police budget, and even though we already pay for the patrol officers out of the regular Westport police budget, the police then assign on a purely overtime basis patrol officers (drawing at a 150% salary for time and a half) to the tune of $270k in overtime. We have a high enough police head count in Westport that the assignments could be easily managed so as to have those patrols occur during straight time, thereby saving $270k of expenditures from being raided in our RR parking fund. The commuter traffic control officer is another $48k/yr taken from our RR parking fund, and that work can also be done straight from our police budget without raiding the RR parking budget. Another $28,448 is also paid for a traffic agent. The RR parking fund is charged another $30k for administering this labor allocation). In addition, we pay out of the RR parking budget for 70% of Deputy Chief Koskinas’ salary, so another $101,990 is taken from the RR parking budget. (Many believe we should not have our deputy chief spend 70% of his time on RR administration instead of fighting crime–given that our crime rates are also not good relative to our closest comparators in comparably sized Fairfield County towns like Darien, Wilton, Weston, New Canaan, and Easton). Out of the RR parking budget, we also pay for 100% of Officer Pocius salary, 20% of Officer Parisi’s salary, 25% for Cruz, and Figuero. In total, in addition to the money we already have in our high police budget to pay police salaries, we are paying another $627,562 this year alone out of RR parking funds to compensate police officers in addition to the compensation allocated in the police budget. In conclusion Mr. Smiley, I do not know where you get your assertions such as that the Dep. Chief is not compensated in any way from RR parking funds. $101,990 of RR parking funds are taken and diverted to the police dept to “reimburse” it for the DC’s time. The police dept claims he spends 70% of his time devoted to RR administration. Several years ago, an audit the Town undertook concluded that the RR Parking administration could be handled far more economically at lower salary rates if the administration were taken away from the police dept. Why don’t you read that Audit report.

  16. Holly Wheeler

    Perfect. Thx

    Sent from my iPhone


  17. Holly Wheeler

    So, here’s a question: If, God forbid, someone trips on a RR parking lot pothole, falls down head first and dies, who gets sued? The town or the state? Or does it bounce around ad nauseum with each party pointing responsibility at the other.
    And another: Does the person walking around the lots checking stickers and administering tickets or payment envelopes have to be true police?

    • Holly — The person checking tickets and administering tickets at the RR parking lots does not have to be a police officer. In other Fairfield County Towns, this function is fulfilled by an independent contractor or another town employee at far lower rates. Police officers are typically paid at higher rates than such parking functionaries, so if we outsourced this function like other towns do, we would save RR Parking funds for important things that we need to accomplish for our commuters. Given the horrible slow downs we have all seen occur with MetroNorth (over which the RTM does not have jurisdiction), we can help our beleaguered commuters by trying to cut down the commute at the front end and the back end by facilitating expeditious and safe parking. We can do this in a number of different ways that we are discussing at the RTM Transit Committee (of which I am a member). We can do this without raising taxes if we reclaim for Westport residents the use of the RR parking funds, which are supposed to be used for precisely such kinds of improvements and maintenance. Kristan Hamlin RTM #4

  18. Howard Simpson

    I have been following this blog and would like to comment on the inaccurate information being disseminated by Ms. Hamlin about the Westport Police Dept. pension. It has been stated that the Westport Police pension compensation is based on an officer’s salary PLUS overtime, this is untrue. It has been said that an officer’s pension is based on the last year’s salary including overtime; another false statement. It has been said that an officer’s pension is based on his highest (3) years of earnings; untrue again. Nowhere in the Police pension contract does it say that overtime is included in the calculation. Nowhere in the Police pension contract does it say that it is based on the average of your best years. As Ms. Hamlin has stated, the Police pension contract is public record. My question is, has she actually read it? Because if she had, she wouldn’t be misrepresenting its content. One would only have to read to page (3) of the contract to get the correct information. On page (3) under Section 1, Definitions, 1.3 (a) “Compensation” means: “base salary plus any additional increments (ie: promotions) and allowances for college credits and weapons qualifications, and specifically excluding overtime or any other income.” So, I’m not sure where Ms. Hamlin gathered her information, but it wasn’t from the Police pension contract. I find it very disheartening that a former attorney and current RTM member seeking re-election did not do her research before commenting on this topic!

    Corporal Howard E. Simpson
    President, Westport Police Union Local 2080

    • Dear local-2080-labor-UNION-officer Simpson: I would be happy to meet with you over coffee to discuss with you the numerous inaccuracies in your above post. You can email me at my RTM email or call me at my office tomorrow, and we can set up a coffee. At the same time, let’s discuss why 100% of the patrol officer time billed for every hour worked of every day– even at 2 pm– 365 days a year, at the RR parking, is billed without exception at 150%–at time and a half, because we have analyzed the manpower, as well as the heavy Westport police headcount relative to our comparator towns, and it seems it can be done as straight time, at a significant savings to the Town. We can also discuss, inter alia, why 70% of the Deputy Chief’s time is billed to the RR parking fund because of the claim that 70% of his time is devoted to RR administration instead of fighting crime, and we can discuss why there is therefore no money left over to fix RR Parking lot potholes. Talk soon. Regards, Kristan Hamlin #4

  19. As also a member of the RTM Employee Compensation Committee, and being a part of several contract negotiations, pensions DO NOT include any overtime, they are strictly calculated on a base salary basis.

    Jimmy Izzo
    RTM 3

  20. Ms. Hamlin, I most certainly HAVE looked at the pension contract. I retired from the Westport PD after almost 30 years of service under THAT contract. So I am very familiar with it. Respectfully I call BS on just about everything that you have written here.