Reigning in spending and finding ways to alleviate residents' tax burdens are just a few of the ways the Democrats are looking to change town government.
Speaking to members of the press Monday afternoon outside Town Hall, first selectman candidate John Lundeen outlined how he could change the way the town functions.
"An economic turnaround appears to be distant, because economic indicators are weak. Some predict there will be more layoffs on Wall Street, and we all know that when Wall Street sneezes, Darien catches a cold," Lundeen said. "Right here in Darien people are tightening their belts by putting home renovation projects on hold, and choosing not to move to new or larger homes. They are scaling back on the `nice to haves,' because it's imperative to meet basic needs for their families' well-being."
The "shuffle" project came under fire from Lundeen, who believes the project was sold to the community on "nice to haves."
"At a time when government should be as prudent as the governed, this administration has green-lighted $18 million for two renovation projects which had been postponed due to souring economic conditions, and proposes a shuffle that will grow government office space and relocate and develop a larger senior center which is being sold to its end users based on `nice to haves,'" he said.
With the newest figure for the cost of the shuffle project at $7.3 million and the additional cost of 35 Leroy pushing it to $11.5 million, Lundeen felt his opposition was showing a lack of fiscal restraint. He also said cutting any "nice to haves" from the senior center could make it difficult to attract baby boomers.
"Cutting `nice-to-haves' from the shuffle plans for the senior center will require removing features that might attract the baby boomers on whom my opponent and her running mates are relying to make their questionable demographic case for the project," he said. "Yet including those features makes the center too expensive for taxpayers -- particularly seniors."
As the town's budget continues to increase, Lundeen said he would like to see town officials take a more active role in where money is being spent instead of asking department heads to decide where money should be spent.
"Darien residents expect their elected officials to identify spending priorities, not the Town's staff. All of use expect that our elected officials will fulfill their responsibilities to deliver what is important to us," he said. "And, conversely, to carefully review the budget with a critical eye to scale back expenditures wherever possible. This administration has failed to do both, as indicated by the nearly $500,000 of budgetary transfers recently authorized to close the 2010-2011 budget."
Of particular interest to Lundeen was the increase in the mill rate for Darien, which he said was higher than 18 other Fairfield towns. He said New Canaan, Westport and Ridgefield all had significantly smaller increases in their mill rates and Norwalk and Stamford both had smaller increases compared to Darien.
"One way to offset the tax burden on residential taxpayers is to look for other sources of revenue, including grants that pay for community needs or enhance projects or services. This administration has not vigorously pursued such grants," Lundeen said.
In closing, Lundeen said he would use his experience as a budget examiner to get Darien back on track by scrutinizing budgets and identifying efficiencies.
"Darien residents deserve a town government that understands their needs and expectations. A town government that is open to all points of view; willing to investigate alternatives; and ready to take the lead to provide solutions that are long term and economically viable. By Darien working together to restore fiscal responsibility, we can deliver those results," Lundeen said.