The Nelson Plan: Taking a Closer Look

John Nelson is running for First Selectman here in Fairfield. He recently came out with his platform and with some eight weeks to go, I figure it’s time to give it a little scrutiny. After all, his supporters have already misidentified information in their letters to the local papers in addition to having to go so far as to fabricate letter writers’ names. I hate when they go negative and the town Republicans do it every season but since it’s started earlier than usual, I figure it’s time to speak up a bit.

This will be a bit long, but by all means if you live in town, give it a read. If you don’t, we’ll talk about other stuff tomorrow.

Town Plan

John said, “As required by state statute, the only plan that currently exists was done seven years ago in 2000 by the Town Plan and Zoning Commission. It was never intended to address many of the most important issues that have occurred within the last five years, differences in Fairfield’s neighborhoods, changes in the environment, the significant influx of school children and the housing and commercial development boom, thus leaving us driving without a road map.

“Because we do not have a comprehensive plan, for development, groups of residents must spend their own money for legal fees and rise to their own neighborhood’s defense when threatened by inappropriate development proposals.”

Actually, the town has several different multi-year plans which get constantly updated. And the Board of Education also has multi-years plans for technology, maintenance and curriculum. Now that John mentions it, the taxpayers might benefit if the same cycle was applied to both sides so we could seek cost-saving initiatives.

Economic Development

John said, “Developers have too much freedom to decide what will be built and too little responsibility for their impacts on traffic, sewers, conservation, and town character. What we end up with in some cases are houses that are simply too big for their neighborhood, or too many banks and chain stores and not enough community oriented shops.”

Actually, the developers build according to what zoning allows. If there’s a real issue, it should be directed at Town Planning & Zoning and you can make your vote count by electing people who share your ideals for what Fairfield should be. The current set of zoning regulations up for discussion is a perfect example of democracy in action.

John said, “However, we must reorganize, streamlining our internal land use process by reorganizing engineering, planning and conservation.”

Reorganize how, I wonder? What magical solutions does he expect to find?

Budget and Finance

John says, “Over the past five years we have seen Fairfield’s surplus cash decline from $8 million to $6 million, even with a 51% increase in our tax burden. We have spent down the town retirement medical insurance fund from $6 million to $3 million and have set aside $0 towards, $55 million in future liabilities.”

Actually, the town upgraded its surplus this year to 3.9%, well within the 3-5% the bond rating agencies like to see. And as the town pays down bonds, we can look for this number to rise. The town is also putting into place some cutting edge plans for retirement plans dictated by state law.

I’m disappointed by my fellow residents seeing we have a surplus and immediately want to use it without understanding why we need it.

Education

John says, “Tomlinson Middle School incurred $2 million in cost overruns.”

He’s right. The overrun there caused the RTM to investigate and as a result, the town and Board of Education now have better systems in place. Of course, the other building projects were completed under budget and we wound up not using all of our bonding authority which saved everyone money.

In fact, the RTM reduced the budget on the project by more than $2 million at the urging of the First Selectman, in an effort to rein in costs and encourage value engineering. A number of cost savings were found and the town saved several hundred thousand dollars. Ultimately, much of the initial reduction was restored via the “day one” list.

John said, “This year alone, the student enrollment forecast was too low, missing by over 250 new students, creating even more space problems.”

Actually, the Board of Education has yet to release their final tally for this year’s enrollment so John’s numbers are guesswork. However, we recognize that for several years running, the estimates have been wrong and Ken will be working with Ann Clark, the superintendent, to improve the prognostication process for smarter budgeting.

Yes, space is an issue but it’s something the Board of Education has to contend with, not the First Selectman. Here’s a chance for voters to put people into office who may finally address these issues without causing fear and panic among the parents.

John says, “Stratfield Elementary School is starting inexpensive and low quality renovations that will save money in the short run but cost us far more in the long run.”

Actually, a building committee for Stratfield has not even been formed as yet so no renovations beyond routine maintenance is occurring. The committee will be formed shortly once the specifications are completed.

Senior Services

John says, “The current senior tax relief program is difficult to understand, difficult to administer and helps only a small portion of Fairfield’s senior population. Our seniors question every day whether the current senior center on Mona Terrace will be here in ten years.”

Actually, our RTM Moderator asked the party leaderships in June of 2006 to appoint members of the Tax Relief review committee. Democrats were named by the 4th of July, while the Republicans didn’t appoint their members until after Labor Day. With a December 31 sunset provision, that left insufficient time to make substantive changes and improvements. If the seniors find the rules complicated, they can address their concerns to their Republican representatives and ask what took so long.

The reason we don’t have greater participation is that a lot of the seniors just don’t want a lien on their homes. Does John propose doing away with the lien?

Actually, we also haven’t heard concerns raised about the Senior Center and as of today, there’s no reason to think the Senior Center won’t be here for the foreseeable future.

Open Space and Environment

John said, “No Swimming pool at Turner Army Reserve Center.”

Actually, once the committee was formed, it fell under Federal guidelines and the First Selectman has no authority to say what will or will not be put in that space. The committee’s final recommendations have yet to be made.

John said, “Alternative energy is the future. We will position Fairfield on the leading edge by increasing tax incentives to citizens and businesses that go Green.”

Fairfield is already leaning green as it continues to encourage citizens to sign up for United Illuminating’s clean energy plan that nets the town a free solar panel for each hundred home signed up. Two of our middle schools are already enjoying those benefits. Similarly, the town has worked with Laidlaw for clean-energy buses to keep fumes from affecting our children.

Committees and citizen’s groups have been formed to look into other ways the town can get even greener.

The Quality of Life and Civility

John said, “Our roads ought to be paved at a rate of 14 miles per year in order to completely repave every road every 15 years. However, for the last six years the Town has paved only 7.5 miles per year, meaning the roads you travel will be paved only once every 30 years. Additionally, petroleum costs have increased by nearly 40%, which means that the work we have postponed will cost us substantially more.”

He’s right. During some tough budget years, money set aside for paving was reduced. Coupled with the rise in cost of materials, it’s now an issue to be addressed. In the current town budget, increased funds were dedicated for town paving as we attempt to catch up.

John said, “Identify creative commuter parking alternatives to solve our downtown parking congestion.”

As a town representative, I’m all ears and interested to hear these creative ideas. We’re working with all facets of the community to find any useful suggestion so if John has something to offer, let him speak up.