Chairman’s View: ‘Not to eliminate buildings, but to eliminate expense’

In the fourth week of a federal government shutdown, it’s a good time to reflect on the state of Connecticut and town government. There is cause for optimism.
Newly elected State Sen. Alex Bergstein announced the State is pursuing a policy of “shared risk.” I asked “Shared between whom?” because last year’s plan was to add a $4 million burden onto New Canaan.  The senator clarified she meant shared between the union workers and the State. If Gov. Ned Lamont agrees and the renegotiation and restructuring is finally underway, then this is great news.
Our grand list went down 7%: First Selectman Kevin Moynihan says he can bring in a town budget growing 0% to 1%. Is this because of a 1-year anomaly in the debt service? Does this assume only 5% rise in health care costs? Or, are we making the hard choices? It should be 0%. 
The Brick Barn: A relatively minor building in our portfolio, it has taken on outsized proportions for our citizens. We cannot ignore the fact that Town Council and two selectmen demanded to see alternatives to demolition. We owe it to the electorate to explain why we must spend $65,000 on demolition when the New Canaan Preservation Alliance says it is fully funded and ready to restore now at no cost to the town. The Board of Selectmen is at a stalemate until the first selectman convinces his fellow selectmen or they convince him. If a stalemate then the demo money is returned.
The Police Station: It feels reckless of us to talk about a new $16 million to $20 million police station between Saxe and the YMCA when there is only $7.8 million in our capital budget. And, that is the absolute worst location. Where is the money coming from? What other locations are being considered? Will this spending come at the expense of library or Waveny renovations? How far does $7.8 million get us?
Irwin House: First, it was to be a museum. Then, offices for nonprofits. Then Board of Finance members asked for demolition costs. The Town Council was understandably anxious to hear that we were talking about amendments to the deed with no explanation. Russ Kimes made an excellent case that it be repurposed as the school administration building, saving us $300,000 per year.
Vine Cottage: Make this charming building part of the historic district. Put out a Request for Proposals by May 1. There are businesses that will sign a long-term ground lease and fix it up. Any proposal that preserves Town Hall parking and which transfers restoration responsibility to the tenant should be considered.
Keep these buildings at no expense and with benefit to the public. The most important thing is not to eliminate buildings, but to eliminate expenses.