Sidewalk Vote Tonight, Referendum Petition at the Ready

If petitioners gather 627 signatures by April 2, the referendum would take place no later than May 2.

A group that calls itself New Canaan Citizens for Responsible Spending is circulating a petition to call for a referendum to challenge a $4 million appropriation and bond resolution that would pay for paving roads, and could be spent on installing new . 

The Town Council is scheduled to vote on whether or not to approve the sidewalks at its meeting Wednesday night. The meeting will be held at 8:15 p.m. at , and is open to the public. 

The petitioners filed a Notice of Intent to with the Town Clerk on March 10. On Tuesday, they filed additional paperwork to create the legal entity necessary to proceed with the petition drive.

Karen Mackle said she and Eloise Killeffer and Neele Stichnotch organized New Canaan Citizens for Responsible Spending to bring the issue of fiscal responsibility to the town's voters.

"This is bond money that really needs to be spent on our infrastructure," Mackle told Patch. "It’s not about the sidewalks. It’s about being responsible with the spending. In these economic times we need to be smart and we need to focus on what we need. And what we need is paving and repaving."

Mackle, 42, has lived in New Canaan for six years, and her husband grew up in town. She said she is not "anti-sidewalk," but she would like the town to do its due diligence before undertaking an installation.  

On Tuesday morning, the Board of Selectman voted to approve a request from the Department of Public Works to enter into a contract with Cabezas DeAngelis Engineers for $25,000 for the survey and design of Main St., including the proposed installation of sidewalks.

"It's about fiscal responsibility," Mackle said. "That's how we got to the referendum."

The $4 million appropriation and bond resolution was approved on Feb. 16 by the Town Council. The formal notice of passage was posted on March 3, beginning the referendum timeline.

According to , the New Canaan Town Charter identifies three situations in which the public can call for a referendum:

  1. When the Town Council approves an appropriation.
  2. When the Town Council denies an appropriation.
  3. When the Town Council proposes an ordinance.

Once the Town Council posts formal notice of its action, residents have seven days to file a Notice of Intent to Petition for a Referendum. The petitioners filed their notice with Weber’s office last week. A minimum of fifty signatures was required. According to Weber, the group had well over that number.

“These are real signatures, actual live signatures where people took time to sign themselves,” Weber said. “Everything is following state statute and town charter.”

In other words, electronic "signatures" gathered over the Internet are not allowed.

Weber said the signers are all “electors,” registered to vote in New Canaan.

The approves the language on a referendum petition, and it is then run by the town’s attorney. The language on this petition reads:

“Shall the action taken by the Town Council on Feb. 16, 2011, approving a $4 million appropriation and bond resolution for the town’s road network be repealed and overruled and returned to the Board of Finance for reconsideration?”

Having qualified, the petitioners now have until April 2 to gather 627 signatures in order for the referendum to take place.

  • 627 is five percent of New Canaan’s voting population.
  • April 2 is 30 days from March 3, the date the Town Council formally posted notice of passage of the appropriation.

If the petitioners gather the required 627 signatures by April 2, a referendum will be called.

 "Our goal is 1,000 signatures," Mackle said. "We're well on our way."

The date of a referendum would be set by the Town Council.

"A referendum shall be held not later than 30 days after the filing of such petition,” Weber told Patch.

That means the referendum would take place no later than May 2.

Weber said there would be one polling place for the referendum, and would oversee the polls. She said she expects absentee ballots would be available.

Who votes in a referendum?

“Registered voters of the town of New Canaan, and, historically, property owners who are U.S. citizens over the age of 18,” Weber said. “This does not include LLCs, corporations or trusts. However if the LLC owns a piece of property and the principals of the LLC are registered voters, they may vote.”

The cost of a referendum is between $7,000 and $8,000 according to the registrar of voters and the town clerk. 

Weber said if the referendum passes, the appropriation request would go back to the for reconsideration according to the Town Charter.

