Category Archives: Economy

Helping Neighbors: Camp, Grad Celebration Donations Needed

For years, Westport’s Human Services Department has run 2 important spring collections. Community donations provide critical support to families needing financial assistance for summer camp programs, and the end-of-school-year celebrations that so many others take for granted.

For parents of kids, the pandemic has made the need even more urgent. Lost social and educational time — combined with fewer affordable structure activities, and adult stress — has driven financially insecure families into greater distress.

Childcare and summer enrichment programs — registered for without a second thought by a number of Westporters — are crucial for children in those circumstances.

After a rough year, summer activities are important.

 

Camps are in a bind too. After not opening last year, they’ve been unable to offer the same number of discounted tuitions as in the past.

Just as important — for 8th and 12th graders’ social well-being — is having appropriate clothing for graduation ceremonies. Cash and gift card donations help parents with those purchases. They may also hep families share a special meal, to recognize their children’s achievements.

Human Services director Elaine Daignault invites residents to contribute to the department’s Family to Family programs: “DHS Campership Fund” and/or “DHS Ceremonies and Celebrations Fund.”

No one wants to feel left out at graduation.

Every dollar counts. An average week of day camp in the area is $300.

Click here; under “Seasonal Program Name,” click the fund(s) you wish to contribute to. Checks can be sent to Human Services Department, 110 Myrtle Avenue, Westport, CT 06880 (indicate which fund on the memo line).

Questions? Email adaugelli@westportct.gov, or call Annette D’Augelli at 203-341-1050.

Remembering George Keane

George F. Keane — longtime Westporter, founder of the Common Fund, and a noted philanthropic investment strategist — died  peacefully on Thursday in Trumbull, where he had spent time convalescing from a long illness.

His son, Staples High School Class of 1971 graduate Brian Keane, writes:

My father was my north star. A young boy’s hero. A protector, the one who knew what to do. My Little League coach. My advisor (and my staunchest critic).

Though we had our battles from time to time, and we each had success in very different worlds, we never lost touch, nor did we ever lose the deep bond of love that we had for each other. In the end I served as his caretaker, along with other very able and loving people.

George F. Keane

He had a long, and remarkable life. He touched many other’s lives along the way. He gave people their starts, helped people in their time of need, and made his mark on the world. You couldn’t ask for much more out of life.

He came from modest means, a child of the Great Depression, growing up in Danbury. He would be the first in his family ever to graduate college. He would later serve on the college’s board.

Though we grew up in Westport, our family was middle class at best. However, my father would rise throughout his life to become a successful philanthropic investment strategist, founder of the Common Fund, now in its 50th year, employing hundreds of people, advising over 1,500 institutions, with $40 billion under management.

He was awarded 2 honorary doctorates, and the Fredrick D. Patterson Award for his 12 years of service as a director of the United Negro College Fund. He served on many prestigious boards, and worked with Research Affiliates of California to form a new index fund.

He battled the affliction of alcoholism as a younger man to attain 41 years of sobriety, and was an example to others.

He loved life too, and had lots of fun. He was a gifted singer, a well traveled tourist, a patron of the arts, a sports enthusiast. He lived well, ate well, loved well. He didn’t golf real well, but had fun at that too, as the world’s most generous scorekeeper.

A loving husband, father, grandfather and extended family man, he was a kind, intelligent, generous and very successful man, who helped out many people in his life, and leaves a long list of bereaved admirers.

For me though, he was simply Dad. I will always love him dearly for who he was, and always deeply appreciate what he did for me, and for the example that he set.

On May 20 my father passed peacefully, at 91, sitting in a chair in his assisted living apartment where he had been convalescing from a long illness. It was as though he were merely taking a nap.

Brian Keane

The night before we had dinner together, just the 2 of us. We went out on the patio, spent a few hours together, and he took the long walk back to his apartment in unwavering stride. After a lifetime of pursuing life with such tenacity and persistence, I never expected the Irish goodbye.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated on Wednesday (May 26, 10:30 a.m., St. Peter Church, 104 Main Street, Danbury). George F. Keane will be laid to rest alongside his older brother, James R. Keane, and his parents Alexander Keane and Anna Krebs Keane in St Peter’s Cemetery in Danbury immediately following the service.

