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Please Vote No on Wednesday

A letter from Tom O'Dea, New Canaan Town Council member.

  The Town Council has had numerous meetings and public hearings concerning the Main Street sidewalks. Over the last few years new sidewalks have been installed on numerous roads including around Mill Pond and along South Avenue without any objection.  

Since about the mid 1990’s, we have had only two referendums, one which prevented the building of a multi-million dollar School Administration Building next to the High school at Waveny and the other approved the purchase of Irwin Park for $25 million dollars.

In our Plan of Conservation and Development done in 2003, sidewalk extensions were recommended as one of the highest priorities on routes to town, along arterial roads and near schools and parks. Main Street satisfies not just one but ALL of those guidelines. The 2007 Downtown Strategic Plan also recommended improved pedestrian access to Downtown. Sidewalks help increase pedestrian traffic and reduce the number of vehicles driving to town.

Extending the sidewalk down the rest of Main Street to Farm Road connects the cemetery and makes a loop of sidewalks from Downtown along all of Main to Farm and up to South, around our most densely populated section of Town, all within a mile of our three largest schools - South, Saxe and the High School. The loop would allow children and seniors all around Main to walk to the library, the train station, Waveny and the YMCA.

 So why are we having only our third referendum in over 15 years over the $400,000 extension of the Main Street sidewalk from Church to Farm Road? Is our financial condition worse now than in the last few years? The answer is absolutely not. Unlike most municipalities, the Town of New Canaan has a AAA Bond Rating. Between 1999 and 2009, the budget increases were between 5.73% and 9.1%. Over the last few years the increases have averaged below 2%. Over the last 4 years our debt has been reduced by over ten million dollars. Even with our conservative fiscal policies and reduction of our debt, we continue to enjoy the top rated school system in the State and the third ranked school system in the entire United States. I would compare our fiscal record with any municipality in the Country.

 If the referendum is successful, the roads will NOT be paved more quickly — the opposite will happen. The question of funding of roads and sidewalks will go back to the Board of Finance and then to the Town Council. It will take at least an additional month or two before any road work will begin at a higher cost than what we can do it for now. If the referendum fails (if you vote NO), although the roadwork will begin immediately, work on the Main Street sidewalks will not begin until the Town Council further reviews the proposed sidewalk work and conducts ANOTHER public hearing on the subject to get additional public input.

 So the question you have to answer in this referendum is: do you believe the Town Council made a mistake in approving the $4 million for roads and POTENTIALLY sidewalks? If your answer is yes, is it really over saving $400,000 so that less than a mile of additional road work MIGHT be done sometime in the fall? Did you have a problem spending more money on the other new sidewalks around Town over the last few years? If you answered "Yes" to both of the aforementioned questions, and don’t mind the delay in getting the road work started and think the higher cost for the same work is worth it, than we can respectfully agree to disagree. If your answer is "No" to one of those questions, I would ask that you vote "No" on Tuesday, April 27.

 

