Category Archives: Economy

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.

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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)

 

Board Of Ed: Pupils, Projects And More

The social, mental and physical health — and the health of several school buildings — were the focuses at last night’s Board of Education meeting.

On the student side, Brian Fullenbaum reports that townwide health and physical education coordinator Chris Wanner and Staples phys. ed. teacher CJ Shamas presented an update on social and emotional learning.

Embedded in the high school curriculum for juniors, it addresses social and emotional skills from a growth mindset point of view. Video testimonials showed students enjoying the health classes.

Board member Elaine Whitney and Westport Public Schools chief financial officer Elio Longo provided an update on capital projects.

Paving is needed at Greens Farms, Coleytown and Long Lots Elementary Schools, plus Bedford Middle and Wakeman. All roads there are at least 20 years old.

The $1.6 million estimated cost is significantly lower than expected, due to a partnership with the town’s Department of Public Works.

The Saugatuck Elementary roof project is out to bid. Work is scheduled for this summer. It should proceed without state assistance, because the roof is beyond its useful life.

A new roof is planned for Saugatuck Elementary School.

Staples’ roof replacement can be deferred for a year. State assistance may be available.

In the area of capital maintenance projects — from $500,000 to $2 million — superintendent Thomas Scarice noted that outside companies can help maximize value, and stay on schedule and within budget. He would like to create a school modernization master plan, then use help from an OPM to get through the process, including larger maintenance projects. The board discussed collaborating with the town on capital projects.

The board approved a new policy for minority staff recruitment. It updates the former document with more inclusionary language.

Supervisor of health services Suzanne Levasseur’s COVID report noted a slight uptick in cases in Westport schools last week, to 13 cases. The district’s first vaccination clinic for staff — run in conjunction with Weston and Easton — is scheduled for tomorrow (Wednesday, March 3) in the Staples fieldhouse. 250 people are expected to get shots.

Budget Deliberations Begin

Budget season is here!

The Board of Finance begins its public examination soon.

First Selectman Jim Marpe presents his proposed town budget on Tuesday, March 9 and — if needed — Wednesday, March 10. He’s requesting $77,103,992 — a 2.21% increase over the current $75,439,392.

An additional $6,127,959 includes requests for the Westport Library ($5,090,148), Westport Weston Health District ($590,811), Westport Transit District ($342,000) and Earthplace ($105,000).

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice and Board of Education chair Candice Savin present their budgets on Thursday, March 11. They ask for $128,013,115 — up 4.98% over 2020-21’s $121,936.488. The bulk of the Board of Ed budget is salaries (64%) and benefits (16%).

Click here to see the entire proposed budgets.

All meetings are held via Zoom, starting at 7:30 p.m. They will be livestreamed on westportct.gov, and shown on Optimum channel 79 and Frontier channel 6020.

Emails to Board of Finance members can be sent to BOF@westportct.gov. Comments to be read during the public comment period may be emailed to BOFcomments@westportct.gov. Full names and addresses are needed.

To comment in real time during the meeting, send an email by noon that day to mmace@westportct.gov. Include your name, address and the agenda item (click here) to which your comments will relate. Participation details will be emailed to you.

Roundup: Breakfast, COVID $$, Anti-Semitism, More

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There’s a new breakfast option in town. It doesn’t look particularly healthy.

But it sure looks good.

Grammie’s Donuts & Biscuits offers biscuits, croissants, donuts and cronuts (in flavors like very berry, lemon cake and passionfruit).

You can order online 24/7, for delivery or pickup (971 Post Road East, near Cycle Dynamics, Wednesday through Sunday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.).

Grammie’s is part of the new Grateful Food Company. Click here for the website, with menu and ordering options; follow on Instagram @grammies_gfc.

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On the agenda for the Board of Finance meeting March 3 (7:30 p.m., livestreamed at www.westportct.gov): Moving $400,000 from the General Fund balance to the COVID Accounts balance.

A prior appropriation of $400,000 — approved July 8 — has been exhausted. Additional funds will cover costs for protective devices, sanitizing, legal fees, signage, and employee testing.

