Bayne and Sullivan concerned about Darien shuffle project transfer
The Senior Center and Board of Education offices were once again the subject of debate as questions were raised regarding a $326,000 budget transfer for finance designs.
The money would pay for Beinfield Architecture to begin drawing up designs for the shuffle. Building Committee Chairman Norman Guimond asked the BOS to approve the money so work could begin on the project. However, Democratic Selectman David Bayne expressed concerns about the transfer.
"Assuming this transfer is approved by us and the Board of Finance, this won't go before the RTM until bonding is sought, which probably won't be for another year," Bayne said.
Bayne was also concerned that the money would come out of the BOF's contingency fund rather than the general fund. Administrative Officer Karl Kilduff said the money would come from the contingency fund because the town's general fund was not sufficient for paying the architect's fee because of the money already spent on Weed Beach and the police station.
Democratic Selectman Callie Sullivan asked why the town couldn't allocate the money for each phase instead of all at once. First Selectman David Campbell said a similar process was used for Weed Beach which ended up being a disaster.
Republican Selectman Jayme Stevenson agreed with the idea of allocating the money because she felt it was appropriate to let the RTM give input for the project but the RTM would need a study off of which to base their feedback.
"I think it's absolutely appropriate that the RTM weighs in on the project, but in order to give them enough information to weigh in on the project, you need to give them some sort of design," Stevenson said.
Sullivan also questioned if the architect fee was an appropriate use of the contingency fund since it wasn't related to health, safety or snow removal. Stevenson said the fund had also been used for a Town Hall solar panel proposal, a FEMA buyout and parking lot lighting.
In a prepared statement, Bayne said he couldn't back the proposal because it meant the town would be increasing the size of its government.
"While the federal government, state governments and municipalities around the country are struggling to implement the `new normal' by reducing the size of government and cutting back expenses wherever possible, tonight the Darien BOS begins the process of actually expanding Darien's town government which will necessitate raising taxes to cover new capital and operating expenses and increasing our debt service for the creation of new office space at 35 Leroy that, in my opinion, this town does not need," Bayne said. "Make no mistake, the shuffle represents an expansion of town government at a time when we can least afford it."
Bayne also expressed concern with the Board's decision to not ask the RTM to vote for a special appropriation from the general fund.
"Rather than follow the usual path, tonight a bare majority of this board is committing a substantial amount of taxpayer money to a project at a time of great fiscal hardship without allowing the RTM to thoroughly review this project and to vote on this concept," Bayne said.
In documents provided to the Darien News, Bayne said the shuffle is adding an unnecessary amount of space for the BOE.
6"The Beinfield report shows the BOE moving into 12,394 square feet," Bayne said. "That leaves about 9,444 square feet for another town entity. There has been no showing that the town needs any of this new space or that the BOE really needs the net addition proposed by Beinfield of 5,350 square feet."
Sullivan said she would not support the transfer because she did not feel the board had explored other alternatives thoroughly enough.
The board voted 3-2 to approve the transfer and move the item to the Board of Finance to approve on Tuesday night.
The BOF chose not to vote on the $326,000 transfer because members wanted the RTM approval for such a large sum before dipping into the contingency fund.
Instead, the BOF voted on a $62,000 transfer, which would have covered the cost of the initial design work. However, the transfer failed to pass after the vote was tied 3-3.
Another vote is scheduled for the BOF's March 8 meeting.