The Stonington Board of Selectmen held a special joint meeting with the Board of Finance on this date at 7:00 p.m. at the Stonington High School Auditorium. Present were First Selectman William S. Brown, Selectman Stephen E. Bessette and Selectman Peter L. Balestracci. Also present were members of the Board of Finance, town staff, the public, and the press.
1. Call to Order
Mr. Brown and Mr. Glenn Frishman, Chairman of the Board of Finance, called the joint meeting to order at 7:00 p.m. Mr. Frishman was designated as the moderator of the meeting.
2. Joint Meeting with Board of Finance, to discuss with interested parties the proposed addition to Town Hall
Mr. Frishman introduced Joseph Bragaw, Town Engineer; George Sylvestre, Director of Administrative Services; and Brian Humes, Architect. Mr. Frishman stated that Mr. Sylvestre and Mr. Bragaw will present information regarding the proposed addition to Town Hall and then there will be an opportunity for public comments and questions.
Mr. Sylvestre gave a forty-minute presentation, reviewing the history of the proposal and funding for the addition. He spoke regarding the Town’s efforts for the past six years to move forward with technology such as digital imaging. He mentioned that the State of Connecticut mandates that municipalities must keep the paper copies of documents accessible to the public even if the information is available in digital or electronic format. He commented that handouts are available at the back of the room that respond to questions and issues that have been raised. He then turned the presentation over to Mr. Bragaw, who spoke for approximately twenty minutes about the physical aspects of the project, then turned the meeting back over to Mr. Frishman. Mr. Frishman
called for a five minute recess at 8:00 p.m. and the meeting resumed at 8:05 p.m. Mr. Frishman inquired if anyone would like to speak.
Bryan Chesebrough, 134 Elm Street, commented that he feels that this should have been an “inception” meeting, not a “summation” meeting; the citizenry has been excluded until the 11th hour. He spoke at length about the importance of technology and the possibility of outsourcing the Town’s digital imaging. He suggested the Town’s paper records could be stored elsewhere, freeing up space in the existing Town Hall. He commented he is not opposed to any solution, after intelligent discourse with the community. He stated he is not speaking for others, only for himself. He commented he is in favor of a meeting hall. He mentioned the petition that has been submitted to the Town, asking for a Special Town Meeting
to consider that an infrastructure committee be convened. Such a committee could be a catalyst in overcoming the lack of continuity caused by the change in administrations over the years. He commented on recent letters to the editor and stated that people are not trying to cast aspersions on civil servants, they are just questioning the process.
Frances O’Neil, Pawcatuck, voiced her concerns regarding her interpretation of financing issues. Mr. Frishman rebutted her comments, and Director of Finance Maryanna Stevens commented on the fact that the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) fund is separate from the regular budget. She offered to provide Ms. O’Neil with a copy of the CIP budget.
William Cutler, Stonington, commented that this is proper government in action. A proposal is put forth to the people, and if the people are upset, a meeting is held. However, there have been meetings regarding this proposal, in fact a series of meetings, and the meetings were properly noticed. The people of the Town must attend these meetings in order to be well informed.
Russell Morrison, 77 Briarpatch Road, Stonington, commented that a comparison of various solutions should be laid out side by side. He commented that the proposal, as it stands, is a packaged solution and the case for it hasn’t been made. He stated it is not too late to change the proposal.
William Sternberg, Elm Street, commented that he works out of town and is not able to attend many meetings. He stated that nobody from the Town came to him and asked for his input. He expressed his concerns about not being included in the beginning of the decision-making process. He suggested that the Board of Finance should listen to the comments being made tonight, there is a way to get a better solution and the best value. He commented that the addition should be put on the back of the Town Hall, it would only cost a million dollars more. He stated that there are inefficiencies in the budget that could be chased after to find extra money.
Mark Kepple, 140 Elm Street, stated he has lived on Elm Street for more than 40 years. He thanked everyone for tonight’s informational meeting and stated that it would have been nice to start the process off with such a meeting. He commented he is aware of the physical difficulties over the years at Town Hall and understand the needs of staff. He is not opposed to expansion, only to having it go forward without the opportunity to see information such as is being presented tonight. He commented on the series of missed opportunities over the past 30 years when the townspeople have shown that they are not willing to approve certain proposals. He stated that now, however, if the right idea is promoted, people take a vested interest in it. The people
need to be afforded the opportunity to contribute. He stated that he didn’t come to criticize, he came to listen; let’s work together to come up with a viable solution. Bring us along, educate us, involve us.