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The Westport Library’s next “Andrew Wilk Presents” examines anti-Semitism.

The event — a screening and conversation with filmmaker Andrew Goldberg and CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota — is set for next month.

On March 10 and 11, the Library offers Goldberg’s film “Viral: Anti-Semitism in 4 Mutations.” At 7 p.m. on the 11th, Goldberg will discuss the film with Camerota — anchor of the “New Day” morning show — and take questions from the virtual audience.

Camerota lives in Westport. Goldberg recently moved here. To register, and for more information, click here.

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Two days later — on Saturday, March 13 (7 p.m.) — the Library recognizes the anniversary of the pandemic lockdown with a concert that celebrates optimism, resilience and the power of music.

The virtual event — co-sponsored with the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce — is curated by area resident Chris Frantz, of Talking Heads and the Tom Tom Club.

Several great bands will play, with proceeds going to support arts education through Bridgeport’s Neighborhood Studios.

Tickets are $25 each; for $40, you get a ticket and poster. The first 25 will be autographed by Chris. Click here to purchase, and for more information.

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Looking for a summer camp for your kids? Something along the lines of, say, Recycled/Upcycling Art, Nature in Art, Engineering and Art, Chemistry and Art, Movement and Art?

Those are some of the weekly themes at Camp MoCA, a new summer day camp for youngsters ages 3 to 13. It runs June 7 to August 27; 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, rain or shine. Certified educators and art instructors are in charge.

An early registration discount of $100 per week is available through May 1. Campers can sign up for one or multiple weeks. Click here for details.

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The Westport Library is closed today (Thursday), due to the predicted snow. However, the virtual children’s programs will be held.

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And finally … on this day in 1791, Congress passed a law admitting the state of Vermont to the Union, effective March 4. It had existed for 14 years as an independent republic.

Many Westporters love Vermont. Among them: Jon Gailmor. The 1966 Staples High School graduate has lived there for decades. He runs music-writing workshops in schools, writes and performs all over, and has eveb been named an official “state treasure.”

Jon’s “Long Ago Lady” is a love song to his adopted state. It’s a beautiful tribute, to a wonderful place.

 

Winfield Street Deli: Despite Downturn, Donating Back

When COVID hit, it wasn’t just the coffee-and-lunch crowd that cratered at Winfield Street Deli.

They lost nearly all their catering contracts too. Breakfast and lunch deliveries to nearby offices had accounted for 30% of the popular Post Road West shop’s revenue.

Owner Breno Donatti made a quick decision. He closed completely, and helped employees get unemployment.

On May 15, Winfield Street reopened. “I couldn’t stay shut forever,” Breno says. “A lot of the staff wanted to get back to work. People were starting to come out from their homes.”

Breno devised a new catering menu. Breakfast boxes came individually wrapped; lunches of wraps, rolls, bowls and salads were separate too.

“People were trickling back to the office. They wanted to be safe,” the owner recalls. “Communal meals, with everyone grabbing something, no longer works.”

Winfield Delimobile

At the same time Winfield Street was struggling to stay in businesses, they were giving back. Realizing that people in shelters had less access to good food than ever — donations were down, and helping organizations were themselves hurting — Breno made some calls.

“Our staff was ready to work. And thanks to our wholesalers, we had access to great prices,” he say.

For every customer check of $20 or more, Winfield Street donates one meal.

By the end of December, the deli had provided 6,000 meals to Pacific House, Domus Kids and Inspirica.

Breno Donatti

Breno is not letting up. His goal for 2021: 21,000 meals. Sparked by a generous donation from former gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski and his wife Amy, he’s well on his way.

Meanwhile, both retail and catering are picking up. For all of last quarter, business was down 40 percent compared to the year before. Last month, that was cut to just 15%.

The other day, the Coleytown Middle School PTA raved about Winfield’s catering for a teacher appreciation event. They delivered 55 breakfasts and 88 lunches.

“Any excuse to make people happy is important,” Breno says. “We need positive stories.”

