The Darien League of Women Voters conducted its annual town officials lunch March 20, when approximately 25 members gathered at The Depot to hear five town leaders speak and answer questions on their areas of concern.
First Selectman Jayme Stevenson discussed the current issues facing Darien, from coping with 23 storm events, safety in the schools, parking, affordable housing and the impact of regionalization. She pointed out that the grand list was down, which means the property tax mill rate will increase. The selectmen's operating budget calls for a 4.4 percent increase, and a 3.4 percent increase for the required contractual labor obligations. Only 1 percent of the operating budget increase is discretionary, she said. Stevenson said people want more services but are reluctant to pay higher taxes, according to a release from the LWV.
Among the goals of the Board of Selectmen are flood mitigation, resolution of the Edgerton property, replacement of old cast-iron natural gas lines and transportation planning. She recognized the need for more affordable housing.
Betsy Hagerty-Ross, Board of Education chairman, discussed the state findings of violation of special education laws and the remedies being implemented. In the short term, the board hired help to improve services, enhance student outcome and rebuild trust. For the long term, in addition to a new superintendent, a new director of special education will be hired and a revised organizational structure with senior people placed in each school to bridge the gap between regular and special education students is proposed, according to the release from the LWV.
Aside from special education, the administration and board are requesting the hiring of a consultant to assist with longer-term enrollment and facilities planning projections, she said. The implementation of the Common Core State Standards curriculum will require teacher training and evaluation. Considering these factors, the Board of Education is requesting an increase of 5.7 percent in its operating budget, she said.
Board of Finance Chairman Liz Mao said the board was unlikely to cut much from the Board of Education operating budget since those cuts might have to come from and hurt the regular education students, according to the LWV release. She told the gathering that some of the costs have been the result of mismanagement and there is room for organizational restructuring to mitigate expenses. The board will take a close look at capital expenditures and consider using reserves and general fund balance resources to help reduce tax increases.
Susan Cameron, the chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission, pointed out that Darien is 98.5 percent developed so the only expansion can come through tear-downs and denser replacements. Penny Glassmeyer has suggested redevelopment of the Knoebel Brothers property on Settlers Trail in Tokeneke as a single-family age-restricted development. The Darien Housing Authority is proposing redevelopment of the present Old Town Homes on the Post Road. The P&Z is required to conduct a review of the town's Plan Of Conservation and Development every 10 years -- which will begin in 2014-15 and will study options to increase affordable housing close to transit areas.
Also seeking public involvement is Representative Town Meeting Moderator Sarah Seelye. The 100-person RTM has 95 members. She said members should not just fill seats but be familiar with what is going on in Darien. She feels that RTM members should be in touch with their constituents to get their views.