Tag Archives: Representative Town Meeting

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.

Roundup: Leaf Blowers, Paper Source, Cable Monopoly …

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Leaf blowers — those must-have yet most-hated suburban scourges — are the subject of a proposed Representative Town Meeting regulation.

The RTM Ordinance Committee meets March 25 (7:30 p.m., conference call). They’ll discuss these rules:

  • Summer (May 16-October 14): Gas-powered leaf blowers not permitted; electric/battery-powered leaf blowers allowed.
  • Fall cleanups (October 15-November 30): Gas- and electric/battery-powered blowers allowed.
  • Winter (December 1-March 31): Gas-powered blowers not permitted; electric/battery-powered blowers allowed.
  • Spring cleanups (April 1-May 15): Gas- and electric/battery-powered blowers allowed.

In addition:

  • No leaf blower of any kind may be used before 9 a.m. or after 5 p.m.
  • No more than 1 leaf blower (regardless of power source) may be used simultaneously on any site less than 2 acres in size.
  • No gas-powered leaf blower may be used on any state or federal holiday.
  • Exceptions: If the 1st Selectman declares an emergency, then gas-powered leaf blowers and/or electric/battery-powered leaf blowers may be used as necessary.

Fines (property owner is responsible):

  • $100 for 1st offense (after a warning)
  • $200 for 2nd offense
  • $500 250 for third or subsequent offense.

The public can call in to the meeting: 646-876 9923. The meeting ID is 850 4769 6393. The passcode is 788806.

 

 

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Paper Source — the Chicago-based stationery store chain — closed 11 stores in the past year.

The downtown Westport shop — between Bank of America and Barnes & Noble — remains open.

It is corporate owned. A recent story on the Well-Appointed Desk blog notes that headquarters “bought a bunch of product from small makers, declared bankruptcy so they would not have to pay the bills, then sell it in the stores for 100% profit.”

It’s great to shop local. But caveat emptor: Supporting this Westport business may mean complicating situations with its corporate owner. (Click here for the full story.)

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The weather’s nice. Time to get the kids moving!

The Joggers Club has opened a group for youngsters. Led by experienced runners, the focus is on form, endurance and fun.

It “runs” Sundays, 2 to 3:15 p.m., April 4 to May 2 at the Staples High School track.

Space is limited to 20 children, grades 3 to 8. The cost is $50 per child.

The Venmo account is “TheJoggersClub-Westport.” Questions? Email thejoggersclub@gmail.com.

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This evening Wednesday, March 10, 6:45 p.m.), Congressman Jim Himes hosts a “telephone town hall.” He’ll discuss the American Rescue Plan. Audience members can ask questions during the call. Click here for the link.

Congressman Jim Himes, at Bedford Middle School.

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Looking for another COVID test center?

There’s an under-the-radar spot right under our noses. Yale New Haven Health operates a drive-through operation at 140 Mill Plain Road in Fairfield, just off I-95 Exit 21.

Hours are by appointment only. Click here for more information, or call 833-275-9644. (Hat tip: Carol Waxman)

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Westport’s MaryGrace Gudis is one of 4 new members of Norwalk Hospital’s board of directors.

Director of the Norwalk Hospital Foundation Board since 2011, she has spent more than 1,000 hours researching and compiling the hospital’s history.

Active at Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, MaryGrace is also involved in initiatives providing college educational assistance to disadvantaged students.

The Southern Methodist University graduate has held senior communications positions in the financial industry, including director of public information and senior liaison to the board of directors at the Federal Reserve Bank. Her husband Mark is on the board of directors for Nuvance Health, Norwalk Hospital’s parent company.

MaryGrace Gudis

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Last month, “06880” reported that the Tristate Coalition for Fair Internet Service is working on legal challenges to Optimum/Altice through the New York State Attorney General’s office, and promoting alternate providers. They’re also collecting data on customer experiences with the longtime cable service.

That survey data was lost when Google disabled the account without the group’s knowledge. They’re appealing. Meanwhile, they created a new survey.

They ask people to complete the Optimum/Altice survey, even if it was already done before. Click here for the link.

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The Webb Road goose is ready for every holiday. Next up: St. Patrick’s Day!

(Photo/MaryLou Roels)

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And finally … exactly one year ago today, COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

You know: WHO.

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)

 

RTM January Meeting: Code Of Conduct Committee, Police Review Board

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

No votes were taken at January’s RTM meeting, which saw the announcement of a new special RTM committee, the first reading of an ordinance to establish a civilian police review board, and the announcement of a new town clerk to replace the retiring Patty Strauss.

While RTM rules already require RTM members to conduct themselves in a manner above reproach, Velma Heller, RTM moderator, noted that the start of a new year is a timely occasion to take a step back and review RTM practices. She appointed a special committee of 7 RTM members to see if there is room for improvement, and to clarify expectations regarding conduct at public meetings and in written communications.

The committee is charged with developing a Code of Conduct that articulates desired behaviors that embody the RTM’s values and principles as an organization. The Code of Conduct will cover topics such as Freedom of Information Act issues, the general use of email and social media, and commonly accepted standards of decorum for participation in public discourse, whether in person or on line.

A proposed ordinance was introduced to establish an elected civilian police review board. It would receive, investigate and make recommendations on complains regarding the police. The ultimate decision on any complaint will remain with the chief of police.

Click here for the full text of the proposed ordinance (immediately following the list of upcoming RTM meetings).

The proposed ordinance will be reviewed at upcoming public meetings of the RTM Public Protection and Ordinance Committees. It will be debated and voted on at a subsequent RTM meeting, most likely in February or March.

If the proposed ordinance is adopted, the elected civilian police review board would replace the civilian review panel recently appointed by First Selectman Marpe. That panel reviews and provides feedback on documented complaints regarding the police that are investigated by the Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards. Unlike the proposed ordinance’s review board, it can not investigate complaints. Also unlike the proposed ordinance’s review board, Marpe’s panel also reviews complaints regarding the Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services.

Marpe also announced that Jeff Dunkerton, the assistant town clerk in Danbury, will replace Patty Strauss who recently retired as Westport’s town clerk.

RTM Approves Local Tax Deferment Program

Last night, the RTM approved 1st Selectman Jim Marpe’s tax relief deferment program.

The program — worked out with the help of a number of town officials — acts as an extended grace period on tax payments for Westport taxpayers suffering financial hardship due to COVID-19.

Eligible taxpayers can utilize the program for their April and July tax bills on real estate, personal property, motor vehicles and sewer assessments.

Payments made any time within 3 months from each bill’s due date will not incur interest charges or penalties.

Applications for the deferment program must include one of these hardships:

  • Household has suffered a reduction in income of at least 20 percent due to COVID-19.
  • Business or nonprofit revenue from March, 2020 to June, 2020 is expected to be reduced by at least 30 percent compared to the same time last year.
  • For landlords: Income is significantly reduced.

The tax deferment program does not forgive tax payments. Late penalties will apply retroactively, at 18% annually or 1.5% per month.

Applicants must submit documentation. Deadlines are May 22 for April 1 taxes, and July 1 for July 1 taxes. Click here for the form, and other information.

Because Town Hall is closed to the public, residents with questions should call 203-341-1147 or email TaxRelief@WestportCT.Gov.

NOTE: Banks and mortgage services that hold tax payments in escrow must continue to pay the town when the taxes are due, even if the homeowner participates in a moratorium on mortgage payments.