There will be a celebration of life event at some point later in the year.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in George F. Keane’s name to the American Cancer Society or The United Negro College Fund.

Westport Sets New Mill Rate

Westport has a new mill rate. Michael Calise reports:

The rate for the 2021-22 tax year was set by the Board of Finance at 18.07 mills.

Each year a new mill rate is set, based on 2 major factors: our Grand List (the total assessed value of all taxable properties in Westport, which is finalized by our tax assessor) and our annual budget (finalized by the RTM).

The mill rate is the multiplier of our Grand List, which produces the net revenue required to run our town after all other revenue streams and anticipated shortfalls (such as an allowance for unanticipated expenses) are factored into the mix.

Since the 2015 reassessment, our annual Grand List increase due to new construction and property improvements, as well as strict budget controls, have allowed our mill rate to remain constant — in fact, actually reduced for the tax year we are currently in.

This year a third and unexpected factor came into play: the 2020 reassessment determined a greater than 5.4% reduction in our Grand List.

Our final annual budget, as approved by the RTM, was set at a 2.6% increase. When factored against the 2020 Grand List (as described above), this necessitated the new mill rate of 18.07 mills. It is up from the current 16.71 mill rate. Individual property taxes for the ensuing year will be calculated based on the new assessment.

2020-21 budget:                   $212,772,828

2021-22 budget:                   $218,479,214   (+2.6%)

2019 Grand List:                  $11,445,273,580

2020 Grand List:                 $10,830,370,714 (-5.4%)

RTM Passes Town, Education Budgets

Westport has a budget for the next fiscal year.

Actually, we have 2. This week, the Representative Town Meeting approved both the town and education budgets.

Here is Peter Gold’s report on the May 3 and 4 RTM meetings. He is an RTM member and a director of the Westport Transit District writing for himself, and not in an official capacity.

At back-to-back meetings this week, the RTM approved a total town and education budget of $220,814,210. That’s approximately 2.65% more than the current year.

On May 3 the RTM passed the town budget for the fiscal year ending June 20, 2022 of $77,103,992 — a 2.2% increase over the current year.

It also approved several smaller budgets for Earthplace, Westport Library, Westport-Weston Health District, Westport Transit District, railroad parking and Wakeman Town Farm, for a grand total of $85,509,447. That is a 2.59% increase over the current year.

Over 80% of the town’s budget goes to 4 areas: public safety (30%), funding for pensions and other post-employment benefits such as retiree health care (27%), public works (15%) and parks and recreation (9%).

All budgets except for Westport Transit District were unchanged from the budget recommended by the Board of Finance, and all passed unanimously.

In a 32-1 vote, the RTM restored $157,500 cut by the Board of Finance from the Westport Transit District‘s budget for its Wheels2U shuttle service introduced last October. The RTM took note of the letters it received from over 100 individuals and organizations in support of restoring the funds. RTM members also felt the pandemic made it difficult to fairly evaluate the Wheels2U service, and that it should be given a chance to prove itself as life returns closer to normal.

On May 4 the RTM approved the Board of Finance’s recommended budget for the Board of Education. The $135,304,763 approved by the RTM, while $1,347,716 less than the Board of Ed’s original request, is still a 3% increase over the current year.

The Board of Education chose not to ask the RTM to restore funds cut by the Board of Finance. Instead, it managed to make up the amount through increased state aid, and funds received under emergency grant programs like the Coronavirus Relief Fund and the American Rescue Plan.

As in prior years, the overwhelming majority of the Board of Education budget —81% — goes to salaries and benefits.

Prior to voting on the budget, the RTM was briefed by Board of Finance chair Brian Stern on the town’s financial condition. Despite unexpected expenses due to COVID and Hurricane Isaias, the town is projected to finish the fiscal year on June 30 within 1% of the amount budgeted last May. This amount — which can be covered by the town’s reserves — is due to hard work by town employees, and financial aid from state and federal governments.

Jennifer Tooker Runs For 1st Selectman; Andrea Moore Joins Ticket

Jennifer Tooker’s hat is in the ring.

This morning, the 2nd selectwoman announced she’s running for the town’s top spot. First Selectman Jim Marpe said yesterday that he will not run for a 3rd term.

