Tuesday, May 29, 2018

VIDEO: "What Was Old is New Again" - a look at the updated Simon House of 1860 on 113 Locust Avenue in New Canaan with John Engel and Susan Engel

This immaculate 3-story antique with private deck and yard downtown invites comfort and exudes modern elegance. With 3 bedrooms & 2 baths, generous living space and an open plan you'll enjoy a perfect setting for relaxing and entertaining. Downstairs oak hardwood floors and plenty of natural night flow throughout the home's open, airy layout. Special highlights include two (wood) fireplaces, rich exposed brick, chic moldings, central air (and ceiling fans), new LG washer & dryer, marble baths, tons of storage space and glass sliding doors that lead out to the rear deck. Upstairs you'll love the original wide-board pine floors and walk-up attic playroom. You'll love the convenience of your 4 off-street parking spots, a great neighborhood steps from restaurant row and an easy commute.Windows for both bedrooms upstairs and the picture window facing the deck are new.


VIDEO: "And All Probably 200 Yards from the Center of Town" - the new video of 88 South Avenue "Southgate" in New Canaan featuring Susan Engel and John Engel

This elegant private Georgian style brick townhouse has been in the same family since new! An end-unit, it is adjacent to garages, with large stone terrace & awning, and convenient guest parking. The large Living room has a wood burning fireplace and 2 sets of recent sliders providing bright views. There is a sunny Library or Dining room opposite the kitchen, and a Powder room on the 1st Floor. Upstairs there are 3 Bedrooms and 2 baths. On the lower level you find over 800SF of unfinished space for Laundry, hobbies or storage.

VIDEO: "If James Bond Lived In New Canaan, He Would Live Here" - the new video of 269 Dan's Highway in New Canaan by John Engel and Susan Engel

Just 5 minutes from charming New Canaan this hilltop estate nestled on 4 secluded acres offers an oasis of serenity from the pressures of business or travel. Designed by a Greek architect to fit its natural setting, the home offers 4 levels of private, terraced private gardens and a beautifully intimate swimming pool. Watch deer as you enjoy morning coffee from the Italian tiled exterior balconies. 7500 square feet in 4 stories of open and expansive living area finished with hardwoods, marble, granite and stone will make your stay a delight to the eyes. Exterior doors from almost every room at every level access terraced, private gardens. Enjoy 4 bedrooms with a separate studio apartment and a cork paneled movie room with a 20 foot screen.

Chairman's View: "Somewhere along the line that's too much" - my column for the New Canaan Advertiser April 2, 2018

“Somewhere along the line that’s too much, way too much” BOE Chairman Henry Coleman said on March 28, 1974 about the school budget of $8 million, now $90 million in 2019. That is a 5.65% compound annual growth rate. Inflation over the same period was 3.65%. The main reason for this is the compounding effect of the CBA-negotiated annual COLA increases when combined with the step increases in teacher pay.  Wage rates in Connecticut are much higher than comparable states. When you add in step increases you’re up to 4.5% and 5%.

This is budget week: Tuesday’s public hearing and Thursday’s final Town Council vote. What happened and didn’t happen this year?  The Board of Finance held the overall budget to a 1.89% increase. The town operating expense rose 1.33% and after contingency and pension that increase is 1.69%. On the Board of Education side we see they cut the requested $3 million increase by $900,000, resulting in a 2.07% operating increase and a 2.45% overall increase. I never got the answer to my question, “Show us what 2% looks like”. The BOE wants to pick that number together. Ok, we will.

Why didn’t we cut the Education budget $400,000 further to bring the budget within the 2% guidance? The Board of Finance said too much, too soon and the Town Council agreed. Second, the schools healthcare costs spiked up $568,000 this year. Taking this out of the equation means the Education budget is being held to 2.07%.  Finally,  we heard the Superintendent say “redeployment of staff through attrition” which means a commitment to reducing headcount gradually. That’s the key. It’s what we needed to hear. It took 10 years to add 64 new staff positions. It may take a few years to reduce by that many. 

