Shuffle referendum fails
Despite a stronger turnout than expected, the referendum failed to pass after garnering only 2,464 votes.
The official numbers for the referendum were 1,591 "yes" votes to 2,464 "no" votes which was well below the required votes needed to achieve the referendum.
The referendum question asked residents whether they want to approve an expenditure of $7 million to move the BOE offices to 35 Leroy Ave. and to renovate the town hall annex to become a senior center/community center. In order to achieve the referendum, which would have prevented the shuffle project from moving forward, 3,112 "no" votes, or 25 percent of the voting population, would have to cast.
Before the referendum vote was held, residents gathered more than 900 votes which were verified by the town clerk. By law, the Board of Selectmen then had to schedule a time to hold the vote which needed to be held within an "appropriate amount of time as soon as it was possible.
First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said she was pleased by the results and believed the residents of Darien would make sure the shuffle project could move forward.
"I had tremendous faith in the residents of Darien and common sense and compassion won the day," she said.
When asked about her thoughts on opponents to the shuffle project, Stevenson said she was glad they were part of the process.
"Our opponents worked hard and I'm pleased for their participation in the process," she said.
Stop the Shuffle organizers were not immediately available for comment as of publishing this story.
The referendum vote cost the town about $15,000 but the numbers were still being verified.
In the weeks leading up to the vote two groups formed: Vote Yes Darien and Stop the Shuffle with both sides campaigning to gain support. Stop the Shuffle organizer Kathy Finnegan told the Darien News the group's greatest concern was the cost and scope of the project. She said residents against the shuffle felt the project was an overly complex plan to solve the issue of a dilapidated senior center and there were concerns regarding the impact on town budgets given the state of the national and state economy. Concerns about the impact on the BOE budget leapt to the forefront as both sides debated the impact, if any, on the schools' budget.
Vote Yes Darien Chairman Joe Pankowski told the Darien News the shuffle plan was right for the town.
"The shuffle, quite simply, makes sense. It allows us to modernize and utilize the entire town hall annex; preserves the old library building at 35 Leroy Ave. instead of selling the property to a developer who would put God-knows-what there; and provides a non-profit group with an opportunity to build 20 units of affordable senior housing on Edgerton Street once the dilapidated senior center is torn down," he said.
The last time a referendum vote was held in town was when funding in the amount of $73 million was sought to build the new High School.
Board of Finance Chairman Liz Mao said in an email, bonding for the project would most likely not take place until March at which time half of the project's costs would be bonded. Until that time, the project can be paid for with money the town has on hand, she said.
"And of course, I would expect we defer any plans to issue bonds should there be an effort to go to a referendum," shes said.
The Representative Town Meeting approved the nearly $7 million expenditure for the shuffle project 58-28 during a November meeting.