Something seems to be askew in this year’s deliberations over the town budget.
The budget process began in November 2018, when the Board of Finance unanimously adopted “Budget Guidelines for Fiscal Year 2019-2020.” The BOF analysis was thoughtful, thorough, and conservative. It determined that a $3 million (2 percent) cap on spending growth would protect the town financially while continuing services at levels citizens demand.
Meeting the guidelines became a consensus goal for Town managers and school leaders. The guidelines were the centerpiece of an offsite budget meeting of all the key stakeholders on Nov. 17.
The town’s highest elected official on Tuesday distanced himself from a resident’s proposal to build a new police station where a Saxe Middle School baseball diamond now stands, saying instead that a parking lot could go there. The New Canaan YMCA “has a horrible deficit of parking,” First Selectman Kevin Moynihan said during a regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen. Saying that the Saxe baseball field could be built anew at Kiwanis Park, Moynihan said the question facing New Canaan now is “whether or not the town wants accommodate the YMCA, which definitely needs more parking and whether or not people would be agreeable, because that baseball diamond right now is in the worst possible position it could be.”
“There is no parking,” Moynihan said at the meeting, held in Town Hall. “You can’t park at the YMCA.”
The idea appeared to catch Selectmen Kit Devereaux and Nick Williams off-guard.
“So you are not now talking about new police station at Saxe, but additional parking for the YMCA?” Williams said.
Saying he loves the YMCA and that he knows Moynihan is a member, Williams noted that the organization “had a big spend to do a renovation” recently.
“They should have thought about parking,” Williams said. “But for us to take Saxe fields and turn it into a parking lot, I am not supporting it.”
“For the same reasons I would be opposed to putting a new police station at Saxe field, I would be opposed to putting a parking lot—just a parking lot, which probably is even worse—at Saxe fields,” he said.
Town officials said Tuesday that the value of all taxable property in New Canaan is not expected to change substantially as a result of assessment appeals following the recent revaluation. The Grand List likely will see a reduction of about $20 million after the Board of Assessment Appeals completes its work, according to Sebastian Calderella, the town assessor. During a regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen, Caldarella provided the following history of appeals after a town-wide reval:
“It varies, depending on where the market is going,” Caldarella said during the meeting, held at Town Hall.
First Selectman Kevin Moynihan noted that the figures Caldarella cited are not final since some people appeal local assessment decisions in court. Officials have said New Canaan’s Grand List would decline by some $570 million as a result of the revaluation, to about $7.7 billion overall. Selectman Nick Williams called the $20 million figure is “a proverbial drop in the bucket” as part of the overall Grand List.
District officials say they don’t yet know how they’ll use funds recovered through insurance following the theft of nearly $500,000 from school cafeterias over a period of five years.
Asked about plans during a budget hearing last week, the superintendent of schools said the money should remain in a fund where it is now while the criminal justice system processes the cases of two former district employees accused of stealing it. “Once that is resolved and decided and moved away, I think you and I should sit and talk have that conversation,” Dr. Bryan Luizzi told First Selectman Kevin Moynihan during the Jan. 24 Board of Selectmen meeting, held at Town Hall.
Moynihan asked whether the funds could be used to convert school kitchens to natural gas. South School, Saxe Middle School and New Canaan High School now are hooked up, following the first part of a phased implementation plan overseen by Eversource. Luizzi answered that doing so “certainly seems like an appropriate use.”
“I think that as a result of all that has occurred maybe an under-investment through the years has happened in those areas, so I think reinvesting in those areas like that and doing some other things for the benefit of kids and families in those areas would be well received by everybody,” he said.
Participation in New Canaan softball has grown so much in recent years that in order to provide adequate practice time, a second field at Waveny should get lights for this coming fall season, officials said last week. The organization that runs youth programs here, New Canaan Softball, has already raised $75,000 to light what’s known as the “Water Tower field,” and the Recreation Department is requesting an additional $50,000 from the town during this budget season. New Canaan Softball is anticipating 240 girls in the program this year, up from 90 just five years ago, Recreation Director Steve Benko told members of the Board of Selectmen during a budget hearing held Thursday at Town Hall.
Joined by Parks & Recreation Commission Chair Sally Campbell, Benko said girls’ softball in New Canaan “has seen a metamorphosis.”
“There’s interest in it and they need more field space,” Benko said. “And one problem is with the coaches’ availability, because they are all volunteer coaches, is the time to practice is in the evening. And we can use the Orchard Field until 9 o’clock at night, but the other field, the Water Tower field, there was approval for the lights and they are willing to raise money for the lights, and to have that second field lit to give them addition time for practices, it would help the overall program now that the numbers are going up, which is a great thing.”
The $50,000 capital request is part of the overall $271,500 that Recreation is seeking for fiscal year 2020.