The Town Council is drafting an ordinance requiring the town of New Canaan to annually prepare a Long Term Financial Plan (LTFP) in which we set our financial assumptions and goals for the next 5 years. (Hint: That corridor should be set at 2.0%-2.5% annual growth.) Instead of a BOF guidance letter in October there will be a collaboration between boards starting this month: the Boards of Education, Finance, Selectmen and Town Council deciding what we can afford now.

Town departments requested $8.6 million in Capital, down from $11.1 million. The Selectmen cut it to $7.9 million. Finance cut it to $7.7 million. The Town Council is eyeing another $300,000 in cuts at the expense of new sidewalks, a paddle court and projects at Irwin Park. Waveny’s $1 million “placeholder” should survive but comes with a great deal of scrutiny and public input. 

Finally, it is interesting to note that Board of Ed member Hazel Hobbs is quoted in that 1974 article saying “I guess it’s just a question of priorities.” Indeed. Forty-four years later Hazel Hobbs is still fighting for school excellence. Thank you for your service, Hazel. This budget has worn me out. I can’t do this 43 more times.

Chairman's View: "Please, Tell Us What a 2% Budget Looks Like" - my column for the New Canaan Advertiser March 5, 2018

Darien schools are requesting a budget increase of 2.34% (including the new tuba). Wilton’s school board is asking for 2.24%. Note, in the last 3 years Wilton has averaged less than a 1% per year. The Stamford public schools requested an increase of 1.48% after coming in last year at 2.2%. Stamford’s low increase was largely the result of a new employment agreement with teachers that moved them from a private insurance plan to the state’s, saving money for taxpayers and teachers. Two months into the budget season New Canaan’s Board of Education continues to request 3.48% saying this is the price of excellence. Think about that: two months into the budget season and there have been no attempts on behalf of the BOE to debate and cut their own budget, no attempt to bring it in line with BOF and BOS guidance of 2%, saying instead that “priorities are purposefully in tension with the Town Council and BOF” 

Half of the Town Council was in attendance at the last Board of Finance meeting and one veteran member said, “I was waiting for someone to simply ask to see the 2% budget as Bryan must have that ready by now…the BOE has been preparing for a couple for months for this.” 

BOE lawyers might say its legal, but without public meetings of a Curriculum Committee or at the Board of Education level we do not know where cuts to the budget will be felt. Advertiser stories on pages 1, 3, 4 and 6 all point at the problem most citizens have in not knowing where cuts will be felt until after we’ve made them

A few years ago the Administration needed curriculum development in response to state mandates for social and emotional learning (SEL). New Canaan took the lead statewide and developed a new curriculum, probably the best in the State.  Curriculum development money is still in in the budget, compounding every year. We spent $15,000 on Happiness training for teachers and $31,500 on a Climate workshop. This year we are adopting the Yale RULER curriculum for $42,000. We are already number 1. Can we please take one year off from curriculum development?

Please don’t threaten to cut favorite programs. Reduce the budget in non-teacher headcount. In the last 3 years enrollment went from 4174 to 4184. We added 10 new students but we added 19.5 net new staff, a $676,147 increase. If you add insurance, pension and benefits that increase exceeds $1 million. In the last 10 years the Board of Ed has added 64 new full time equivalent staff and teachers during a period of relatively flat enrollment. 
Teacher stipends have increased 56% from $622,939 to $970,116 since 2016, offset in part by parent donations and ticket revenues. But that money still comes from parents one way or another. 

Connecticut requires 1.0 credit of health and gym. Darien and Wilton meet the 1.0 credit minimum. New Canaan requires 2.25 credits including substance abuse counseling. Could reducing gym and health to state minimums be part of an opportunity to shorten the school day and provide later sleep times?

2018 is not business as usual after State cuts. As Tom Butterworth correctly points out, we run the risk cutting to 2% without knowing where its coming from. Please, tell us what a 2% budget looks like.

