Main Street sidewalks go to a referendum
Updated 6:20 pm, Wednesday, April 6, 2011
The New Canaan Citizens for Responsible Spending successfully petitioned a referendum regarding the $4 million bond being used for new sidewalks.
More than 900 signatures were given to the Town Clerk's office on Friday, April 1. Out of 901 signatures, 149 signatures were rejected leaving a total of 752 approved, According to Town Clerk Claudia Weber. Those signatures were rejected due to residents either signing twice or not being registered voters in New Canaan.
"The group has more than achieved the number required (627) to call for a referendum," Weber said in a press release. "I would like to thank the Registrar of Voters and their staff for graciously accepting my request for their assistance and for working over the weekend with the daunting task of reviewing and verifying the petition signatures. The Town Council chairman will be notified of these results today, and the Town Council will set the date of the referendum. The referendum must be held not later than May 1 in accordance with our Town's Charter."
The notice of intent was originally filed on March 10 in the Town Clerk's office. The CRS had to collect at least 627 signatures, 5 percent of the registered voting population in New Canaan, by no later than April 2.
More InformationFact box
In terms of costs for the referendum itself, Weber estimated the figure to be approximately $10,000.
"It is a shame that $10,000 that could have been used towards sidewalks, or anything else, is going to be spent printing ballots and counting votes. Add delays in paving and rising costs, and tens of thousands of dollars are being wasted to stick it to the Town Council over a confusing bond referendum," Mary Flaherty, a supporter of Main Street sidewalks, said. "However, New Canaan is a caring community and I am confident that voters are willing to invest the cost of a cup of cappuccino to make our kids and seniors safe. They will vote `no' on the referendum."
For Karen Mackle, chairman of the CRS, the issue stems from the original $4 million bond approved by the Town Council for paving town roads. Proponents of the sidewalks want to use part of the $4 million to construct new sidewalks, but the CRS believes the bond money should only be relegated to repaving and maintaining roads as well maintaining existing sidewalks.
If a referendum were to overturn the $4 million bond, it would effectively halt the paving project until the Board of Finance develops a new bond that specifies spending that money only on paving and maintenance, as opposed to sidewalks and other infrastructure initiatives.
"Unfortunately, a couple of years ago language was added to the allowable Use of Proceeds section of the bond text which permitted the funds to be used for new infrastructure projects," Mackle said. "That effectively turned the Roads Bond into a slush fund for pet projects, with minimal oversight."
Two week ago, Mackle said the CRS only wanted to go to a referendum as a last resort. It seems they believe they had no other options left.
"This referendum will give the voters of New Canaan a voice in the process. Now they will have a chance to tell our elected officials `Yes, we want the $4 million Road Bond money spent on paving roads,' or `No, we're content to let that money be diverted for other projects.' Given the state of our roads, we believe the taxpayers of New Canaan want their roads fixed first," she said.
Still, Mackle stressed this push for the referendum was not about being against sidewalks but an effort to understand costs and spending.
"We are all pro sidewalks. I have young kids and we walk into town all the time. We do not use Main Street, but sidewalks, I think, are part of long-range planning. We need to know the costs and all the ramifications," Mackle said. "We are in dire need of responsible spending."
The Town Council was expected to decide on a date for the referendum at Thursday night's meeting, after this story went to press. Visit www.newcanaannewsonline.com for the date of the referendum.