Tag Archives: Board of Finance

Evan Barr: Save Our Commuter Bus Routes!

Tomorrow (Wednesday, April 11, 8 p.m., Town Hall), the Board of Finance votes on restoration of $113,000 to the $248,000 budget for the Westport Transit District.

Cuts were made last year. Ridership went down. Now, with ridership down, further cuts are proposed.

Westport resident, lawyer and commuter Evan Barr is not pleased. He makes these points:

The per-rider cost of $4527.63 sounds like a lot of money. But public transit is not about profit. It’s a public service that almost always must be significantly subsidized.  It should not have to “pay for itself.”

The town should consider the consequence of eliminating bus service. Some people will have to buy a second car, and pay to park it, operate it, insure it.  Families with only 1 car will have to arrange their schedules around station drop-offs and pick-ups.

A Westport transit bus makes a pickup at Saugatuck station.

Nearly everyone in Westport says they favor green initiatives. This no-brainer opportunity to reduce traffic and air pollution, at a relatively minor cost of $114,000 (out of an overall town budge of $74 million) gets voted down – even though the town plan adopted a few years ago advocates increasing routes and enhancing ridership.

We have relatively inexpensive parking costs at the Saugatuck lot, compared to others in the region, so we encourage people to drive to the station. Maybe, as one former RTM member said, we should increase cost of parking in the Saugatuck lot to subsidize the bus system.

Meanwhile, camaraderie exists among shuttle bus riders. It gives folks who live in the same part of town a chance to talk with their neighbors — which never happens in separate vehicles.

The Norwalk Transit District operates Westport's commuter buses.

Virtually everyone I spoke to who uses the bus said they would happily pay a higher fare if that would help reduce the deficit and save the system. Most said they would pay twice the current $1.50. Norwalk Transit has apparently been inflexible in refusing to explore this possibility. If necessary, Westport should hire a consultant and find another vendor to provide the service.

After cutbacks — resulting from budget cuts — the one route left (Imperial) is basically useless. Most people would have to drive to the lot to take the bus. Once  in your car, you’re probably inclined to just drive down to the station. Keeping Imperial is of symbolic value only.

If the system goes under, it’s unlikely we can reconstitute another any time soon.  If the budget cut goes through we also walk away from $400,000 in state subsidy. Good luck getting those funds back.

The current system is far from perfect. But it’s far better to tinker with it than to scrap it entirely.

Board Of Ed Chairman Says “Thank You”

Last night, the Board of Finance unanimously approved the Board of Education’s proposed 2012-13 budget.

The figure — praised by Finance members on both sides of the aisle — is $100.2 million. That’s a 2.17% percent increase over the current budget.

Tonight, Board of Education chairman Don O’Day issued this statement:

I want to sincerely thank the school community for their tremendous level of support on Thursday night. If you were unable to make it, trust me when I say that Town Hall was packed. The strong message from kids, teachers, parents, and administrators in attendance was unanimous: Westport’s schools are a priority, and should be funded. Like no other year I can remember, the Avi Kaner-led Board of Finance heartily agreed.

I want to especially thank Janis Collins, who was the first to say that she supported the 2012-13 school budget and would vote to approve it without a reduction. Janis recognized the school administration and the BOE for producing a lean and thoughtful budget. Her sincere recognition was much appreciated after months of hard work and difficult choices by the school administration and the Board of Education.

The Board of Finance approved the BOE’s 2012-13 school budget without cuts. The approval followed a commitment that I made, on behalf of the BOE, to review, with the administration and my BOE colleagues, different ways to lower class sizes without increasing the 2012-13 budget.  We will re-double our efforts to explore that goal for the elementary schools, as well as the middles schools and Staples. Tom Lasersohn deserves recognition for passionately speaking about the benefits of lower class sizes.

The results may not be exactly what everyone wants, but I do know this: Because of the willingness of the Board of Finance and the Board of Education to work together, we are all in a better place for our kids.

Thanks again to all of my fellow Westporters, for your support of our schools.

The Day After

The voters have spoken.  At least, the 1 in 3 Westporters who turned out to cast ballots have.

The Planning and Zoning Commission has been overturned.  An unlikely cross-endorsement of 4 Republicans by Save Westport Now — which, according to Republican Town Committee chairman Bob Zappi is “99% Democratic”– resulted in the election of all 4 candidates:  Catherine Walsh, Chip Stephens, Al Gratrix and Jack Whittle.

The Board of Finance swings to Republican control too, with the addition of Mike Rea and John Pincavage, plus incumbent Tom Lasersohn.  Democrat Janis Collins is in, but incumbent Ken Wirfel is out.

The Board of Education remains in Democratic hands.  Democrat Michael Gordon joins incumbent Mark Mathias.  Also elected is Republican Jennifer Tooker; missing the cut is Jeanie Smith.

What does this all mean for Westport?  Click “Comments.”  Please keep all insights civil.  Try to stay on-topic, and avoid personal attacks.

We’re all still Westporters — and all in this together!

(Graphic courtesy of League of Women Voters)