Town leaders provide updates
Town government leaders gave an overall positive and upbeat view of Darien at “Community Matters,” the annual town officials’ program March 28 at the Darien Library. At the 90-minute event, each of the speakers discussed the work of their respective boards and shared their views on important issues facing Darien.
The free event was hosted by the League of Women Voters of Darien.
Board of Selectmen
The Board of Selectmen’s proposed budget for 2019-20 is “very service neutral,” according to First Selectman Jayme Stevenson.
“We didn’t make any programmatic additions, nor did we cut any programs from the Board of Selectmen’s and the town’s plate of services,” she said.
There are two exceptions to this, she said. One is the request for an additional laborer in the parks and recreation department “to offset the increased workload,” Stevenson said. “We have Highland Farms and we’re improving the Short Lane property. We might be doing some improvements to the Diller property near the Darien High School.”
"In addition, the Board of Selectmen has requested its continued hiring of civilian dispatchers at the police department.
“Civilian, professional telecommunicators provide a better level of dispatch service, and it’s a much better use of our sworn officer time to be out on the road patrolling and doing law enforcement rather than sitting at the communications desk,” Stevenson said.
She added that hiring three civilian dispatchers would allow for a “redeployment” of sworn officer staff to provide a school resource officer, or SRO, at Middlesex Middle School, and a dedicated narcotics officer.
In regard to the town’s new blight ordinance, Stevenson said the town “might be coming back to the RTM to make some modifications of [the ordinance] so that we can streamline it and really get to the meat of how we can help some of these property owners improve their properties in a quicker time frame.”
On pedestrian safety, there is an initiative called Sustainable Darien, where the town is seeking certification to be a sustainable community. One project is new street lights on Noroton Avenue.
Regarding transportation, the town is working on “noise abatement” from the trains on the New Canaan branch line, said Stevenson, adding there is new technology available called Wayside Horn for which she wants to find more information from town representatives.
Board of Education
Board of Education Chairman Tara Ochman said, “we are at a 2 percent increase in our budget, which is our lowest increase over six years.”
This year, the board is requesting the addition of a psychologist at each of its elementary schools. “We are finding an increased need for a psychologist to deliver some of the needs we are feeling are very pressing in the schools,” Ochman said.
The board is in the middle of a superintendent search and currently has an interim in the position, Dr. Elliot Landon. “We are very excited about the level of candidates we have applying,” Ochman said.
Board of Finance
The budget proposals as submitted to the Board of Finance project a mill rate increase of 4.29 percent. But reductions, including lower than expected health insurance costs of about $569,000, would lower the mill rate increase to 3.86 percent. “It’s nice to see the budget under 4 percent this year,” said Board of Finance Chairman, Jon Zagrodzky, “especially given last year’s flat budget.”
The 2018 grand list is down about $100 million from 2017, he added.
“We recently approved a bonding resolution of about $4.2 million dollars,” he said.
He said that the town is “continuing to maintain our Aaa credit rating.”
In regard to the long term, Zagrodzky said the town has a lot of “debt capacity.”
“By paying our debt down, we’ve got the debt capacity we need to use to put (Ox Ridge Elementary School) in place and still be at a prudent debt level,” he said. “We are also a well-managed town. Over a very long time, we’ve been very careful with stuff that really matters.”
Several years ago, Darien completed the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development. “We are trying to make this more user-friendly,” said Steven Olvaney, vice chairman of the Planning & Zoning Commission.
In regard to town improvement projects, he said he is looking forward to the town enjoying the use of both Highland Farms and Pear Tree Point Beach, after the upgrades are made.
Regarding schools, Planning & Zoning approved the new Fitch Academy.
In terms of transportation, the Noroton Heights train station platforms are redone. Also, a new bridge in town has been approved that connects Darien and Stamford.
Additional projects in town include Corbin Drive, the Federal Project, and the Palmer’s supermarket center.
“One of the most active parts of town right now is the east side,” Olvaney said. “There is an office park that’s under construction. It’s about 120,000 square feet.” He added that this office park will probably create a lot of new jobs.
In the middle of town, there are assisted living units that are expected to increase the possibility for people to live and stay in town, Olvaney added.
In addition, at the end of East Lane, there is a special needs house that’s going in, according to Olvaney.
Representative Town Meeting
Seth Morton, moderator of the Representative Town Meeting, spoke about the function of the RTM. He said that anything that goes on in Darien that requires spending money in town, goes through the RTM for consideration before getting approval.
There are 100 members of the RTM in total.
“The most important thing that the Representative Town Meeting does is work on the town budget through the committee structure and then ultimately put it on the floor and pass the budget every year in May,” Morton said.
The RTM also passes and updates ordinances and approves contracts.
Town leaders said they encourage residents to contact them if they have any questions or concerns about town issues.