May 21, 2013
Written by Macklin Reid, Press Staff
Saturday, 29 October 2011 07:02
Unanimous in support of the $7-million Schlumberger purchase, selectmen candidates at the recent League of Women Voters debate showed a broad range of opinions when asked about the library’s building plans.
Nearing its $15 million private fund raising goal, the library board plans to ask the town for the final $5 million needed for a $20 million renovation and expansion project.
An audience of about 50 heard candidates discuss the plan at Monday’s League of Women Voters event in the playhouse.“The 500-pound gorilla in the room is town debt,” said Jan Rifkinson, the unaffiliated candidate challenging four incumbents for a Board of Selectmen’s seat.
Even without more borrowing, the town’s more than $90 million in long-term debt won’t be paid down until 2031, Mr. Rifkinson said.
“My personal feeling is, if the library can raise $10 million, it can do a fine job building a $10-million library. If they raise $15 million, they can do a fine job building a $15-million library.
“I don’t feel we’re in a position to offer them a $5-million gift,” Mr. Rifkinson said.
The case for backing the library’s expansion with $5 million was made most forcefully by board’s two Republican incumbents, Andy Bodner and Maureen Kozlark.
“The Ridgefield Library is an asset to the town,” Mr. Bodner said, and draws “over 1,000 people a day.”
The library is already semi-public. “The town funds 75% of its budget,” he said.
The library building is in need of basic maintenance repairs, which would cost the town about $5 million.
With the library proposal, the town can have a new $20-million library “for what the town would spend to simply patch the building together,” Mr. Bodner said. “I think it would be foolish not to.”
“The building is an older building and it does need repair,” said Ms. Kozlark.
“We’re talking about heating, air conditioning, mechanicals, roof repair ... We’ll have to put money into that building anyway,” she said.
“As a town,” she added, “we’ve learned the lesson of delayed maintenance.”
The board’s two Democrats sounded more cautious.
Barbara Manners praised the library board’s fund-raising efforts, and its sale of the former Webster Bank building to Valerie Jensen who hopes to return it to its original use as the town’s movie house. But she was noncommittal about giving the library $5 million for the project, admitting to “reservations” on whether the library could control “operating expenses” at a new, larger building.
“I support taking this to referendum and letting the people decide,” Ms. Manners said.
Di Masters said, “A public private partnership is a remarkable thing, and it should be applauded.”
But she promised to scrutinize the library board’s plans carefully. “When it come to us, we will be charged with asking the tough questions on operating expenses,” she said.
On the proposed $7 million Schlumberger purchase, the candidates all supported buying the 45-acre site to fend off potential high density housing. Their positions were distinguished largely by nuances.
“Forty-five acres with sewer and water and access is just a recipe for changing the way we do business.” Ms. Masters said.
She thought the town should buy the property, so it can exert stronger control over what it is built there.
“We want tax-positive development,” she said.
Mr. Bodner, too, spoke of the “risk of high density housing” on the site.
“I think we should purchase it, and as quickly as we can sell off pieces to recover costs,” he said.
“There’s definitely economic value,” he said. “I think we can quickly recover the cost.”
Once the town owns the site, Ms. Manners said, “we can have discussions about what kind of specs and controls we want to have” on the land before reselling portions of — while possibly keeping some for future town uses.
“I actually think it’s imperative that we buy that property,” said Ms. Manners.
“By the town purchasing the property we’d be masters of our own destiny,” Ms. Kozlark agreed.
Mr. Rifkinson backed the purchase. “I think we should take control of this property,” he said.
But he raised concerns.
“It’s going to increase our debt,” he warned. “Buying the property is only half the issue, the other half is the carrying costs, going forward.”
After Tropical Storm Irene’s problems, should the town should try again to improve cell telephone service in north Ridgefield?
“I supported a cell tower in northern Ridgefield before Irene,” Barbara Manners said. “We lost a very good opportunity.”
With the first plan for a cell tower above Ledges Road voted down, she wasn’t sure it made sense to try again.
“We had a town meeting” she said, “and the people who support the cell tower did not come out.”
Di Masters agreed.
“The cell tower was unfortunately a hot-button issue with the neighbors,” Ms. Kozlark said.
The plan was attractive because it would improve cell service while adding 29 acres of open space land. “It could also have protected that ridge line,” she said.
Mr. Bodner most forcefully supported the cell tower.
“It’s absolutely inexcusable in the 21st Century the northern part of town does not have cell phone coverage,” he said. “I think we have to continue to look for alternative sites.”
Mr. Rifkinson offered his thoughts on what the selectmen had done wrong, leading to the defeat of the cell tower.
“Government brings forth some plans and says: ‘vote yes or no.’ It’s a problem in presentation,” Mr. Rifkinson said. “The voters should be brought in right in the beginning.”
|< Prev||Next >|