At its November 8 regular meeting, the BOS reviewed a draft of an ordinance to institute an economic development commission to address the large number of empty storefronts in town. The Board also heard a presentation on a proposed walking/biking trail between Rte 37 and Marjorie Reservoir. In addition, more discussion was had on the draft of the proposed blight ordinance, including a potential date to bring it to a town vote.
Recreational Trails Grant
Selectman Khris Hall noted that with the help of Peter Hearn and Dr. Peter Rostenberg, she had made a Recreational Trails Grant proposal to the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to fund a trail that would run along Marjorie Reservoir & Route 37 from New Fairfield to Bear Mountain Preserve in Danbury. She noted that this was an initiative that was begun several years ago by Susan Chapman when she was First Selectman in New Fairfield. Ms. Hall stated that this is something that residents have been asking for for a while.
Peter Hearn followed with a presentation on the proposed project. He noted that the grant would be used for an engineering study to develop a trail. He said that eventually, the trail could link to other walkways, both existing and proposed, in Danbury. He noted that an earlier grant secured by the previous BOS would be used as seed money as well as the current grant application, if approved.
Ms. Hall noted that the grant proposal was submitted October 31 and that she was hopeful, but there was a lot of competition for funds. She said that this was one step along the way, but that there was still a long way to go, and that there were still many hurdles to overcome.
Economic Development Commission
In discussing the draft of the economic development commission ordinance, First Selectman Pat Del Monaco noted that it outlined a framework of four members, each serving two-year terms. Selectman Khris Hall stated that the terms should be staggered so that terms for two members should expire each year. This, she noted, would keep some measure of continuity rather than having the possibility of 100% turnover every two years.
Ms. Hall also stated that it would be important for the commission to have some concrete deliverables written into the ordinance. She noted that the draft would require the commission to draft an annual report of its activities and recommendations to the Board of Selectmen. She wanted to list specific items on which the commission would have to report. She also said that the section stating that the commission would draft an economic development plan and update it every five years should be changed to require the plan to be updated every three years.
Ms. Del Monaco noted that she had posted the draft on the Town’s Facebook page and that she had received feedback from individuals with various business, marketing and real estate backgrounds expressing interest in being part of the commission.
Selectman Kim Hanson restated his opposition to the plan, saying it was an unnecessary expansion of government. He asked what the budget for such a commission would be. Ms. Del Monaco stated that state statute allowed for up to $5,000. Mr. Hanson and Ms. Hall felt that would not be enough. Ms. Del Monaco agreed.
Mr. Hanson was skeptical that such an ordinance would result in more businesses coming to town. He said he felt that the deliverables outlined in the draft were not robust enough determine if the commission would be accomplishing anything. Ms. Del Monaco disagreed, saying that the time was past to “throw up our hands and say there is nothing we can do”.
Mr. Hanson held to his view that the plan 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.
Ms. Del Monaco stated that she would like to wait to further pursue the matter until after the proposed blight ordinance was settled.
Non-Revenue Budget Surplus
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.
Previously, 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 & Recreation to place future dock fee revenue into a fund dedicated to financing dock replacement.
Ms. Del Monaco stated that she and Parks & Recreation had drafted a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to set up an agreement that funds from boat dock fees would be placed in a lockbox fund to pay for the replacement of the remaining arms of the docks. Access to the funds would require the approval of the BOS and the Board of Finance.
Mr. Hanson questioned why BOF approval was needed. Ms. Del Monaco replied that in the past, funds had been removed from the account by the BOS for other purposes and adding BOF approval as a requirement would add another layer to checks and balances.
Ms. Del Monaco also noted that Park & Recreation had asked that the BOS set the dock fees every year. After additional discussion, the Board approved the draft of the MoU and approved a $250 increase in boat dock fees for the coming season and a $100 increase in jet ski dock fees.
Blight Ordinance Draft
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 the second public hearing held the day before.
The Board incorporated many of the changes suggested by the public, including the removal of the phrase “preserve and maintain the beauty of neighborhoods” from the purpose section of the draft. Other changes made were a change in language to “more than one motor vehicle that is inoperable” rather than abandoned as previously stated. After discussion this was further amended to vehicles inoperable for more than 120 days. The other item that was changed was the addition of a 120-day grace period for debris left on empty or building lots.
The point was raised again by Mr. Hanson about the makeup of the proposed blight prevention board. He restated his opinion that it should be comprised of citizens rather than town officials and one citizen. He felt the proposed makeup would compromise the impartiality of the board, noting that the people ruling on whether there was a blight violation would be the same ones investigating potential violations. Mr. Del Monaco and Ms. Hall were of the opposite opinion–stating their belief that Town officials would be more impartial than members of the general public who might be influenced by friends or neighbors in town.
The Board voted on the draft as updated. It approved the draft by a 2 to 1 vote, with Mr. Hanson voting against. He noted that he was fine with the draft other than the makeup of the Blight Prevention Board, and because of that could not vote for it. The Board agreed to set a special BOS meeting for November 20 to set a date for a Town Meeting to set a date for a machine vote. The Town Meeting date mentioned was November 29 with a potential machine vote date of Saturday, December 8 from 10:00am-8:00pm.
By Greg Slomba