Tooker was elected with Marpe in 2017. Her running mate this time is Andrea Moore, vice chair of the Board of Finance. Like Marpe, both are Republicans.

As 2nd selectwoman Tooker launched Westport Together, an alliance between the town and Westport Public Schools.

She also created and hosts Westport Means Business, a series of events through which business owners and entrepreneurs make connections, exchange ideas and promote Westport.

Last May, in the early months of the pandemic, Marpe appointed Tooker as chair of the ReOpen Westport advisory team.

Jennifer Tooker

Tooker — a longtime member of the Board of Finance, Board of Education and Conservation Commission — left her 22-year career with Gen RE’s US and European reinsurance markets in 2013.

Since then — and continuing as 2nd selectwoman — Tooker has created ties with the Westport and Fairfield County business communities. She served on the board of directors for the Women’s Business Development Council, which provides training and financial education to female small business owners around the state.

Tooker is also involved in education, with a focus on closing the achievement gap in Connecticut. She was a board member of the State Education Resource Center, the Education Commission for the Diocese of Bridgeport, and the Adam J. Lewis Academy.

Tooker’s other volunteer efforts include the Westport Weston Family YMCA board of trustees and Bedford Family Social Responsibility Fund committee; Westport Sunrise Rotary Club and its 21st Century Foundation board, and coaching with the Westport Soccer Association.

Second selectman Jennifer Tooker’s shirt sent a message at a meeting to promote local women-owned businesses.

Tooker earned a bachelor of arts degree in economics and international relations from the University of Notre Dame. She and her husband Mo have 3 children: Jack, Riley and Nicole. Her parents recently moved to Westport.

“It has been a privilege to serve Westport as second selectwoman,” Tooker says. “This is an amazing town where we enjoy an excellent quality of life. I’ve been part of the team that has worked diligently to ensure Westport is a great place to live and work.

“This community deserves a local government that is accessible and accountable with leadership skills, management expertise and a strategic perspective. As first selectman I will continue to bring these skills to Town Hall every day. It would be an honor to lead Westport, the community we all call home, and foster an even greater sense of community and belonging for all our residents and business owners.”

Tooker’s running mate was elected to the Board of Finance in 2017, and selected as vice chair 2 years later. Moore also serves on the board’s audit subcommittee.

Previously she represented District 9 on the RTM. Her committee work included Education, Public Protection, and Library and Museums.

Moore has worked for over 20 years in financial services, with positions in institutional equity sales, equity research and investment banking at firms including UBS, BT Deutsche Bank and Salomon Brothers.

Andrea Moore

A native Westporter and Staples High School graduate, Moore is member of the YMCA board of trustees. She has served on the National Charity League’s Westport board, and is a former president of Staples Tuition Grants, Saugatuck Elementary School PTA, and A Child’s Place preschool board. She also co-chaired the Westport Public Schools’ Workshopo Committee.

Moore received a bachelor of science degree in finance from the University of Massachusetts School of Management. She and her husband Dave have 3 daughters: Tessa, Janna and Ella.

Moore says, “It is an honor to run alongside Jen Tooker, a truly accomplished leader for Westport. I am continually impressed with the effective, bipartisan way Jen solves problems and drives positive change. Westport is a truly special place to call home, and I know Jen will work every day to bring people together, represent our community with the utmost integrity, and employ a fresh perspective to meet challenges and new opportunities in the days ahead.”

(Click here for the Tooker/Moore website.)

 

 

RTM April Meeting: Refinancing, Reimbursement, Restrictions

This is Peter Gold’s report on the April Representative Town Meeting. He is an RTM member writing for himself, and not in an official capacity.

With one exception, April’s RTM meeting dealt with unexpected opportunities and unexpected costs.

The current (and very low) interest rates provided an unexpected opportunity to refinance $13 million in bonds issued in 2012 and 2013, when rates were much higher. The rate on the new bonds is expected to be less than 2%, given the Town’s AAA Moody’s bond rating. Refinancing will save the town approximately $500,000 over the 9-year life of the new bonds.

