Some Darien finance board members ‘torn’ on $103 million Great Island purchase

DARIEN — The town’s finance board has given its support to acquiring Great Island with members voting 6-1 to approve the $103 million property — along with extensively discussing how, exactly, the town will foot the bill.

While members cautioned full financing plans are not yet finalized, the board ran through several scenarios during a June 15 special meeting before voting on the acquisition.

Members James Palen, Dan Bumgardner, Taylor Carter, Robert Cardone, Paul Hendrickson and John Wolcott voted in favor of purchasing the property.

Member David Martin was the lone dissenting vote.

The town will likely fund the purchase through municipal bonding. Palen, chair of the finance board, said that instead of immediately resorting to long-term debt via a 30-year bond, the town is leaning toward putting bond anticipation notes in place. Bond anticipation notes are smaller, short-term bonds issued by government entities that generate funds for upcoming projects, according to Investopedia.

By issuing a single, short-term bond, the town would have flexibility to figure out financing while officials and residents determine how they want to use the property over the course of the next year, Palen said.

Residents likely won’t see the purchase reflected in their taxes next year, either.

Officials don’t yet know whether the town’s AAA bond rating will be threatened by the property’s acquisition, Mark Chapman, a managing director with Munistat Services, a municipal financial advisory service, said.

Martin said he remained unconvinced that the town would be able to keep its triple AAA rating and that the purchase posed too many questions for him to vote yes.

“When we do approvals for operating budgets and capital spending in town, we question everything and we don't approve things that don’t have answers,” Martin said. “So approving a purchase of this magnitude with so many uncertainties is a very difficult ask if you're evaluating purely on a financial basis.”

Carter she did not like the timing of the purchase, noting that the economy is in an uncertain place right now, but that she would still support it.

“I'm torn,” Carter said. “Hopefully, things will be tough for a little while but then get better and we'll all look back and be happy that we held our nose going into this — because I do not like it but I will support it.”

In his statement, Bumgardner said other town officials are convinced that developers have substantial interest in the property and would convert the land into 20 or more waterfront homes.

The opportunity to purchase the property is one in a lifetime, he said — a sentiment echoed by many other members during their final vote.

“Some residents are concerned that their taxes (are) going up for a plot of land ... I respect those concerns,” Bumgardner said. “But I believe we are here to serve not only our current taxpayers but our future ones.”