And Winfield Street is at the top of any list.

(To donate meals through Winfield Deli to area shelters, click here. Special offer: For every 200 meals you provide, you get a $100 Winfield gift card.)

Roundup: IRS, MLK, WCP, More

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Congressman Jim Himes reminds residents of free tax filing resource,

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program offers federal and state tax help to people earning under $56,000 a year. VITA is largely virtual this year, but there are also some drop-off locations. Click here to learn more.

The Connecticut Department of Revenue Services provides free tax help over by phone. Call 860-297-5770 to schedule an online appointment.

The University of Connecticut School of Law offers federal and state tax assistance for low-income Connecticut residence by phone. Call 860-570-5165 to learn more or book an appointment.

Click here for links to more tax assistance.

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“King in the Wilderness” is an Emmy-winning HBO documentary about the last 3 days of Martin Luther King’s life. At the end of the 1960s, the Black Power movement saw the civil rights leader’s focus on nonviolence as a weakness, while President Lyndon Johnson believe his antiwar activism was dangerous. King himself was tormented by doubts about his philosophy and future.

The executive producer was Westporter Trey Ellis. He’s an award-winning novelist, Emmy and Peabody-winning filmmaker, playwright, professor of screenwriting in the Graduate School of Film at Columbia University, and contributor to The New Yorker, New York TimesWashington Post and NPR.

On Thursday, February 25 (7 p.m.), the Westport Library hosts a conversation between Ellis and TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey. Registrants can view the film for one week prior to the event. There is no charge; click here to register.

The program is part of Westport READS. This year’s them is “Towards a More Perfect Union: Confronting Racism.”

Trey Ellis

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The popular Westport Country Playhouse “Script in Hand” play-reading series returns Monday, February 22 (7 p.m.).

This time, audiences can hear the scripts in their own homes. The virtual performance is also available on demand any time, from noon February 23 through February 28.

This reading — “A Sherlock Carol” — should be particularly fun. It’s about a grown-up Tiny Tim, who asks Sherlock Holmes to investigate the death of Ebenezer Scrooge. Six actors take on the famed characters of Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Dickens. Click here for more information, and tickets.

In addition, the Playhouse presents a free virtual conversation about Thornton Wilder’s timeless “Our Town” — particularly as it applies to the 21st century.

It’s this Sunday (February 14, 3 p.m.), on the Playhouse website and YouTube channel (Westport Playhouse).

Participants include Howard Sherman, author of a new book about “Our Town”; Anne Keefe, associate artistic director with Joanne Woodward for the Playhouse’s 2002 production of “Our Town,” and Jake Robards, who appeared in that show. The host is Playhouse artistic director Mark Lamos.

In other WCP news, the Playhouse has announced the 13 members of its inaugural Youth Council. They include Staples High School students Henry Carson, Kate Davitt and Sophia Vellotti, plus Cessa Lewis, a Westporter who attends St. Luke’s School.

“A Sherlock Carol”

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Suzuki Music Schools’ Connecticut Guitar Festival returns for a 4th year on March 5 to 7 — virtually, of course. It’s all part of the Westport-based organization’s mission to make international artists accessible to everyone — for free.

For a list of events, click here. For an overview of the entire festival and artists, click here.

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And finally … pioneering jazz pianist Chick Corea died Tuesday in Florida, of cancer. He was 79.

 

 

Roundup: Sidewalks, Masks, Climate Change, More

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It’s been 3 days since Sunday’s beautiful — but big — snowfall. Have you shoveled yet?

It’s the law!

The Department of Public Works reminds all commercial property owners that they are responsible for all snow and ice removal from the sidewalk within the town and/or state rights-of-way — for the total frontage of your property, and the entire width of the sidewalk.

You can be fined up to $90 — a day — for non-compliance.

And, reader Kristin Schneeman notes, homeowners are also responsible for clearing sidewalks in front of their properties.

Many are still inaccessible. So stop reading, and start shoveling.

Or get your kid to do it.