Andrew Maynard, Borough Warden, inquired about aesthetics, design, and functionality and Mr. Bragaw addressed his concerns. Mr. Bragaw commented that the floor plans and the site plan could be put on the Town’s web site to make them easier for citizens to review. Mr. Maynard inquired about what will happen next, to which Mr. Frishman responded that tonight’s comments will be collected and reviewed before anything else.
Guy Chesebro, Pawcatuck, commented he is more concerned about the process than anything else. He stated that he doesn’t feel that the people have been included in the process.
Ed Habarek, Moss Street, Pawcatuck, inquired if there is any chance of the Town not receiving the LoCip funds it expects to receive, to which Mr. Frishman responded that is very unlikely, LoCip has been in existence for approximately twenty years. Mr. Habarek questioned the rationale for needing a large meeting room; he stated he has attended several meetings, including Selectmen’s meetings, and there were only 10 people in attendance. Jason Vincent, Director of Planning, responded that many land use commission meetings attract more than sixty people, and for that reason they have had to change the location of their meetings from the Police Department meeting room to the Mystic Middle School cafeteria. They are criticized because people can’t hear, due to
the cafeteria equipment noise. Due to the need for tonight’s meeting, the High School had to cancel a function previously scheduled for the auditorium. Use of the school meeting rooms requires a great deal of effort to coordinate, especially with sound systems and audio/visual equipment. Mr. Habarek commented on the cost for heat, electric, and maintenance of the additional square footage and inquired if the meeting room will be available for public use as a community meeting room. Mr. Vincent and Mr. Bragaw stated that would be a policy to be determined by the Board of Selectmen.
Lois Kane, 24 Lincoln Ave., Mystic, expressed her concerns about rising energy costs, stating she is not convinced that cavernous meeting rooms are warranted. She inquired if figures have been projected out for maintenance, etc., and stated that new buildings have fixed costs and when the budget needs to be cut, the Town ends up cutting the Education budget. She commented that there is nothing wrong with continuing to use the school meeting rooms for town meetings. Mr. Bragaw responded to her comments about energy costs.
Mark Mercier, Pawcatuck, commented he is not for or against the project, he is just opposed to the process. He inquired whether a second story could be built on top of the addition in the future, to which Brian Humes, Architect, responded that there is no capability of putting on a second story. However, there is other potential on the site.
David Brown, Pawcatuck, commented that he has attended a number of budget meetings and the proposal for this project has been in the budget for years. He commented that he wishes the people making comments tonight would have come to those budget meetings. He stated it is unrealistic to say “the Town should have come to me, should have knocked on my door to tell me about the project or ask my opinion.” He suggested that townspeople should channel their energy and get involved in, and go to, board and commission meetings.
Mark Comeau, 291 Elm Street, Stonington, spoke regarding aesthetics, as an Architect and Professor of Architecture. He commented on the good job the town officials have done with the proposed plan for the addition. He stated that the townspeople should put their trust in the people we have working for us, and that, as a resident and a neighbor, he has participated as he thought he should.
Bryan Chesebrough, 134 Elm Street, spoke with regard to Mr. David Brown’s comments.
David Christina, Elm Street, thanked everyone for their presentations. He commented that the Town officials’ intentions are good. He invited people to come to his house to view the balance and sense of majesty of the existing Town Hall. He inquired how the new proposal could be considered an addition when it is only connected to the existing building by a breezeway. He expressed concerns regarding the 8 or 9 ft. “alleyway” between the buildings. He urged town officials to not have a “knee-jerk, impulsive decision to just slap something up.” He commented that construction costs will be rapidly increasing and the cost of the proposal will be more than 1.4 million. He requested that a committee be formed, as outlined in
Mr. Frishman inquired if there were any further comments, and there were none.
There being no further business to come before the Board, the meeting was adjourned at 9:30 p.m.
Kathy A. Kent