Hines Sight / 2011 had it all, but what about 2012?
What a year 2011 was.
It had everything you could ask for -- suspense, intrigue, precedence, cooperation, tension, fear and elation.
We saw the departure of the longtime first selectman, Ken Flatto, before his term was up in November and the naming of an acting first selectman then an interim one, all taking place in the six months before the municipal election. In November, Democrat Mike Tetreau handily won the top job.
We had arguments over budgets and money. Where we saved money in one area, we spent in another, namely the Fairfield Metro Center, which was besieged with problems from the beginning. While the depot opened to commuters in early December, the train station project went well over budget, with the town responsible for paying the cost overruns.
We endured our fair share of crime and tragedy for a town our size. We witnessed some businesses closing while others opened. We watched as the lights on the landmark Community Theatre go out with little, if any, hope for their return. The weather hit us hard with snow and ice in the early part of the year, heavy rains through spring, a hurricane-like event in the fall, a freak snowstorm on Halloween and moderate temperatures ending the year.
So how can we top all of this in 2012? While we can't predict what the weather will do, we can be assured that people will make the new year interesting.
The 2012-13 budget-setting process undoubtedly will spark the greatest angst, with each special interest group seeking to get as much as possible to fulfill their missions. The 2011-12 municipal budget was approved at $263,073,943, but not before a huge and bitter battle over education funding. Will 2012 be any different? I seriously doubt it, especially if the education forces want to guard against any reduction by the decision-makers. Keep in mind also that we have new leadership on the Board of Selectmen (where the budget deliberations begin) and new faces on the boards of Education and Finance and the Representative Town Meeting. They are going to want to make their marks as leaders early on.
Regarding the spending of money, the town is gearing up for the possibility of renovating Riverfield School. In 2011, we completed a $17.5 million refurbishment of Stratfield School and started a $24.3 million one on Fairfield Woods Middle School. While the Board of Education already has approved specifications for the Riverfield project and town officials have toured the building to see what needs to be done, no dollar amount has been derived. The Board of Education's Long Range Facilities Plan estimates the work will cost $9 million, but anyone who has followed school construction projects over the last couple decades knows it doesn't end there. Can we afford to do another multimillion-dollar school project? Let's think seriously about this one.
The Fairfield Metro Center is sure to be back in the news. It's been a thorn in the community's side for more than a decade, so why stop now? More money has gone out than we'll see come in for quite some time, and the hope of reaping tax revenue from the commercial development, which always has been part of the plan, is a long time in coming, despite what the private developer says. Not to mention, the developer has yet to provide plans for a concourse building, rather integral to the whole scheme, where commuters will be able to grab coffee and food and go to the bathroom. Right now, train users are out of luck.
I wish for a peaceful and prosperous year for our community. I look forward to bipartisan cooperation, an eye toward saving money and cutting costs and a whole new approach to how we discharge the public's business. We need greater openness and transparency by town and school officials, the majority of whom we elect into office. We should look for ways to streamline government functions and eliminate waste where necessary while simultaneously providing crucial services.
It's a tough balancing act, one I think we as a community working together is ready to tackle.