Thursday, July 26, 2018

Chairman's View: Somebody Moved our Cheese, column for July 26, 2018

If you are one of 26 million people who read the book “Who Moved My Cheese?” you know we are at an inflection point here in New Canaan, a moment where we either wring our hands over the good old days or we take stock of the situation and address the change head-on. We find new cheese. New Canaan will continue to be known for great schools, a good commute, green spaces and parks, top cultural attractions and low taxes. But, some things will change:
-      Politics. In November we will have a new Governor. No matter which of the seven, it will be better. Connecticut needs and will get a new paradigm, and new ideas. New jobs will follow. New leadership inevitably brings with it a new optimism and energy. Connecticut and New Canaan will get a November lift as Hartford starts a new chapter.
-      For Sale Signs. Many of us have had a For Sale sign out for too long. Now at 2004 prices, some are waiting for the market to return. I believe the market will move sideways for the next few years. Town Hall must budget for that. If you can afford to stay, stay. New Canaan is a great option while we wait for the rebound. New Canaan prices are excellent when compared to Westchester and the City. The pendulum is swinging our way. 
-      Revaluation. In November the assessor resets the value of every house in New Canaan at a (more) correct value and new taxes are set. The value of many houses changed considerably since 2013 and this recalibration is about being fair to all. The reset will inevitably help move some unsold inventory. 
-      Debt. We have the highest debt of any town in this area (although our pension funds are 100% funded).  This debt was responsibly acquired to fund necessary long term asset improvements such as schools, treatment plants, town buildings, but it is still debt. Fortunately, our Boards of Finance and Selectmen are now hyper-conscious of that fact. Expect a new debt roadmap and capital plan this November outlining how we deliver top quality services and schools within our means. Expect a move toward 0% growth like Westport, Darien and Greenwich are doing.
-      Senior & Affordable Housing. Our lower-cost housing options were redeveloped during the building boom of the last 30 years. Ranches became mansions. Few condos were built to replace them, and those that were are very expensive. Now, the market responds with large, dense alternatives that scare us that the character of the town might be at stake. (The Preservation Alliance is a key piece fighting for our character but we need a strong P&Z. They put 100 restrictions on the Merritt Village. Good. They rejected the Roger Sherman redevelopment plan outright. Good. Let’s put our faith in P&Z. Give the Housing Authority a fair hearing and remember, “Don’t let the Perfect be the enemy of the Good.” (Voltaire
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