Elmcrest March 16, 2011 at 10:08 PM
No one is saying sidewalks are bad. But I think many New Canaanites see this particular proposal as a non-essential amenity in a tough economic time. Despite all your grand claims of "sense of community," this specific proposed sidewalk is never likely to be used like flat, straight South Avenue is, sidewalks that actually have schools, churches, and the YMCA accessible from it. If we have to make choices, and we do, I choose not to spend limited resources in this manner... especially while the schools are being asked to cut a similar amount.
MFL March 16, 2011 at 10:22 PM
The bond issue is not the appropriate forum for determining whether any particular street gets sidewalks because it holds up the financing for paving and repairs of all of our roads and existing sidewalks, as well as sidewalks where no residents have objected. The bond by its terms neither mandates nor prohibits adding a sidewalk to lower Main Street. So even if the referendum were to take place and approval of the bond was repealed, Main Street sidewalks will be an open issue since it cannot be extrapolated that voters object to any particular issue within the bond. Please note the language of the referendum makes no mention of Main Street ("Shall the action taken by the Town Council on Feb. 16, 2011, approving a $4 million appropriation and bond resolution for the town’s road network be repealed and overruled and returned to the Board of Finance for reconsideration?”) Then the appropriate wording of a new bond, and whether to exclude Main Street, would go back before the Town Council, taking us full circle and resolving nothing (but very succesfully wasting time and money). The referendum smacks of desperation and undermines the credibility of those involved.
Elmcrest March 16, 2011 at 10:45 PM
Yes, it's just terrible that roads and sidewalks are all lumped together, but your fellow New Canaanites didn't do that, so quit blaming them. The referendum rules being what they are, New Canaanites can only petition to undo a specific action or appropriation taken by the Town Council, so obviously, there can be no further specific wording about a needless Main St. sidewalk. And the Town Council knew that when they lumped these two items in together. You continue to call a referendum "irresponsible," but it seems you're uncomfortable with American democracy; if a referendum does happen, and if this bond gets overturned, Town Hall will have a very, very clear knowledge about why. No one is against paving roads. No one is against some sidewalks (as you've pointed out). The only thing that has forced this course of action: the expensive proposed out-of-town sidewalk on southern Main St., and Town Hall's unwillingness to consider that there a lot of people who don't want to spend that kind of money in this kind of economy on that non-essential a project.
MFL March 16, 2011 at 11:47 PM
You cannot extrapolate that everyone who might vote to overturn the bond are only concerned about Main Street. That's not what it says. The referendum authors need to take responsibility for their actions. They knew the limitations of the referendum process when they decided to proceed, with full knowledge that families and streets unrelated to Main Street would be adversely impacted.
MFL March 16, 2011 at 11:48 PM
If you would like to sign the pro-sidewalk petition email westin_lovy@yahoo.com.
Elmcrest March 17, 2011 at 12:05 AM
I'm sorry, the rules are the rules. How else did you expect New Canaanites who are against your special sidewalk to register their disapproval with this project, once Town Council had brought it to this head? You live in America, ma'am, enjoy democracy in action. By the way, families and streets unrelated to Main Street are already adversely "impacted" -- because of the sheer cost of your precious, out-of-the-way sidewalk, there will be roads that won't get paved, teachers whose hours will be curtailed, and debt for every taxpayer that will be incurred for year to come... for what? For a nice-to-have, but still not necessary, sidewalk that will serve very, very few of us. Your bankrupt "arguments" on this forum have convinced me to go sign that referendum petition. I want to see what New Canaanites want, not just our imperial first selectman and his cronies.
New Canaan Family March 17, 2011 at 03:15 AM
$25,000 for a site survey to build this all-new sidewalk? That's three times the cost of a townwide referendum to see if we even want it.
Elmcrest March 17, 2011 at 05:06 AM