Jay April 26, 2011 at 04:20 PM
I am inclined to vote "yes" on this one on principal and keep this a pure road paving bill. I am tired of government - whether it's in New Canaan or at the state or federal level - larding on special interest riders to important projects. Can't we just vote for roads and sidewalks separately? I love sidewalks, but I'm not sure that road is the best place for one and I hope we could discuss the merits of it without just attaching it to a road paving project. Yes, this is a wealthy community and citizens are willing to spend money on important projects but not to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars for a sidewalk of questionable value, especially when it's slipped in as a rider like this.
chris April 26, 2011 at 04:33 PM
Can' wait for this to be over!!!! The energy, time, emotions all have made a large distraction in our town for what is merely a small neighborhood dispute. Big deal! What a distraction.......we have heard all about the big govt spending and the will of the people...come on....let’s get real. I hope these people get involved in the future when its something besides there front yard or backyard. By the way...... Can’t wait for those ridiculous signs to come over Main St! See you all at the polls!!! I hope they are serving coffee and at the voting booth.
Four Jacks April 26, 2011 at 04:53 PM
When I can drive into and around town without risking damage to my car, then I will be happy to add additional sidewalks, until then, I will vote YES to fix our roads first! We cannot drive up Turner Hill, across Canoe Hill, or down Valley Road without risking damage by washboard roads, pot-holed roads, etc. Please fix our roads first Mr. O'Dea.
Gregory A Smith April 26, 2011 at 05:03 PM
Excellent points Tom. You know I will be voting NO. I know/hope the majority will be voting NO as well. Greg
Ginny April 26, 2011 at 05:33 PM
Mr. O'Dea, a member of Town Council who has participated in these hearing and paid attention, seem to have forgotten the $200,000 for Old Norwalk Rd. sidewalks from Main to Kiwanias Park. He also is mistaken in that the sidewalk would go from Oak St. to Farm Rd. We already have sidewalks from Church to Oak and yes they need repair and should be, as should a lot of our sidewalks we have and roads we have, let's be sure our leaders share the facts correctly. VOTE YES!
ncgadfly2 April 26, 2011 at 05:54 PM
Totally inappropriate and maybe unethical for Mr. O'Dea, as a member of the Town Council, to be flogging this idea for passage! If the "YES'S" win, which it looks like they will, then the Town Council will look bad for trying to push thru something the majority of taxpayers don't want. He should recuse himself from these public comments, and probably from voting on the issue as well. He already voted once!
Four Jacks April 26, 2011 at 06:03 PM
I agree!
Steve Parrett April 26, 2011 at 06:18 PM
Bravo! Sounds like "Double Dipping!"
Ginny April 26, 2011 at 06:19 PM
I may disagree with Mr. O'Dea and I think it should have been a bit clearer that this was his opinion not the Town Councils. BUT he is a reg. voter and tax payer in New Canaan and should have every right to voice his "flawed" opinion! We are Americans and are so lucky to live where we can voice our opinions and vote no matter what your title or opinion. VOTE YES TOMORROW!
Roy A. Abramowitz April 26, 2011 at 08:31 PM
As a member of the Town Council Tom O'Dea has no right to use the platform of being a Town Council Member to "HIS PERSONAL DESIRE" to support the building of sidewalks. Does Tom O'Dea live in the general area where the sidewalks will be installed. The sidewalks on South Street are an appropriate link between Farm Road and downtown. The pro sidewalk group advocates walking as health, but refuse to walk a few blocks to the sidewalks on South Avenue. Tom O'dea is incorrect. He fails to mention the three no votes on the Town Council, and the no vote on doin the sidewalks by Selectman Mallozzi.. Mr O'Dea is out of line commenting for the entire town council. His record is voting yes for every prposed project and increase in spending proposed ovr the years. His costs estimates are flawed also. He does not factor in the costs of removing trees (which mean less photosynthesis and less oxygen), the cost of removing phone poles and the yearly up keep on cracked concrete (just look at the awful condition ofthe downtown sidewalks). Any one can also see that private citizens propery will be infringed upon. Nor does he consider the safety issues to first responders. Mr O'Dea I have much more financial analysis exprience than you and your costs estimates are grossly flawed. Mr O'deas comments are self-serving and ignore the desires of that portion of the populous he represents that disagre with him and the Town Council. His comments are in-appropriate.
Roy A. Abramowitz April 26, 2011 at 08:52 PM
In addition Council member O'dea you are to blame for allowing the funding for the sidewalks to be added as an attachment to the bonding to fix the roads. The sidewalk financing should have been a seperate approprition request seperate from the road bond. It is thisWashington DC style trickery that has lend to the need for a referendum. Blame yourself for the delay in repairing the roads, not the taxpaying citizens. AS far as AAA ratings, this same rating system applied to unworthy corporations and bonds resulting in the recent financial debacle that we still have not recovered from. Please explain why your Town Council has indebted the Town of New Canaan to the point of $130,000,000 of debt with a population of 19,000 compared to the $85 million debt of Greenwich with a population of 90,000+or 4.73 times the population. Out of control spending. you also fail to comment that you and he TC cut the budget for thse schools you cherish but want to spend close to a million on a mile or so of un needed sidewalks. Really now!
Westin Lovy April 26, 2011 at 08:56 PM
