Gail Weinstein and Jim Marpe – May 15, 2014
Gail Weinstein, First Selectman of Weston since 2009, and Jim Marpe, newly elected First Selectman of Westport, spoke on the challenges our communities have faced in the past few years and those we need to address in the future.
Ms. Weinstein began with demographic data comparing Weston in 2000 with Weston in 2010. The total population and number of households grew slightly over the ten years, school enrollments remained fairly flat, but the number of households with couples over 65 grew from 686 to 790, from 20.7% to 23.4% of the total, and the median age of the population increased from 39.7 to 43.4. Ms. Weinstein concluded that we can look forward to declining school enrolments as the Weston population ages. She summarized several studies in 2010, 2012, and 2014:
Need for additional locales for people to gather.
Upgrade certain existing facilities
Focus on the town center
Develop bicycle paths, pedestrian paths and picnic facilities.
The schools have underutilized space that should be used for other purposes, because the expected growth in enrolments did not occur.
The police station and dispatch center need to be upgraded. The land use office should be located in the Town Hall complex, where space should be reconfigured, not at its current location on school land.
Expand the senior center space and activities.
From these studies, plans have been made to (i) double the area of the Senior Activities Center to 9,000 square feet, expand activities and add an exercise facility; (ii) construct a new Public Safety Complex for the police station, dispatch center and fire department.; and (iii) return Land Use to the Town Hall to put all under one roof.
She also discussed the efforts to improve (i) the Lachat Town Farm, which has gathered private support, and add a community garden to the Lachat property; (ii) the library to add more usable space for groups and discussions; and (iii) stadium lighting. Our goal, she concluded, is to improve the community experience for all.
Mr. Marpe said that he has had a busy six months. It has been exciting and challenging, a 24/7 job. Soon after taking office, Westport was hit by a major snowstorm. Mr. Marpe rode shotgun on a town snowplow as it cleared the streets, and he appreciates the jobs these guys do. Fortunately, there were no major power outages. We ended up having eleven snowstorms this year.
Mr. Marpe also worked with town officials and other towns to reverse a FEMA decision to deny funding to shoreline homeowners who suffered losses from Super Storm Sandy. They are now working on getting additional funding.
He has attended eight ribbon cuttings and grand openings, had to deal with only one serious structural fire, and performed his first wedding last week.
He is proud of the fact that the Town Budget, for which he is responsible, increased only 0.63% over that of the prior year. He cited the outsourcing of the maintenance of the Longshore golf course, an expected lower cost of solid waste disposal, and a more accurate calculation of our contribution to the post employment (OPEB) accounts as reasons for the small increase. The combined school and town budget increased 2.45% over the prior year. He believes the mill rate increase will be below two percent.
Mr. Marpe commented that Westport has an unprecedented number of projects and initiatives under way, including senior housing on Baron’s South, the New Levitt Pavilion, the new YMCA complex at Mahackeno, the Congregational Church, the mixed retail/residential complex to be built at the old YMCA site, Westport Cinema, the move of the Kemper Gunn House to the Baldwin parking area and its subsequent development, the new Library, expansion of the Westport Arts Center and downtown redevelopment efforts, including curbs and trees. He also mentioned the restructuring of Downtown 2020 as the Downtown Steering Committee under Dewey Loselle to plan further development. He encouraged members to access the committee’s website (www.downtownwestportct.com) and fill out a survey on the Downtown Master Plan.
At Longshore, he believes that the golf course is improving, and he earmarked $200,000 in the long range capital forecast the master plan for all of Longshore Park, including the marina, sailing school, tennis courts and Inn at Longshore.
On Compo Beach, his predecessor established the Compo Beach Site Improvement Committee, which held its first public input session after Mr. Marpe took office. While some recommendations have broad approval –such as restrooms at South Beach and the rehabilitation of the pavilion – parking suggestions have encountered criticism. It is still in the planning stage, he assured us.
What keeps him awake at night? The security and safety of the citizens and our firefighters and police. Our ability to bend the long-term cost curve of health care (where we try to move more costs to the individuals) and pension benefits (where we try to move to defined contribution plans). Other areas of concern include (i) encouraging employers to move to and stay in Westport, where more people now commute to Westport than from Westport; (ii) improving the quality of Metro North service so as to make Westport that much more attractive; (iii) the deer population, cell towers in residential areas and trees.
What makes him feel good about Westport? The dedication and ability of town employees who make things work and the generosity of so many Westporters who engage in volunteer activities to improve lives.
In the Q and A, Mr. Marpe made the following comments:
In order to reduce benefit costs, we are putting new employees on defined contribution plans. There are some sizable benefit negotiations coming up in 2015 for municipal workers (including school workers) police and firemen.
Although the move of the Kemper Gunn House will eliminate some parking spaces in the Baldwin lot, the new residential/retail complex will add underground parking.
Administrators in Westport and Weston co-operate all the time.
He and P&Z are well aware of the state mandate for affordable housing.
The town and school are focusing on security issues at the schools.
The Baron South facility for senior housing will not be a full assisted living facility but will have care available.