The RTM approved unexpected costs of $380,000 for additional COVID expenses, $780,000 for additional expenses related to Hurricane Isaias, $508,470 for Westport’s 50% share of additional costs for the new Fire, Police and EMS dispatch center being built in connection with Fairfield, and $32,970 for unanticipated state-required drug testing for police officers, and costs to hire new officers to fill 4 unexpected vacancies. FEMA is expected to reimburse the town for all COVID and Hurricane Isaias expenses.

Hurricane Isaias damage on the Longshore golf course. (Photo/Brian Sikorski)

The COVID expenses are for protective devices, sanitizing, legal fees, signage and employee testing. Ten percent of all town employees are tested every week.  During the debate, several RTM members expressed the need to relax the COVID-induced restrictions on public access to Town Hall once the pandemic is passed so people could freely access town offices.

Nearly all of the Hurricane Isaias expenses were for extra help, overtime, and contract services for extra equipment and help to clear roads. The town enters into standby agreements with various contractors to provide their services on an as needed basis in the event of an emergency. Westport incurs no expense if the services are not used. Contracting for emergency services on an annual basis ensures the services are available when needed, at a lower cost, and makes the costs eligible for FEMA reimbursement.

In addition to FEMA reimbursing the town for the $780,000 in out-of-pocket hurricane expenses, exceptional record-keeping by town employees will result in FEMA reimbursing Westport an additional $200,000 to $250,000 for the town’s storm-related use of its own trucks and other equipment.

The new joint Westport-Fairfield Emergency Dispatch Center has been in the planning stage for several years. The proposed site was the old GE headquarters building owned by Sacred Heart University.

Sacred Heart is building a new hockey arena next to the old GE headquarters, forcing the Center’s relocation to a different spot on the Sacred Heart campus. That, and delays in the start of construction, resulted in increased construction costs. Upgraded technology, new servers and a backup microwave communications link account for the remainder of the new costs.

The new appropriation brings Westport’s share of the costs for the establishment of the Emergency Dispatch Center to $1,928,470. Despite this, savings from the lower operating cost for  the Center are anticipated to exceed the cost of establishing the Center in 3 years, and to continue hereafter.

Connecticut’s new police accountability law requires officers to be tested for steroids as part of their certification. Ten percent of the  police force is recertified each year. While Westport police officers are already tested for drugs, this new mandate will increase drug testing costs.

The last item on the RTM agenda was a first reading of an ordinance banning gas-powered leaf blowers, except during 6-week periods each spring and fall.  There is no debate or discussion on a proposed ordinance at the RTM on a first reading. The draft ordinance now goes to the RTM Environment, Public Protection, Parks and Recreation, Health and Human Services, Public Works, Finance, and Ordinance Committees for review.

Dates for these meeting will be posted on the Town’s website at https://www.westportct.gov/about/advanced-components/meeting-list-calendar. The public is welcome to listen to the meetings and submit comments via email before and during the meetings. Once the committees finish their reviews, the draft ordinance returns to the RTM for a second reading and a vote.  This will not be before the June RTM meeting at the earliest.

Maxx Crowley: Downtown’s Revival, And The Rest Of Town Too

As 2020 began, downtown Westport looked bleak. Boarded-up storefronts, empty parking spots, questions about its very future — Main Street and environs were grim.

When COVID struck, downtown looked even bleaker. More stores closed. Fewer people strolled. The cancellation of big events like the Fine Arts Festival seemed like one final cruel blow.

Yet to the surprise of many, life sprouted amid all the real and metaphorical death.

GG & Joe opened in an out-of-the-way Parker Harding corner. Their acai bowls and pastries were instant hits.

Plywood and butcher block paper came down. New stores opened.

Two restaurants — Capuli and Basso — opened to rave reviews. Two bookstores — one new, one used — opened too, within days of each other. Two gelato shops announced their arrival. A highly regarded bakery will soon move in on Church Lane.

Capuli is one of several new restaurants opening downtown.

Counterintuitively, downtown has come back.

And no one is happier than Maxx Crowley.

He’s an unlikely champion for Main Street. He’s young (a 2010 graduate of Fairfield Prep). He worked in New York City, in advertising and real estate. He’s single. You wouldn’t figure him for a suburban guy.

