Officials: Darien financially stable, in good position for the future
DARIEN — As the town approaches its 200th anniversary, town officials emphasized the positive outlook of Darien.
A review of the past year was presented to the Representative Town Meeting at their annual State of the Town meeting. During Monday’s meeting, heads of the Boards of Selectmen, Finance and Education, as well as the chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission, updated the RTM.
First Selectman Jayme Stevenson spoke positively of the town, saying taxpayers generally support the annual town budget because they know their tax dollars are well managed.
“However, we must be mindful that year over year, tax increases are unsustainable,” she said. “I will continue to challenge us to do better.”
Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman John Sini, whose term ends in November, gave what may be his last State of the Town address. In it, Sini highlighted the approval of the downtown development project proposed by Baywater Properties.
“This transformative development consisting of nine new multi-story buildings in the middle of our downtown will arguably represent the largest in Darien’s history,” Sini said.
He added that the various improvements to the Darien Green office park will also positively affect the future of the town.
“We expect the enhancements to lure both office and medical tenants to the facility and bring an influx of new jobs to town,” he said.
Board of Education Chairman Tara Ochman discussed the safety and security upgrades at the schools. She noted new entrances at Holmes Elementary and Middlesex Middle School as well as new cameras to provide greater surveillance capabilities. New solar panels are also being installed at the schools.
“This will bring with them an estimated $1 million of savings over the next 10 years,” she said.
Board of Finance Chairman Jon Zagrodzky said when it came to total expenditures, the Board of Education made up 67 percent of the $142 million in 2018. Though this was a small growth from 65 percent the year before, Zagrodzky expressed some concerns around the school board’s increased spending.
“With all other spending by the Board of Education, there has been a 3 percent growth since 2011,” he said. “With special education spending, there has been a 8.2 percent growth.”
This has led to special education increasing from 19 percent of the board’s budget in 2011 to 25 percent today, Zagrodzky said.
“We live in an environment where children are aggressively diagnosed and treated with these types of problems, increasingly so,” he said. “It’s an environment where caring and loving parents aggressively promote the interests of their children and it’s an environment where law and regulation aggressively protects spending on this.”
Despite his concern on that subject, he said overall Darien was in a very stable situation with $3.4 million surplus for 2018 in regards to the town’s finances.
“In my judgment, the town and schools have been well managed from a financial standpoint,” Zagrodzky said.