To call Mr. O'Dea unethical or this action improper is not only unfounded and out-of-line, but a gross misunderstanding of even high school level civics. Mr. O'Dea has taken a thoughtful and well -articulated position. He has graced us here by sharing it, as political figures often do in periodicals and news conferences. There is nothing whatsoever improper about it. Those of you who would turn protected political speech into a cause for excorciation misunderstand both the first amendment and republican government. Argue the merits, but don't try to chill his or anyone else's speech. We elect representatives to the Town Council to weigh evidence and form considered views on matters, and then take a position on those views. Mr. O'Dea has done so. That he is correct is a bonus. I hope others will pay attention to his point of view, and am glad we have volunteers like him in our town. VOTE NO tomorrow; go to www.ncsafestreetsandsidewalks.org to learn more, and maybe check out Federalist No. 10 while you're at it.
Matt Stichnoth April 26, 2011 at 09:12 PM
Visit www.ncresponsiblespending.com for a different view.
Four Jacks April 26, 2011 at 09:27 PM
How wonderful that he "graced us" with sharing his position. Pleeeeeeaaaaasssseee!
Elmcrest April 27, 2011 at 04:06 AM
Mr. O'Dea, whom I admire, can absolutely express his opinion as a citizen. It gets trickier that he is identified here as a Town Council member, as if he speaks for all council members, which he does not. The fact that the sidewalks he is urging us all to spend our money on will end just yards from his own home is something that is probably relevant to the discussion as well. Should he have recused himself from the votes on this matter, since it will bring a new sidewalk directly to his own neighborhood? If not, should he be out lobbying in Patch for this sidewalk as a "town council member?" You decide for yourself.
Serenity Now! April 27, 2011 at 01:00 PM
If it is true that Mr. O"Dea lives near the planned sidewalk, he has a conflict of interest on the Town Council, and he should have recused himself from this matter. His facts on the town debt are misleading. Using the last 4 years as a proxy fails to tell the whole story. Consider the following. In 2003, NC had outstanding debt of $77 million with annual debt service of $6.9 million. NC's debt is now more than $130 million with annual debt service of approximately $13 million. Compare that with our closest comparable town Darien. Darien had outstanding debt of $73 million in 2003 with annual debt service of $5.6 million. In 2009, Darien had grown outstanding debt to only $89 million with annual debt service of $8.9 million. The current debt per capita in NC is $6,550 which is the highest in CT and compares to $4,421 in Darien (the state average in 2009 was $2,108). No wonder that NC's mill rate is 15% higher than Darien's mill rate. The math is simple: Less debt + fiscal restraint = LOWER TAXES. VOTE YES
Roy A. Abramowitz April 27, 2011 at 02:26 PM
Mr Lovy: You are totally incorrect. I believe Mr Tom O'Dea's home is just at the end of the proposed sidewalks. That would mean that since he is pro-sidewalk he will personally gain from their implementation. The analogy is simple: Kindergarden civics: When a elected town council member has a personal vested interest in a item that member needs to recluse themselves from any vote on the matter. Therefore Mr Odea's voting on the issue would be out of line and technically invalidate the town council's vote. At a minimum why sis Mr. O'dea not disclose his personal interest? Yesterday he interfered with the NCCRS coffee at the train station by openly campaigning for the sidewalks as a TC member and did so again this morning. That is totally unethical. Mr O'dea has every right to push for the sidewalks and vote down the referendum as a "PRIVATE CITIZEN" but not as a Town Council member or hold him self out as a spokes person of The Town Council. Three members of the Town Council voted against the sidewalks. What Town Council member O'dea has done not reclusing himself from the vote and openly campaigning as a Town Council member to influence the outcome of a referendum is unethical and against the American Way
Serenity Now! April 27, 2011 at 04:37 PM
Chapter 17 of the Town Charter is explicit that members of the Town Council cannot participate in the hearing or decision regarding matters where they have a personal or financial interest. If Mr. O'Dea's property is near the proposed sidewalk, the town attorney needs to opine as to whether Mr. O'Dea violated the town charter. At a minimum, Mr. O'Dea should have erred on the side of avoiding any appearance of impropriety and recused himself.
Cobie Graber April 27, 2011 at 05:42 PM
Far less affluent communities are doing their best to become more walkable because it is a good investment in their future. See the CDC, AARP, First Lady's Let's Move Campaign, etc. Look at the communities that have received Walk Friendly designations (http://www.walkfriendly.org/apply_now.cfm). If not for safety or health or respect for our Town Council, then at least for the sake of our property values - vote NO and invest in our town's infrastructure.
Tom April 27, 2011 at 06:16 PM
I can't wait for this to be approved but be held up by 500k environmental impact study.
Gregory A Smith April 28, 2011 at 12:53 AM
To all the Tea Party Activists included in this thread. How sweet it is! On to your next project! Best,
NCMom April 28, 2011 at 10:04 PM
The citizens HAVE spoken. Now the self-named/positioned "Citizens for Responsible Spending " should 'responsibly' reimburse the Town the +/- $15,000 this referendum to attempt micromanage the elected Town Council cost. Thank goodness the townspeople at large saw through the selfish questionable marketing and prioritized pedestrain safety in our town. Thankfully the NO win will allow for road paving to start now -- which is much much sooner than if the bond had to be returned to the Finance Board, etc etc.
Tom April 28, 2011 at 10:15 PM
I say we spend the 15k sending you back to school to study the US Constitution.

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