But he comes from a storied family. His father Steve is the “S” in SCA Crowley, a residential and commercial real estate services firm. Since starting work in September with them, Maxx has jumped head first into the downtown renaissance. He’s already a co-vice president of the Westport Downtown Merchants Association.

Maxx Crowley (right) with (from left) his brother Bob Crowley and father Steve Crowley.

Despite his youth, Maxx remembers “exciting stores,” Onion Alley with its rooftop music, and mom-and-pop shops like Liquor Locker.

He recalls took when chain stores — even big names like Nike and Banana Republic — swooped in. “They took some of the character” of Main Street away, he admits.

COVID was “a weird perfect storm” for Westport, Maxx says.

“There was a lot of loss. People died. Businesses closed. Restaurants struggled.”

But the virus drove people out of New York. Westport welcomed a surge of newcomers. And people who already lived here — but spent 12 hours a day, 5 days a week working elsewhere — suddenly had time to focus on their town.

They walked. They biked. They picked up coffee and lunch, clothes and furniture in places they had never known about.

Landlords struggled. Rents — quite a bit north of $100 a square foot — took a significant hit. But some of those same landlords also realized this was a time for a re-set. They lowered rates, and looked for new tenants. And those were not always the same-old, same-old national brands that could be anywhere.

Some landlords lowered their rents, or accepted late payments. Some offered a few free months, or help with certain expenses.

It was not easy. COVID or not, landlords still have their own fixed costs: taxes, insurance, maintenance and more.

Downtown depends on foot traffic. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Commercial real estate is “a relationship business,” Maxx says. Relationships often extend far. When one landlord sees another succeeding, they want to be part of the action.

Downtown has many things going for it, Maxx says. One key element is walkability.

“I can park my car. I get my coffee at GG & Joe. I cross the street to Savvy + Grace. My kid” — he doesn’t have one, but you get the point — “goes next door to Brandy Melville.”

That’s not the case in other parts of town. Anyone wanting to cross from Stop & Shop to the cute Peggy’s Cottage Irish store across the street takes his life in his hands.

But the right business in the right spot can succeed anywhere. Maxx points to Terrain: “a beautiful, redeveloped place. No one minds driving there.”

Terrain attracts customers with intriguing displays.

He’s bullish on both Compo Shopping Center too. “Torrey (Brooks, the landlord) is phenomenal,” Maxx says. “He builds relationships with all his tenants.”

There are vacancies there right now. Maxx is hopeful that a “memorable store” comes into the spaces previously occupied by Olympia Sports and Compo Barber Shop.

He also thinks the shopping plaza at the foot of the Sherwood Island Connector — with Restore Cryotherapy, among others — has great visibility.

Further east on the Post Road, Maxx has mixed feelings about Amazon Go, the automated grocery store that’s the rumored replacement for Barnes & Noble.

“People will always want to talk to the butcher and the deli guy. But it’s exciting to see a brand like Amazon come to Westport. There aren’t many Amazon Gos on the East Coast.”

And at the Southport border, Maxx notes that the Home Goods shopping center always has solid occupancy.

The one piece missing from downtown Westport, he says is “experiential” places. He cites the lack of restaurants on Main Street (though a new one will at some point replace Tavern on Main). “In a perfect world,” Maxx adds, “the ice rink would move from Longshore. And music always brings people together. We might not have bars with bands anymore, but they played on Church Lane last summer. That was great. And what about a stage downtown?”

Westport’s Fine Arts Festival is an “experiential” event. It has moved back to Main Street, from Parker Harding Plaza.

He’d also like to see downtown connected, somehow, to Saugatuck. “So many great stores across the river don’t get the attention they deserve,” he says.

“Europe has pedestrian bridges. It’s a beautiful walk along the river. This isn’t Amsterdam. But a bridge or two couldn’t hurt. Can you imagine having dinner at Bartaco, then walking across a bridge — without traffic whizzing by — to have a gelato on Main Street. Then you window shop, and run into friends. That’s a real downtown.”

Meanwhile, Saugatuck itself is filled with “wonderful, local restaurants and markets and shops. Viva and the Duck are anchors. It’s very walkable. There will always be activity there.”

The “ultimate connection” to downtown, he believes, is Longshore and Compo. A restaurant at the beach — and a shuttle between there and downtown — would be “amazing.”

