Easton to give back $1M due to rejection of pedestrian walkway

Town Hall in Easton, Conn. April 20, 2012.

Town Hall in Easton, Conn. April 20, 2012.

Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

EASTON — A proposed pedestrian pathway along Sport Hill Road was the only referendum item out of five proposals to be rejected by voters last week.

The other items, $550,000 for a partial roof replacement at 660 Morehouse Road, adopting a new land use ordinance, a tax-exemption for handicap vehicles and a new ethics ordinance, all passed easily.

First Selectman Dave Bindelglass said that while overall he is happy how the vote turned out, there’s still a need to make the pathway along Sport Hill Road safer.

“I was in favor of the path among this town leadership team and prior town leadership teams,” Bindelglass said. “We were in lockstep about the need to do this and we thought doing this would have been better for the town, but apparently a lot of people don’t think so.”

Bindelglass said he remained hopeful that the town could find a way to increase safety for people walking along Sport Hill Road.

“We’ll look into that shortly,” he added.

The referendum item appropriating $80,000 for the initial design of the proposed pedestrian pathway, was rejected by am 865 to 555 margin.

Bindelglass said while he understands the decision the residents made he is “particularly saddened” by the fact that the town will have to give back the $1 million dollars that it had received from the state for the project.

The $1 million comes from a grant in which the previous selectman applied for to use for the project. The original concept plan for pathway was expected to cost $1.25 million. The grant would have paid for 80 percent of that project.

“We have so much trouble raising revenue in town because all we really have is property taxes and so it’s a little bit painful to me to have to return a million dollars that the state was going to give us, but we went through the process. That was the vote and we move forward,” Bindelglass said.

In March, Easton held an advisory referendum on the topic of the pathway. As Bindelglass puts it, the administration was “checking the temperature” of the town to see if residents really wanted it. At the time, residents voted in favor of the pathway, but voters appeared to have a change of heart.

Bindelglass said a social media campaign against the pathway may have swayed some voters, or drummed up turnout among those who opposed the motion.

As for how the town will move forward in addressing the issue of safety along the pathway, Bindelglass said he has not given the topic much though, but improving the safety of pedestrians along Sport Hill Road remains a priority.

Of the other referendum results, Bindelglass said the Land Use Ordnance is historic because it is something the town has never had. It gives residents the right to decide through the town meeting whether to buy, sell or lease land.

“That brings to all of us a truly awesome responsibility to participate in the decision-making process,” Bindelglass said. “The most precious thing that most of us have in Easton is land and this gives the town a greater say.”

Passing the Tax-Exempt Handicap Vehicle Ordinance was simply the right thing to do, Bindelglass said. For those who require special modifications to their vehicles in order to get around, the town has exempted those vehicles from auto taxes.

“We are talking about vans with lifts and things like that which are extremely expensive. This was implicitly the right thing to do,” Bindelglass said.

The ethics update “speaks for itself,” Bindelglass said.

“We had an old ethics ordinance that was mostly inadequate and this brings us up to date and gives us mechanisms to deal much better with any future ethics issues,” he said.

Bindelglass said the old ordinance was very general and devoid of any provision for town officials to disclose their interests so that potential conflicts could be identified. The new ordinance is also more specific about penalties,” he said.