NEW FAIRFIELD – At its October 25 regular meeting, the Board of Selectmen discussed the possibility of proposing the institution of an economic development committee to address the large number of empty storefronts in town. First Selectman Pat Del Monaco initiated the discussion, noting that all the surrounding towns currently have economic development committees to advocate for business growth.
Selectman Kim Hanson said he was skeptical that such an ordinance would result in more businesses coming to town. He said he felt that it was just adding more bureaucracy without having any demonstrable proof that a committee would bring businesses to town. He questioned that such committees were effective in other towns and asked how success would be judged. He was also concerned that a new committee would wind up being an added expense to the Town.
Ms. Del Monaco stated that an economic development committee would study demographics and determine what types of businesses might do well in town. It would also advocate for the town, and make sure that potential opportunities to attract businesses would not be overlooked.
Selectman Khris Hall expressed consternation with Mr. Hanson’s repeated references to increased bureaucracy, noting that this would not be a regulatory body. Rather, it would be a body that would market the town.
Mr. Hanson stated he would like to create a method to analyze the effectiveness of such a committee. He also felt strongly that any committee members should be elected rather than appointed, noting appointing individuals to the committee could lend itself to potential corruption. He also suggested, that if the Board were to proceed, they should consider building in a sunset clause that would phase the ordinance out after a set period unless a town vote was held to renew.
Both Ms. Del Monaco and Ms. Hall voiced concern with the large amount of empty space downtown and that an ordinance for an economic development committee was a reasonable step to address the issue. Ms. Del Monaco noted that this was an initial discussion and that the Board can have future discussions to potentially draft an ordinance.
The next item discussed was potential use of the 2017-2018 non-revenue budget surplus. The Board of Finance’s policy is that it could approve up to 100% of the surplus to be used by the Town, depending upon what the proposed use would be. The BOF also has the right to take up to 50% of the surplus and return it to the General Fund. The Town’s portion of the 2017-2018 non-revenue surplus is $280,285.18.
At its previous meeting, the Board had decided that it would send the dock replacement out to bid and it would inform the Board of Finance that it intended to earmark the surplus for replacement of one arm of the docks at the town marina and a truck for public works. The work on the docks would be pending an RFP and an agreement from Parks and Recreation to place future dock fee revenue into a fund dedicated to financing dock replacement.
Ms. Del Monaco reported that she had addressed the Board of Finance at its recent meeting and that the BOF had indicated that it would require an agreement from Parks and Recreation to earmark existing funds in its boat dock replacement fund.
She went on to state that she and Finance Director Ed Sbordone had met with four members of Parks and Recreation and they had agreed to set up a separate lock box fund that would be accessible only to the BOS and BOF to collect funds for the replacement of three of the arms of the docks. The replacement of the fourth would be financed by assorted Parks and Rec funds as well as a portion of the budget surplus.
The breakdown of funding was outlined by Ms. Del Monaco as follows:
In addition, Ms. Del Monaco indicated that if the plan was approved, there would be an increase of $200 in boat slip fees and $100 in jet ski slip fees. This fee increase, totaling $31,400, would go into the restricted lock box account as well as $44,000 of the $194,000 in fees currently generated by dock rental fees. In all, $75,400 would be placed in the lock box fund annually, which–according to Ms. Del Monaco–would amount to $829,000 in funds by the middle of June 2022. This would be used to fund the replacement of the remaining three docks and would fund future replacement needs in years to come.
Mr. Hanson indicated that he would want to have a written agreement in place with Parks and Recreation before moving forward with the proposal. Ms. Hall agreed that a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) would need to be drafted, but that she was confident that this would not be a problem.
Mr. Hanson said that he would be okay with approving the plan if there was an assurance from Parks and Recreation of a MoU. He was for waiting to move forward until the Board had received such assurance.
Despite this, a motion was made to transfer the total funds outlined above from Parks and Recreation totaling $209,869.56 and placing it in a dedicated Boat Dock Replacement Lock Box Fund. The motion was approved by a vote of 2 to 1, with Mr. Hanson voting against.
A motion was made to request 100% of the 2017-2018 non-revenue budget surplus from the BOF. If approved by the BOF, the matter would then go to a Town Meeting for a vote. The breakdown of the surplus allocation would be: $60,000 for a truck for Public Works, $195,862 for replacement of one arm of the docks at the Town Marina, and the remaining $24,912 to Fire Company Reserve. The Board approved bringing the proposal to the BOF by a vote of 2 to 1, with Mr. Hanson voting against.
The Board then voted to issue a warning of a Town Meeting on Thursday, November 8 at 7:00pm to vote on the transfer of property at Elwell Road from the Town to the Candlewood Valley Land Trust.
The final matter discussed was the draft of the proposed blight ordinance. Ms. Del Monaco had made updates to the draft based on feedback received from a public hearing held earlier in the week.
Many of the changes suggested by the public were incorporated into the draft including the deletion of the Director of Social Services from a Blight Prevention Board and the addition of a private citizen appointed by the First Selectman to the proposed board. The current Director of Social Services had advised Ms. Del Monaco that she did not feel she should be a formal part of the board.
Other changes made were the revision of the exemption of working farms to farms. The only requirement would now be that the farm would have to have a current agricultural sales tax exemption permit from the CT Department of revenue Services. The draft was also updated to include notification of the owner/occupant prior to the start of an investigation, and the 10% missing siding threshold was changed to 25%.
The Board agreed that the changes were acceptable. The draft will now go to the Town Attorney for review. If changes were acceptable to the attorney, then a second public hearing would be held to discuss the updated draft.
The next regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen is scheduled for Thursday, November 8 at 7:30pm in the Community Center.
By Greg Slomba