From 2016. Although you wouldn’t have know if I hadn’t told you (Photos/Tracy Yost)

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Looking for a family activity that is both fun (s’mores!), healthy (take a hike!) and educational (what kind of animal makes which kind of tracks?).

Earthplace’s “Family Campfire” on Sunday, February 21 (1 to 2:30 p.m.) sounds great. Each family is assigned its own picnic table (bring your own roasting sticks).

The cost is $25 for member families, $30 for non-members. To register, call 203-557-4400 weekdays, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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Westport Masks is scaling back. But — because everyone still needs to wear them (!!!!!!!!!) — volunteers will still be making them.

They’re no longer selling masks. But with plenty of supplies on hand, they’ll be donating them to people who cannot afford masks.

If you know of a community or charity desperate for masks — or if you can donate unused, good quality, pre-washed 100% cotton fabric — email westportmasksgiving@icloud.com. (Hat tip: Virginia Jaffe)

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Climate change is here. It’s real. So what can you do?

First, read David Pogue’s new book: “How to Prepare for Climate Change.”

Then, register for his virtual Westport Library on the topic (February 23, 7 p.m.).

Pogue — a local resident — will discuss all the basics: what to grow and eat, how to build and insure, where to invest, even where to consider relocating.

Pogue will also provide tips on managing your anxiety, and riding out the inevitable superstorms, wildfires, epidemics and tick bites.

Click here to register.

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Each year, Staples Tuition Grants awards over 100 need-based scholarships — worth up to $6,000 each — to high school seniors, and graduates already in college. Students can apply even if they did not apply or receive a grant in previous years.

It’s one of the best opportunities for college funding anywhere. But the deadline is near: March 7. Click here for more information, and to apply.

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And finally … Mary Wilson — a founding member of the Supremes and who sang on 10 of their 12 Number One hits — died on Monday in Nevada. She was 76.

Two days ago, she announced she’d be releasing new material soon. We’ll always remember her for songs like these:

Roundup: Christopher Plummer, Staples Players, Avi Kaner, More

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In 1987 — its bicentennial — Weston produced a history of the town.

Lots of communities do something similar.

But not many get to have theirs produced and narrated by one the most famous actors in the world.

This video — courtesy of Cristina Negrin — says all you need to know about the deep feeling Christopher Plummer had for his adopted hometown.

And Weston loved him right back.

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Due to snow, Staples Players’ 1st radio play of 2nd semester — the thriller “Sorry, Wrong Number,” broadcast live from the Black Box Theater — has been postponed. The new date is Wednesday, February 10 (7 p.m.).

The production will be streamed live (and free) at wwwptfm.org.

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Westporters know Avi Kaner as our former 2nd selectman and Board of Finance chair.

But he also co-owns Morton Williams, the noted New York City supermarket chain. It’s a 75-year-old family company, but it’s never faced a challenge like today’s pandemic and its many side effects.

The other day, Kaner spoke to NTD Business about the state of his business, and New York — including the flight to the suburbs. Click below for the fascinating interview.

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“06880 readers” can’t get enough of the “new” view of I-95 and the Beachside Avenue overpass, now that it’s been removed for reconstruction. Here’s one more shot:

(Photo/John Richers)

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This guy hung out at the Lansdowne condos yesterday. No telling what he’ll look like today.

(Photo/Lauri Weiser)

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Westport Town Clerk Patty Strauss retired in December. Last month, she and her husband Ed moved to North Carolina.

Yesterday, their Juniper Road was torn down. Real estate moves fast around here.

(Photo/Mark Mathias)

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Numerous fire trucks raced to Bayberry Lane this morning, to put out a fire at Belta’s farm.

The blaze was confined to an outbuilding, rented to tenants.

Belta’s farm, with fire apparatus on hand.

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And finally … Jim Weatherly died Wednesday near Nashville, of natural causes. He was 77.

He wrote hit songs for Ray Price, Glen Campbell, Kenny Rogers and many others. His biggest was originally called “Midnight Plane to Houston.” Gladys Knight and the Pips turned it into the much more memorable “Midnight Train to Georgia.”