Though not yet 30, Maxx says he has “always” been excited about downtown. Now he sees newcomers getting excited too.

All over town.

Board Of Ed Debates Budget Cuts

Money was on the minds of Board of Education members last night.

At their virtual meeting they addressed the gap between their submitted budget, and the $125,594,582 approved last month by the Board of Finance. The difference is $975,284.

Brian Fullenbaum reports that federal grants from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund’s (ESSER) 3rd round will total $1.6 million. The board will reserve 20% of that amount, to address learning loss.

Other grants approved for Westport include a maximum of $947,633 from the COVID relief fund, and $832,917 from the first 2 rounds of ESSER.

Two proposals were made. One would use $607,000 from ESSER II to meet the $975,000 reduction. Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice would then request restoration of the rest of the $367,000 gap.

The other proposal would rely fully on the ESSER III grant money to fill the reduction gap.

Though the possibility of not receiving that third grant is small, the board discussed a backup plan.

The board also noted the need to adjust technology purchases, in the event that online learning continues into the next year.

In addition, education costs may rise due to increased enrollment. Over 100 extra students joined elementary schools, necessitating new hires. Enrollment numbers for next year are already looking strong.

The board deferred a decision until Monday’s meeting.

 

[OPINIONS] Cons, Pros Of State “Multi-Housing” Bill

Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce executive director and RTM member Matthew Mandell sends regular emails to a large list. He addresses a variety of local topics.

The other day he weighed in on State Senate Bill 1024, concerning multi-family housing. He wrote:

More than one bill being proposed in Hartford would usurp local zoning laws and single family zoning, and allow as of right multi-family housing.

One would mandate this change 1/2 mile around any train station, as well as 1/4 mile from a commercial zone.

Another would allow duplexes (2-family homes) in any single family zone.

The former, which I will focus on, would include both Saugatuck and Greens Farms areas, the swaths along Riverside Avenue and all along the Post Road. We are talking hundreds if not thousands of properties.

The Westport train station has long been the center of multi-use developments.

The term “as of right” means free to do it essentially without Planning & Zoning  approval. Any developer could come in and build 4 condo units on any property they wanted, regardless of our rules, and the concerns or living choices of the neighbors.

There is a need for affordable housing, no argument, and social inequities exist in our state. The cause of much of this is being laid, by the proponents of these measures, at the door step of our towns and more than often those towns in Fairfield County. Past zoning rules, now outlawed, fostered exclusionary practices and this, they say, still needs to be rectified. More importantly, they also say current zoning decisions still do this.

So in order to set things straight, all towns across the state would have to accept this responsibility and must allow this unfettered development.

Many legislators, senators and representatives, want to be doing the right thing. So do most of us. Being on the right side of history, by creating more affordable housing and correcting social injustices, is for the most part a no-brainer. It’s right.

But many of them yearning to help have and are being persuaded that this specific legislation is the right way to do it. It is not. It’s like many things that start with the best of intentions, if not vetted thoroughly, and yes challenged, have significant and unintended consequences

The proponents believe that legislating by fiat and across the board densification will solve the problem. Yet there is no proof offered that any of this housing would be affordable or that a great diversity of individuals would be benefited. It is a theory, it seems, without verified merit and a myopic view of how planning works.

For years, Canal Park has offered affordable housing for seniors, near downtown.

What is most bothersome to me is that this would be done without regard to how this would affect those that currently live in these towns and specific areas. At risk are the areas where economics presently support naturally affordable housing and the strivers who have worked hard to have a home with a front and backyard for their kids to play.

In the case of Westport, this legislation would actually thwart our efforts to create housing diversity. We currently mandate 20% affordability for all multi-family housing and have advanced proposals to create more. We actually have done such a good job that not only did the state award us with an 8-30g moratorium that other towns are looking at what we have done to emulate it.

If this legislation came to be, developers would snap up the choicest of properties first, most likely along the river and build million dollar condos all along its banks. This would then cascade to more and more lots, especially the naturally occurring affordable, creating more unaffordable housing, stressing water, sewer, police, fire, school and road infrastructure.

