Opinion / Tom O'Dea, Town Council - Vote 'no' Wednesday
The Town Council has had numerous meetings and public hearings concerning the Main Street sidewalks. Over the last few years, new sidewalks have been installed on numerous roads including around Mill Pond and along South Avenue without any objection.
Since about the mid 1990s, we have had only two referendums, one which prevented the building of a multi-million dollar school administration building next to the high school at Waveny and the other approved the purchase of Irwin Park for $25 million.
In our Plan of Conservation and Development done in 2003, sidewalk extensions were recommended as one of the highest priorities on routes to town, along arterial roads and near schools and parks. Main Street satisfies not just one but all of those guidelines. The 2007 Downtown Strategic Plan also recommended improved pedestrian access to downtown. Sidewalks help increase pedestrian traffic and reduce the number of vehicles driving to town.
Extending the sidewalk down the rest of Main Street to Farm Road connects the cemetery and makes a loop of sidewalks from downtown along all of Main to Farm and up to South, around our most densely populated section of town, all within a mile of our three largest schools -- South, Saxe and the high school. The loop would allow children and seniors all around Main to walk to the library, the train station, Waveny and the YMCA.
So why are we having only our third referendum in more than 15 years over the $400,000 extension of the Main Street sidewalk from Church to Farm Road? Is our financial condition worse now than in the last few years? The answer is absolutely not. Unlike most municipalities, the Town of New Canaan has a AAA Bond Rating. Between 1999 and 2009, the budget increases were between 5.73 percent and 9.1 percent. Over the last few years the increases have averaged below 2 percent. Over the last four years our debt has been reduced by more than $10 million. Even with our conservative fiscal policies and reduction of our debt, we continue to enjoy the top-rated school system in the state and the third-ranked school system in the entire United States. I would compare our fiscal record with any municipality in the country.
If the referendum is successful, the roads will not be paved more quickly -- the opposite will happen. The question of funding of roads and sidewalks will go back to the Board of Finance and then to the Town Council. It will take at least an additional month or two before any road work will begin at a higher cost than what we can do it for now. If the referendum fails (if you vote "no"), although the roadwork will begin immediately, work on the Main Street sidewalks will not begin until the Town Council further reviews the proposed sidewalk work and conducts another public hearing on the subject to get additional public input.
So the question you have to answer in this referendum is: Do you believe the Town Council made a mistake in approving the $4 million for roads and potentially sidewalks? If your answer is yes, is it really over saving $400,000 so that less than a mile of additional road work might be done sometime in the fall? Did you have a problem spending more money on the other new sidewalks around town over the last few years? If you answered "yes" to both of the aforementioned questions, and don't mind the delay in getting the road work started and think the higher cost for the same work is worth it, than we can respectfully agree to disagree. If your answer is "no" to one of those questions, I would ask that you vote "no" on Tuesday, April 27.
The referendum will be held Wednesday, April 27, from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. at New Canaan High School.