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The Board of Selectmen on January 3 unanimously endorsed amending the current year’s authorized Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) allocations to position enough funding to complete a unique open space preservation initiative involving a local working farm.
If that separate measure is approved by the Legislative Council, along with the companion CIP amendment to satisfy the town’s matching contribution, about 65 acres of the Paproski family’s Castle Hill Farm will be permanently preserved exclusively for agricultural use.
The temporary shift of $200,000 currently earmarked as part of a borrowing authorization for local sidewalk projects in this year’s CIP would be replaced by a 2017-18 CIP allocation for open space acquisition — in effect zeroing out that 2017 open space allocation request and creating no additional taxpayer cost implications in either the current or next fiscal year.
The tandem processes are somewhat awkward timing-wise because of the order in which the separate proposals need to be deliberated and approved by the Board of Finance and the Legislative Council. The bottom line according to First Selectman Pat Llodra is, if either the council or finance board reject either or both the open space preservation action or the CIP amendment the deal is effectively dead.
If both panels authorize the acquisition and the CIP amendment in the coming weeks, Mrs Llodra said the town will be positioned to close on the Paproski acquisition by the end of March.
Last November 7, the Board of Selectmen unanimously agreed to enter into a partnership with the state Department of Agriculture to ensure that unique agricultural soil on the parcel in question is preserved for the foreseeable future.
To accomplish Newtown’s part of the deal, the selectmen previously endorsed tapping two years worth of open space funding earmarked in the CIP to underwrite 45 percent, or $450,450 of a $1,001,100 payment to the local family to obtain an agricultural easement on about two-thirds of the 94-plus-acre parcel just off Sugar Street. The balance of the funds will come from the state.
The town signed a cooperative agreement in 2015 to enter into joint partnership of the Farmland Preservation Program as recommended by the local Conservation Commission. Soon after, the state Department of Agriculture (CTDoA) reviewed the property and acquired an appraisal to negotiate the easement value.
Since then, the CTDoA prepared an offer to the Paproskis to purchase the proposed easement along with terms for payment, and the town agreed to partner with CTDoA to purchase the easement in early 2016.
Newtown Deputy Director of Planning & Land Use Rob Sibley said the current proposal stipulates that the Paproski family must remain as residents on the farm, that the property must remain an active agricultural enterprise, and that all requirements related to the contract must be completed no later than March 31.
He also said that there is a strong possibility the US Department of Agriculture could offset the town and state’s investment in the easement with a grant of up to 50 percent of the total cost.
On January 3, Mrs Llodra told Selectmen Will Rodgers and Herb Rosenthal that the only reason to amend the current CIP is because the town needs to have its matching funds available in March. She told The Newtown Bee that if the closing could have been delayed until after July 1, the added open space funds would have become available in the next authorized round of CIP borrowing.
But because the funds are needed before the next fiscal cycle, she is hoping officials will support the temporary shift of funding from the sidewalk authorization to temporarily cover the extra money needed for the Paproski acquisition — if approved by the council — by March 31.
“To have confidence we can close by March 31, we need to have the funds enabled,” she told selectmen before the unanimous approval January 3, adding that she recognizes there are a lot of moving parts to the proposal, and again clarifying that this is one of two overlapping but separate actions between the Paproski action and the funding vehicle.
John Boccuzzi, Sr, appeared before selectmen to answer a final round of questions regarding a previously proposed initiative to make Newtown Connecticut’s first AARP “Age-Friendly Community.”
The national initiative of the nonprofit organization that caters to and advocates on behalf of individuals over age 50 has established the program that bestows the “Age-Friendly” title on communities that have adopted or agreed to support eight “domains” set forth by AARP.
As chairman of a new community support and advocacy group called Friends of Newtown Seniors, Mr Boccuzzi said that to maximize benefits of the age-friendly initiative for not only all local seniors, but most of the rest of Newtown’s residents, is to move forward in collaboration with the town’s Commission on Aging and other like-minded groups.
Having already fulfilled, or having plans in place to fulfill most of the AARP age-friendly qualifiers, Mr Boccuzzi said the application to the program is all but ready to mail save for the endorsement of the first selectmen.
“We’re anxious and ready to run with this,” he said. “We’re just waiting for Newtown’s commitment to being an age-friendly community per the guidelines we sent. We’ve completed the application as far as we could and await feedback.”
Mrs Llodra said the proposal and application required additional discussion, however, saying selectmen were still not clear about what the town is “obligated to do if we go down that path,” adding that information in AARP cover material was somewhat confusing regarding logistics and implementation strategy.
Saying that maintenance and conformity responsibility for the “age-friendly” requirements had to fall on someone other than a municipal employee or agency, Mr Boccuzzi said as current chair of the Friends of Newtown Seniors, he would head up that oversight. Those responsibilities would accrue to each new and subsequent chairperson.
“That person would take on leadership and relationship-building to help move initiative forward,” he said.
Appearing to have sufficient support from her board, Mrs Llodra asked Mr Boccuzzi to come back before selectmen on January 17 to make any final revisions before applying to AARP.
“We can’t risk not doing this well, so we have to be comfortable taking on this charge,” the first selectman said.
ECS Funding Movement
The selectmen also briefly discussed an invitation from a Woodbury finance board member who is attempting to form a coalition of towns who are perennially shorted on their Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) formula.
Mrs Llodra said she received a solicitation from Woodbury finance official William Monti, hoping to enlist Newtown among towns that would lobby together to proportionately restore shortfalls in ECS funding by shifting money from Connecticut towns and cities that regularly receive more than 100 percent of their ECS share annually.
“Some towns receive less than 50 percent of ECS funding, including Newtown, while others receive more than 100 percent,” Mrs Llodra said. “Mr Monti wants towns to join in efforts to better equalize the distribution — taking from [towns receiving] over 100 percent to divide among towns receiving less than 50 percent.”
She said in the coming year, Newtown is only allocated between 46 and 47 percent of the ECS funding it is qualified to receive.
Selectman Herb Rosenthal said the state has not followed its own ECS funding formula for at least four years.
“I don’t know how accurate the numbers are,” he said referring to Mr Monti’s projected windfall for Newtown if his initiative is successful. “But it would be great if we were getting $10 million.”
Mrs Llodra said Superintendent of Schools Joseph V. Erardi, Jr, was scheduled to hold a conference call with colleagues on the issue.
“The legislature needs to look at the formula and consider what is fair,” she said. Mrs Llodra said she also plans to speak with Newtown’s legislative delegation January 9 to discuss the proposal.
She said the state’s Council Of Small Towns (COST), as well as the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) cannot be involved taking a position because they represent towns involved on both sides of the ECS funding debacle.
“Some towns receive up to 130 percent or more,” she said, “it’s been a mess for a long time.”