The negative environmental affects would be dramatic as the walkable community envisioned would not exist as basic household needs and jobs would still be a drive away instead of within this newly over dense community. Saugatuck would grind to a halt and Greens Farms would be a shadow of itself.

Bottom line: All transit hubs and TOD’s are not the same and top down. One-size-fits-all legislation simply does not work. The only people who this would actually benefit are developers.

=======================================================

Lawrence Weisman disagrees. Because he has no mechanism like Mandell’s to respond, he asked “06880” to post his response.

Dear Matt:

It is my observation that when a debater tries to persuade an audience of the rightness of his position by offering a parade of horribles, he is almost always on the wrong side of the issue and, for want of substance, is reduced to hyperbole.
Your description of the substance of this bill and its consequences is a prime example of that tactic.

You are wrong about both the substance and the probable consequences of the bill, and your reference to those “who have worked hard to have a home with a front and backyard for their kids to play” is a classic dog whistle in favor of exclusionary policies.

Connecticut has a systemic bureaucratic problem in addition to its systemic racial problem. Government in our state is fractured. We have counties but no county or regional government with authority to address what are clearly regional problems, among which are transportation, the environment, and housing.

So rather than trying to deal with regional issues in an uncoordinated town by town basis, we are obliged to rely on statewide action to produce uniform results. That’s what this bill is intended to do and why it is needed.

Westport is not the villain in this piece. Our P&Z has done and continues to do its part to address housing inequity and the need for affordable housing, and it is even considering “as of right” accessory dwelling units.

1177 Post Road East includes 30% affordable units, according to state standards.

You say that “as of right” means without P&Z approval, thereby suggesting that it means unregulated, but what you don’t say is that these accessory units do not require P&Z approval precisely because they are limited by regulation as to size, height, building coverage, number of parking spaces, and the amount of unused permissible coverage on the lot in question.

You do yourself, your constituents and the town as a whole a grave disservice by urging a point of view which is ungenerous, ill-considered, and provincial, and by playing to the fears and ultimately the prejudices of those who are resistant to change.

We desperately need new ideas for solutions to problems which, because they have existed for so many years, are assumed to be immune to correction. This bill is a judicious and creative step in the right direction which deserves your support.

Sincerely,
Larry

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Last night, State Senator Tony Hwang held a Facebook Live meeting on proposed zoning legislation. Among the bills is the one referenced above.

There is a public hearing in Hartford this Monday (March 15). Click here for information on that hearing, as well as a video of Hwang’s discussion. (Hat tip: Cornelia Fortier)

 

Unsung Heroes #180

It’s budget time.

Every town department has submitted their requests to the 1st Selectman. He and his staff have crunched the numbers, asked them to trim some figures, then compiled it all into a 483-page document.

Now the Board of Finance steps up. They hold hearings next week. First comes the town budget; then education.

They’ll debate. They’ll vote. Then they’ll send their recommendations to the Representative Town Meeting.

There may be some intermediate steps — protests of some cuts, more back-and-forth, public input about what’s essential, what’s a frill, and whose ox is getting gored.

The town budget

But by mid-spring, Westport will have a budget. Everything from pencils to potholes will be funded. Our mill rate will be set.

And — despite perennial complaints about high taxes — just ask relatives and friends anywhere elsewhere in the tri-state are about their taxes. You’ll realize what we pay is pretty low, considering all we get. (Perhaps you can compare your taxes with others while watching the sunset at Compo, walking at Longshore, or waiting to pick up your kid at school.)

Those budgets and mill rates don’t fall from the sky. They involve plenty of planning, short- and long-range; plenty of scrutinizing; plenty of priorities.

And plenty of time. The budget process is months in the making. Much of it is tedious (and eye-straining). All of it is crucial.

Making a budget is the job of town employees. Passing it is the work of volunteers, on the Board of Education, Board of Finance, RTM and other bodies.

The education budget

It’s easy to say “my taxes are too high.” It’s easy to say “why do we need x, y or z?” (of course, your x, y and z is very different from mine).

It’s a lot tougher to study spreadsheet after spreadsheet, attend meeting after meeting, and cast difficult vote after difficult vote.

This week’s Unsung Heroes are all the women and men who make the process work. Westport would not be Westport without your service.

(Do you know an Unsung Hero? Email dwoog@optonline.net)