1) I don't drink coffee, and even if I did, I wouldn't accept your dismissive and arrogant bribe just so the Town can borrow money for something we don't need and won't use. Which pot-holed road won't get paved so we can build you your sidewalk? Which classes will get cut at New Canaan's schools? Which policeman will we let go? $400,000 plus isn't budget dust. 2) Actually, despite your sneering and sarcasm, my mom agrees. We've both been through plenty of referenda, on both sides, and it's always better to learn what the voters want, not what the insiders think is best. Town Hall has fallen out of touch with many in our community. 3) Are you really going to focus on the name as proof? The name "Main Street" might have meant something once, but now it's just a name. The main thoroughfare is clearly South Avenue, the main business street is clearly Elm Street. Even Old Stamford Road is busier. For the vast majority of New Canaanites who you wish to pay for your new stretch of sidewalk, South Main Street is, yes, out-of-the-way. I guess to your literal way of thinking, Lost District Road is actually lost. 4) Are you kidding? First, I'm not offering you "bad" arguments, just ones you happen to disagree with. I have posted under my name and got personally attacked for it, in abusive language, in front of my kids. I don't need that, and I don't need you to lecture me about courage or convictions. Stick to the facts, not to personal invective. Good night.
Heywood Smith March 17, 2011 at 05:54 AM
Why is the referendum written calling for" the $4 million appropriation and bond resolution for the town’s road network be repealed and overruled and returned to the Board of Finance for reconsideration", instead of specifically and surgically eliminating the appropriation for the sidewalk? If the referendum is passed, couldn't the Board still reconsider and repeat the same appropriation? There appears to be a broad based consensus on both sides of the sidewalk issue that many roads need paving. And most budget hawks realize that deferring maintenance isn't NOT spending, it is simply postponing it. But these days, there is a crowd that vilifies ALL spending. Given the way the referendum is worded, and the state of our roads, I hope that is not the hidden agenda, and welcome a civil and adult response.
Jon S. March 17, 2011 at 07:29 AM
I'm sure the people pursuing this referendum could answer better, but I think since the Town Council approved an imprecisely detailed bond, a referendum can only overturn that same wording. Everyone would have been better served to do as you suggest, essentially a line-item veto, but Town Hall has determined that sidewalks, even brand new ones, are simply road maintenance, and the result is that extending the sidewalk can now only be stopped by this blunt tool. What was the Town Council vote, something like 8-2? So 8 people have determined that's how we're going to spend a lot of borrowed money, and that doesn't seem truly representative of the talk in town. Like you, I have met no one who thinks we should ever defer real road repair -- it's a must have. The sidewalk seems more like a "nice to have" amenity in comparison. I wish the Town Council had kept these things separate, especially since they've known for a long time their decision would cause problems.
Sheryl Shaker March 17, 2011 at 11:39 AM
Jon is correct. As stated in the article, when the Town Council approves an appropriation is one of the three situations in which a referendum can be called. The language in the referendum is consistent with the language in the appropriation being challenged. The language in a referendum is approved by the Town Clerk and the town's attorney. This is all according to the Town Charter and state statutes.
chris March 17, 2011 at 01:13 PM
Just wondering what happened to the post which re iterated the financial presentation data that the bond for 10 million, if ever needed, would cost 104$ per household and 5 million would cost 52$. The end result would be that the sidewalks cost about 4 dollars per home over the length of the bond, or as the author stated about two cups of Starbucks. The financial presentation was very informative and offered much insight into our town’s rating and overall financial situation.
max March 17, 2011 at 01:54 PM
Chris, I believe the numbers you cite are carry cost, and do not include the principal payment at the end. Remember, these bonds are I/O over their life and in real life are never paid off but be refinanced at the end of the term. They are not at all like a standard mortgage where after paying the 20 or 30 years the debt is retired. So that Starbuck coffee is nice, but you still end up with all of the debt, just later, and presumably for someone else.
NCCGB2010 March 17, 2011 at 02:16 PM
Could someone tell me who is/are the New Canaan Citizens for Responsible Spending. The body opposing this sidewalk and their position on the following other major items (or is this just about sidewalks). For or against? Pleas explain why and alternative / solution 1. Reduction of $6.3 million health and security benefits to town employees 2. Reduction if $5.2 million police budget 3. $254,391 for Lapham community center 4. $376,584 transportation - private schools 5. $175,000 new dump truck 6. $175,000 new ambulance 7. $236,385 health services - private school 8. $28,300 Paddle Tennis Thank you
Westin Lovy March 17, 2011 at 02:35 PM