Chairman's View: "Its Getting Harder to Find Woods and Meadows Where a Dog Can Roam Off-Leash" - New Canaan Advertiser January 22, 2018

Its getting harder and harder to find woods and meadows where a dog can roam off-leash. Under Article 6, Section 8 of the Town Charter, dogs aren’t allowed off-leash anywherein New Canaan public parks except in Spencer’s Run at Waveny

That includes the Bristow Bird Sanctuary, whose deed requires it “forever [be] maintained as a Bird Sanctuary and Wildwood Preserve and used for no other purpose whatsoever.” That language prompted a recommendation by Parks & Rec in 2014 to ban dogs from Bristow. Dog lovers responded and the Town Council took up the debate in 2015. We ruled with the dogs when Animal Control Officer Kleinshmitt testified that deer, not leashed dogs, have the greatest impact on ground-nesting birds. Vice Chairman Steve Karl recognized the importance of green corridors to our community saying, “Hopefully between the Conservation Commission and Park & Recreation Commission, we can make some improvements over there to make it nice for everybody—people, birds and dogs.”

Now what? The Land Trust off-leash policy is under review. When off-leash dogs are not controlled they present a problem for neighbors and walkers. Recently, there was a complaint over large dogs jumping on an 18 month child in the 40 acre Watson-Symington Woodlands. Another dog ignored his owner’s pleas and followed a jogger down Wellesley Road. 

All other Land Trusts in Fairfield County require that the dogs be controlled on leashes (with one exception). Some board members believe the intensity of use on more popular parcels warrants rethinking land trust policy there. 

New Canaan is proud of the fact that we can offer off-leash walks, a rare privilege indeed. The response to traffic is increase our holdings and open up more parcels to public visitation, saying we have enough land to accommodate everybody. Chris Schipper called the incident the rare exception saying, “We’ve had 2 complaints in 5 years. Neither were members of the Land Trust. Don’t create blanket rulings to deal with exceptions. There are many other parcels to visit.” Discussion continues. 

Sunday April 22 is Earth Day. The Land Trust will open a new Green Link trail between Irwin Park and the Nature Center, completing a 3-mile walkable loop. As New Canaan “nature sanctuaries” become more popular should they be managed like Parks? Write your vote on the back of a $100 bill and send it to the Land Trust at Box 425, New Canaan, CT 06840

Chairman's View: "New Years Resolutions" my New Canaan Advertiser column for January 11, 2018

I’ll begin with 2018 New Year’s Resolutions from Town Council members:

Penny Young wrote, “Keep an open-mind and listen, listen, listen... the path forward will become evident.I will be mindful of our responsibility to preserve, maintain, and address the physical and operational needs of one of our most valuable resources— our buildings.”

Elizabeth Gores-Donovan said, “Top priority to take advantage of the "building momentum" of the recently published Building Use Report. Also plan to push for development of appropriate public/private partnership process and guidelines.”

Tom Butterworth weighed in saying “We're giving fast-track consideration to Dr. Bryan Luizzi’s breakthrough idea to put the long-vacant "Outback" building to a money-saving use as an alternative school for students with special needs.”

Cristina Ross added “Create defined procedures that address the financial appropriations process for all construction projects pertaining to our infrastructure, in order to better manage the contract administration process.”

The immediate priorities for the Town Council center on decisions around three buildings: the Outback, Waveny House and the Police Station, each of which is projected to have a large line item in this year’s capital budget. This week we consider the Outback where Superintendent of Schools Bryan Luizzi has made a proposal to create an Alternative High School there.  He will need a quick decision from the TC in order to begin planning and budgeting a Fall program. It may cost the Town between $500,000 and $1 million to rehabilitate the building whether or not we use it as a school and Dr. Luizzi’s plan shows potential cost savings over $100,000 per year to us versus the current practice of outsourcing this program out-of-town. Questions remain: How viable is this plan? Are there any alternative uses for that building that respect the intent of the original donors? Can we make more than $100,000 per year renting the building to a private party? The clock is ticking.

Steve Karl wrote, I fully support the idea and the concept and welcome the BOE’s input on this initiative. The only prerequisite I have is that we are shown the exact financial path forward that allows the town to have no ongoing expense associated with this project. And no debt associated with putting money into it to get it started to see “if it will work” . . . We can’t afford to simply fill a building because it’s empty.”

What are your resolutions for your Town Council? Let us know.