Gail Weinstein and Jim Marpe
Gail Weinstein began the presentation with a report on Weston. She stated that the town is in good financial shape and well positioned to take on some capital improvement projects expected to cost about six million dollars. However, the proposed school budget did not pass so they are working to reduce the anticipated school expenditures. The new mill rate will only rise 1.52% over the old rate and the budget increased by 1.9%. These are important costs to keep in line as they have a direct impact on property values.
Ms Weinstein reports that the Weston Grand List growth is down. This poses significant future financial problems for the town. She states that there are a number of reasons for this growth decline including the following:
- A lagging housing market especially for homes costing in excess of one million dollars
- Declining school enrollment
- Distance from mass transportation and major highways
At the base of these factors are the changing preferences of millennials compared to prior generation buyers. Previously, Weston buyers sought a rural environment offering quiet, a degree of solitude and room to spread out. But millennials prefer (64%) living near shopping, restaurants and offices. Millennials also marry later than their parents resulting in a lower birth rate ergo fewer students with Connecticut having the forth lowest birth rate in the country.
An additional factor is the tendency for seniors to age in place making fewer homes available for new families to purchase. But notwithstanding more seniors in Weston’s population, Weston doesn’t offer much in the way of senior support services to help maintain homes, transportation, or a senior center.
Plus Fairfield County has its own share of problems that burden the picture. Few homes are of the preferred maintenance free variety, nor are they smaller or lower priced. Also in areas like Weston there is no close train station or major highway and the highways in the state as well as the train service are overcrowded. All these concerns can quickly eliminate potential buyers who are searching over the Internet for a home and crossing off any that don’t match a list of criteria.
Even if all these difficulties could be overcome, Weston only has building sites available for about 85 new homes, which would only allow for a 2.6% Grand List growth.
Weston is facing changes, which may include zoning changes as well as increasing services for seniors. Weston has hired a consultant to study the problems and make recommendations and the town’s citizenry is now being polled to uncover its preferences for future changes.
Q. Many Weston residents are placing obstacles in the roads in front of their houses when they have no right to do so. What is being done to clear these?
A. We face budget problems if we tried to clear them all, but we have addressed those that are safety hazards and have made some progress in clearing the rest.
Q. Is any consideration given to combining the towns of Weston, Westport and Wilton for financial stability and efficiency?
A. The towns collaborate where they can and where it makes sense, but there is a strong preference for home rule. Plus unions can be a problem when they feel that they own a job and don’t want to give it up.
Jim Marpe reported on Westport. He stated that the 2015/2016 budget will only increase by 2.1% and that the school budget will increase by 1.8%. The mill rate is anticipated to go up by 1%.
Unlike Weston, Westport’s Grand list is growing at a 3% rate and the general population as well as the school population is expected to remain fairly constant.
Westport has had some recent accomplishments, or is planning for some projects to be carried out in the near future. Among these are:
- Redoing the Bedford Square area
- Updating the Levitt Pavilion
- Updating the Longshore golf course
- Refurbishing Compo Beach with more to come in the form of a new pavilion, two Pickle Ball courts, an extended boardwalk and better restroom facilities.
- Maintaining the Westport Inn as a hotel
While the plans to use the Baron’s South property as additional senior housing did not go through with its third party financing, there are efforts to increase the Senior Center capacity.
Additionally, there have been collaborations to deal with insurance costs, school bus parking, simplifying permits for land use and energy saving. Westport has also taken over the fire dispatch duties for New Canaan and is close to having a combined police and fire dispatching service.
Westport is now finalizing its Master Plan. This will entail among other things new downtown sidewalks and additional tree plantings. The library is also being revisited to plan how to expand and update its capacity.
Open space in Westport remains an issue. Westport’s area is about 4.5% open space when the average for a town is 20%. We are looking for additional space.
Mr. Marpe says that the items that keep him up at night include the following:
- High density multi-unit housing that will produce too much traffic, crowd schools and change Westport’s character
- Pension benefits (keeping their costs down)
- Producing sufficient services for seniors to keep them here
- Growing transportation times
- Large inventory of new homes
Mr. Marpe’s bright spots include the following:
- Westport’s strong financial position
- Business attractiveness
- Adequate financial reserves maintaining the town’s triple A bond rating
- Quality of town employees
- The number and quality of volunteers serving the town
Q. What is the effect that our pension liability has on the debt rating?
A. Westport’s debt keeps going down. Also our pension is mostly funded and we are making great strides in funding the balance to live up to our obligations.
Q. Does the Master Plan provide for needed ability to walk and bike downtown?
A. We are looking to expand those capabilities for downtown and Compo Beach.
Q. How can you encourage commercial development when that area floods every few years?
A. We are looking into ways to combat that problem, but there is no doubt that our downtown is in a flood plain.