Max, I think your statement about the nature of the bond repayment terms is incorrect. You said: "Remember, these bonds are I/O over their life and in real life are never paid off but be refinanced at the end of the term. They are not at all like a standard mortgage where after paying the 20 or 30 years the debt is retired. " That is exactly the opposite of what the presentation last night by the representative of the Board of Finance disclosed. The muni bonds are "sinking" bonds that amortize themselves. They pay down automatically, by their own terms. It appears that approximately 10% of the debt amount is paid every year: about 2.9% to 3.75% in interest, and the remaining (approximately) 6-7% in principal. So the bonds should repay themselves over about 15 years, give or take. Thanks.
Eloise March 17, 2011 at 02:47 PM
The article at the top of these comments explains that New Canaan Citizens for Responsible Spending is focused on "a referendum to challenge a $4 million appropriation and bond resolution that would pay for paving roads, and could be spent on installing new sidewalks on lower Main St. " (quoted directly from the referenced article).
Westin Lovy March 17, 2011 at 03:15 PM
Here's the link to the presentation given last night regarding the Town's current debt burden and financial state (we're rated AAA, for those who want to know the ending). http://www.newcanaan.info/filestorage/9488/9220/749/761/BOF_debt_sub-committee%28Final-JC%29.pdf I find page 8, showing the marginal annual tax increase for $10MM of new bonding at $108 per $1MM of assessed property value, instructive. Quick, rough math suggests that a marginal $400k for the sidewalk completion should therefore equate to about $5 in additional taxes per $1MM of assessed property value per year. Call it $6/year, to be conservative? I also think page 11, demonstrating the decrease in the absolute amount of the Town's debt since 2007. Based on what was said last night, this is a direct result of the self amortizing nature of the financing we've chosen. We also have a fairly wide margin before additional borrowing would get the Town even close to a downgrade point. Please refer to the stress tests on pages 11-12, the guidance criteria on page 9, and the debt burden averages noted on page 5. Personally, it appears to me that the "fiscal responsibility" argument is a bit of a tempest in a teacup. Based on this report, $400k of long term debt barely moves the needle, and both the immediate and long-term benefits of the project are clear.
Serenity Now! March 17, 2011 at 04:48 PM
As Paul Foley noted in the prior meeting, at some point, all of these "would like to have" projects add up to a heavy load. 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. Currently, overall net debt per capita is 33% higher in NC compared to Darien. Small wonder that NC's mill rate is 15% higher than Darien's mill rate. NC will be facing numerous challenges in this economy. The days of new revenues from construction of bloated mcmansions are gone. Real estate is down 20% and the Case Shiller Report predicts a 50% chance of a further 20% decline. The library is in need of a "must have" renovation. The retail vacancy rate must be close to 50%. We are struggling to fund basic services for the schools, police and fire department. All roads need to be paved. The sidewalk just is not part of the conversation right now. Let people vote in a referendum. The elections are coming as well and town officials should pay close attention to their voting record. It will be an issue this summer and this fall.
Bill Soffer March 17, 2011 at 05:05 PM
Where is the town planning our new Trailer Park?
Bill Soffer March 17, 2011 at 05:33 PM
I bet Japan wished they had our problems - to sidewalk or not to sidewalk - that is the question?
Bill Soffer March 17, 2011 at 05:41 PM
I caught 10 min of Town Meeting on Cablevision the other night (3/15/2011 meeting). Who was speaking against the Board of Education budget increase? (He had a handful of papers and was talking about wanting to stay in town for 20 more years....???
New Canaan Family March 17, 2011 at 07:31 PM
True, Paul Foley, Ken Campbell, and Rob Mallozzi are the exceptions that prove the rule. It's not just the Republicans in office, it's the ineffective Democrats, too, as you point out. But it's all insider group-think, and the whole of Town Hall politics is just rife with clear conflicts of interest. Disappointingly, our first selectman, Mr. Walker, doesn't exactly set the tone of leadership or transparency that would compel everyone to accept their responsibilities and set their ethical standards a little higher. The result is a bunch of cronyism which results in (a) stagnation, and (b) voter cynicism, neither of which make for a vibrant, thriving, ideas-based community. But wait, sorry, this was about borrowing to build a non-essential sidewalk? I haven't read anything here to convince me that'd be a good idea.
New Canaan Family March 17, 2011 at 07:32 PM
True that.
max March 17, 2011 at 08:58 PM
@Westin, I was referring to bonds in general. I do not know the details of this particular issue, but if you say that this one has a sinker, than I stand corrected. Thank you.
Cobie Graber March 17, 2011 at 10:09 PM
