Thursday, July 26, 2018

Chairman's View: Yes to GreenLink; No to Sharp Elbows - New Canaan Advertiser April 26, 2018

Chairman’s View: Yes to GreenLink; no to ‘sharp elbows’

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“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” –John Muir (1912)
Fifty New Canaan residents gathered yesterday (Sunday) to open a GreenLink trail more than 50 years in the making. Trace it to Susan Bliss’s gift of the 40-acre Nature Center (1960), Land Trust founder Jack Gunther (1967), gifts by the Betts (1974), Hupper (1974) and Fischer (1977) families, Richard Bergman’s GreenLinks vision (1990), Judy Neville’s purchase of 36.2-acre Irwin Park (2004), Chris Schipper’s debut (2012), Tiger Mann’s sidewalks, bridges by Eagle Scout Max Marsh and Anthony Sillo, the New Canaan Community Foundation and the Nature Center.
I recently asked a family why they moved here. It wasn’t excellent schools and low taxes. She said our neighbors are towns of “sharp elbows,” and New Canaan has a reputation as a nicer place to raise a family. Be proud of that distinction. We cannot put a price on it. It took an uninterrupted thread of 50-plus years, neighbor support and the last 100-foot stretch of trail.
Let’s talk sharp elbows: The First District Water Department, answering to the ratepayers of Norwalk, is threatening to demolish the 225-year-old Grupe-Nichols-Brown house in New Canaan on May 13 to avoid paying property taxes to New Canaan. General Manager Dominick DiGangi was quoted saying, “I have to protect my investment. I have ratepayers, I have taxpayers. That is who I answer to.” Demolition to protect an investment? The First District Water Company does not treat New Canaan equally to its Norwalk constituents. We pay higher rates on hydrants, on connections and for the water. New Canaan receives less than one cent per 1,000 gallons pulled from the Milne and Grupe reservoirs, while the Water Department charges around $4 per 1,000 gallons.
Consider the difference between our two water companies: Aquarion is the fourth-largest taxpayer in New Canaan, paying $291,000 in property taxes. The First District Water Department holds 168 acres, extracts about 1 billion gallons of our water, mostly for the benefit of Norwalk residents, and pays only $9,000 per year in taxes. This particular 4-acre parcel has been for sale for three years because it is surplus property, not used for any department purposes. Oh, by the way, if they need it, it will be there, undeveloped, under the careful eye of the Land Trust. 
The Board of Finance and Town Council voted unanimously to support purchasing the property, using all means necessary, at the fair market price. The whole town is committed to this initiative, backed with financing from the Land Trust and our 50-plus-year history of conservation.
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