First selectman addresses town, state topics
Roads, the old senior center property, and current construction projects in Darien were among topics addressed by First Selectman Jayme Stevenson at the June 19 Commission on Aging meeting.
Darien has had a lot of water main work done in town and Eversource is almost finished with a gas main expansion project, according to Stevenson.
“We let the trenches sit for about 18 months so that folks can connect and the trenches can settle, and then we’re going to come back and repave all of those roadways,” she said. “This year, we will be repaving about four miles of roads, and next year it will be well over five miles that we’ll be fixing.”
Darien is in the process of design development for a new Noroton Heights train station and the access points to that train station, according to Stevenson.
In addition, the Noroton Heights area “has been plagued by significant flooding over the last ten years or so,” Stevenson said.
Federal Realty, as part of its development, is doing substantial drainage work. In conjunction with that, the town of Darien is working on a drainage project in the commuter parking lot near The Depot.
Old senior center property, police chief resigns
Some ideas that have come forward on how best to use the old senior center property include a town swimming pool, open space parkland, and a high quality day care, according to Stevenson.
Police Chief Ray Osborne has given his resignation and the Police Commission is in the process of promoting and hiring new leadership.
Ox Ridge project
At the last RTM meeting, $600,000 was approved to install some parking lots and a walking trail at Highland Farm, which is the 16 acres of land the town bought from the Ox Ridge Hunt Club.
“In our agreement to purchase the land, we gave the right to the Hunt Club to use our property every year for the horse show. Because we’ve had a lot of wet weather, it’s kind of a mud pit,” Stevenson said. “It will be important to put some permeable asphalt down so people can drive into the property and park.”
There will be a half-mile-long walking trail that will be able to accommodate people in wheelchairs. It will be the first ADA compliant walking trail in the town of Darien, according to Stevenson.
Weed Beach project
The Parks and Recreation Department, the Darien Athletic Foundation, and the Darien Foundation have collaborated on a project at Weed Beach to connect a trail system through the Weed Beach property. This includes a boardwalk along the sand, which would create a walking, biking, and rollerblading amenity.
Plastic bag ordinance
The RTM approved an ordinance that will ban the use of single-use plastic bags and put a 10-cent fee on paper bags. The purpose of this ban is to encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable bags when shopping. The ordinance exempts small businesses from charging the fee.
Cross country running path
A gift from the Darien Athletic Foundation was approved to install a cross country runing trail around the Darien High School campus and through the Diller property.
Nothing has ever been done with this area in the past because parts of it are in wetlands, according to Stevenson. “The cross country trail will be available for the general public to walk through it now.”
Pear Tree Point Beach
The Pear Tree Point Beach Building Committee is working on the upgrades to the beach.
According to Stevenson, “If you spend over a very small threshold of money, FEMA requires that that facility become FEMA compliant.” This means that “you have to lift it somewhere between 15 and 17 feet off the ground.”
Ox Ridge Elementary School
A building committee is undertaking rebuilding the Ox Ridge Elementary School. It was determined that a renovation of the existing school is not appropriate. That school was built in the 1960s, “so it’s very, very inefficient from an energy systems perspective,” Stevenson said.
This project will be taking place over the next two or three years. The RTM approved an appropriation of up to $63 million to reconstruct the school.
Issues that pertain to the state of Connecticut were also discussed by Stevenson. This includes the state budget, which was just approved at $43 billion.
“It’s a 4.4 percent increase. It’s a two-year budget,” Stevenson said. “For the town of Darien, state funding levels for schools and education cost sharing are flat over last year.”
Over the past few years, there has been a significant decrease in funding to the town from the state, according to Stevenson. “But at least this year, we’re going to be stable,” she said.
Taxes, minimum wage
There was no increase in the income tax. However, there’s been an expansion of the sales tax, “not the rate itself, but the number of things that are covered in the sales tax,” Stevenson said.
Items including digital downloads, dry cleaning, prepared foods, and paid parking, will now be taxed.
An increase in the minimum wage was approved, so by 2023, the minimum wage will be $15. It goes up to $11 this year.
Paid family medical leave
The state has adopted a paid family medical leave plan that requires all businesses with one or more employees to participate.
This will be funded by half a percent of a payroll reduction from all employees that is paid into a fund, according to Stevenson. This will allow family members to take up to 12 weeks of paid family medical leave for circumstances such as taking care of sick family members and becoming a parent.
According to Stevenson, there’s a good likelihood that a plan for electronic tolling will be approved. This will be a funding source to help fix roads and bridges.
According to Stevenson, “the idea is to try and capitalize on the drivers that are passing through the state of Connecticut and causing wear and tear on our roadways.”
Gantries will be set up on four roadways: I-95, the Merritt Parkway, I-84 and I-91.
“Very good shape”
Overall, Stevenson said the town is in “very, very good shape.”
“The Board of Finance and our finance department did a great job of paying down any debt that we have in a pretty aggressive schedule,” she said.