Recent articles in the local news and corresponding comments suggest that those who oppose the sidewalk are using it as a scapegoat. This is not a project that should be lumped in with examples of wasteful spending. Sidewalks improve safety, encourage people to get moving and create a deeper sense of community - all of which are priceless. In the spirit of community, I encourage everyone to get the facts straight from the Town Council and Tiger Mann before jumping to conclusions. People from all over town and beyond walk and run our downtown. This is good for our physical well-being as well as the fiscal health of our businesses. Speaking of which, the Finance Committee presented clear metrics demonstrating the financial health of our town in spite of the poor economy at last night's Town Council meeting. To protect property values, we need to invest in our downtown infrastructure. Please do not support a referendum, which will cost us more in the long run by dragging out the effort to repair roads and complete a downtown loop of connected sidewalks.
New Canaan Family March 17, 2011 at 11:36 PM
That's an interesting take on the situation. Here's another opinion. I've lived in New Canaan since the 1960s, and this is the first I've ever heard of an urgent need to "complete a downtown loop" of connected sidewalks. [And the proposed sidewalk, as one local realtor pointed out, isn't even downtown!] I believe New Canaan has incurred the most debt per capita of any town in Fairfield County, and that's something that troubles many citizens. I like sidewalks and use them where they make sense, but this really seems like the definition of a non-essential item, especially when we're asking the schools to make a similar-sized sacrifice. I will never look to the Town Council or Tiger Mann for "facts," since (a) they're not subject matter experts, and (b) Tiger has proven by his repeated actions that he's a loose cannon who has had to be reined in from spending our taxpayer money without any oversight. I haven't signed any referendum petition, but I might, to see what New Canaanites think about this proposal. Town Council has been at odds with the will of the voters many times in the recent past; so, if voters support this sidewalk, okay, there you go; but if they don't, let's spend our limited money on real needs. Like fixing our roads and educating our kids and not racking up more debt.
NCCGB2010 March 18, 2011 at 12:34 AM
Before signing any petition in town a citizen should investigate the detail nature of the petition and organization behind it.
Cobie Graber March 18, 2011 at 01:47 AM
Where were these watchdogs when we invested in the many consultants whose efforts yielded nothing tangible (like the bus study and the review of school start times)? I agree wholeheartedly that we need to watch the bottom line. But calling a sidewalk along Main Street (which is literally a main street and even a celebrated walkway on Memorial Day) non-essential seems wrong. Are Saxe Middle School and Kiwanis Park "out of the way" too? Put simply, the people who walk, run, bike and stroll Main Street and beyond have a different view of what constitutes downtown. Maybe we could save money on buses if we had a safe passage for students. Maybe more seniors would be in better health if they could get out and walk safely and socialize along the way. Maybe young parents could push strollers without taking their lives in their hands if we made a safe route along one of our most centrally located roads. Maybe there would be more parking spots downtown if people broadened their definition of what is “out of the way” in the first place.
Ginny March 18, 2011 at 02:14 AM
Town code 54-22 riding bikes on sidewalks is illegal and subject to a $25 fine, let's not promote what can not happen.
Elmcrest March 18, 2011 at 02:35 AM
Good points, but all invite different interpretations: 1) Some of the people behind this referendum effort (at least the ones I've met) were equally alert about the unheeded studies you mention. [The review of school start times was conducted by the League of Women Voters, so I'm not sure you can equate that with an extensive capital project.] 2) Saxe isn't out of the way, it's located at 468 South Avenue, a straight, flat road, with sidewalks there for a reason. All the families and kids I know head up Harrison or Oak or Woodland or Hawthorne to get to flat, straight South Ave, its crosswalks, its crossing guards, and its traffic lights. No winding, hilly, lower Main St. sidewalk would change that behavior. As for Kiwanis Park, a brand new lower Main Street sidewalk would get you no closer to it than the Farm Road sidewalk already does today. 3) Although it once may have been, Main Street isn't the "main street" in town, and lower Main Street is definitely not a main street. The parade goes that way only so it can end in Lakeview Cemetery; a once-a-year event, no matter how "celebrated," seems like a weak reason to borrow more money. South Avenue is the main artery into town, and Elm Street is the main business street. 4) The seniors I know--and I'm nearly there myself--walk South Ave, the NCHS track, Irwin Park path, Waveny Park, or use the YMCA and Lapham Community Center for walking and socializing; a lower Main St. sidewalk is unlikely to alter that behavior.


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