Op-Ed: Don't Give Away Baron's South for Free

This letter to the editor was submitted by Bart Shuldman, a Westport resident. The views expressed are his own.

Last week, Helen Garten, chair of the Board of Finance regarding our current financial situation in Westport. It was an honest, open and straightforward letter which every resident should read. It speaks about the troubled condition of Westport's finances. I applaud Helen's letter, she comes across passionate about the need to resolve the issues now. I am sure she thought deeply and sincerely before she wrote what can only be called a sobering letter.

Given how bad the situation is, and using her words.. "One thing is sure: The status quo cannot continue. Eventually taxpayers will revolt, or Westport will run out of money", why are Gordon Joseloff and Shelley Kassen working hard to give away Baron's South?  We have a property worth $20 million and giving it away is not financially prudent and works against what are leaders should be doing.  Add to that the potential cost of managing this new venture if it were to happen, we are looking at higher government costs.  So it begs the question, why are we giving away Baron's South?

I am sure you would agree with me that our leaders must focus on our financial problems and work every moment to do whatever it takes to resolve them.  If our taxes go up and our services go down, I think we would agree this is a recipe for disaster.  Who would want to live here?

I ask that you continue to join me by opposing the 'give-away' of Baron's South.  Understand, Gordon and Shelley will give away our land for basically nothing, we will collect no taxes, it will add to Westport's town budget, and the deal will be set for more than 50 years as the laws will require the free or minimal cost lease to last that long.  There will be no way for us to stop or reverse it, once they get their plan approved and started.

Please also join me in speaking with anyone on Westport's  P&Z Committee to ask them not to approve Text Amendment 625.  This Text Amendment is the first step in Gordon and Shelley's plan as it changes our zoning regulations to make it possible to build the many facilities they want.  Ron Corwin and the P&Z committee need to vote against Text Amendment 625, as that would stop the 'donation' of Baron's South immediately.

I thank you once again for taking the time to read this.  Below are some excerpts of Helen Garten's letter:

  • When the mill rate goes up, extra tax dollars are not funding more school computers or road paving or snow removal. What’s driving our budget, and our taxes, are employee benefits—guaranteed defined benefit pensions and medical payments for current and retired employees. If we don’t address these costs, we won’t have to choose between higher taxes or fewer services. We’ll have both.
  • Westport is paying out $9 million in pension benefits to non-teacher retirees.  Next year’s requested budget includes a 10 percent increase in pension costs and a 17 percent increase in medical costs. These benefits, along with Social Security, will cost almost $19 million, more than the Police and Fire operating budgets combined.
  • The latest actuarial calculations show our pensions underfunded by $25 million. These are benefits that our employees have already earned and that we will eventually have to pay. Our pension liability is modest compared with the price of our promise to pay retiree medical benefits. This liability may exceed $50 million, and we have banked just $5 million.
  • For the last two years, the funding bodies’ strategy has been to resist net increases in headcount in order to stem the growth of employee benefit costs, and to shave dollars off the rest of the budget wherever we could in order to meet our annual pension funding requirements (which will be $9.43 million next year). At best, that amounts to running in place, and sooner or later we will slip backwards. Our schools, our roads, our parks, and, yes, our employees will feel the impact. Many Westporters think that they already have.
John Izzo April 08, 2011 at 12:13 AM
I'm glad to see that more and more Westporters are becoming aware of the tremendous costs involved in developing a healthcare center and or more public supported housing on Barons South while I have great respect for both Gordon and Shelly Im certain Westport would be far better served if our p&z lead by Russ Corwin rejects text admendment 625 in fact I also urge that every member of the p&z reject text admendment 625 as it will stop and development on Barons South and in the process save millons of dollars for we westport tax payers
Longtime Westporter April 14, 2011 at 04:19 PM
Uh, I bet these Westporters would have voted against buying Longshore 50 years ago, or building the Senior Center a few years ago. What Helen, Bart and John don't get, in my opinion, is that we are talking about Quality of Life here in Westport. The continuing popularity of the town points to the assets we have for ALL Westporters. One day the critics may want to stay in Westport and there won't be a place for them. What is being planned for Baron's South is something that will enrich this town. If you sell it and get another 42 homes in a gated community (yes, property taxes would be paid but at a loss of quality and resources for the Town), is that the goal? Ugh, in my opinion. And very shortsighted too.
John Izzo April 14, 2011 at 05:40 PM
Dear longtime Westporter (I go back 67 yrs) while I respect your position and with no insult intended I'm always amazed when someone does not use their name when taking a public position on a public issue, one which is very important to all of us, let me set the record straight I do not support selling Barrons South for any purpose. unless the YMCA were willing to buy the 5 acres they would need I still firmly believe that any other action on Barrons South would involve millons of dollars for my fellow Westporters by the way if you leave your name I'll be glad to invite you for coffee so we can have a real discussion on this issue John Izzo former Selectman
Longtime Westporter April 14, 2011 at 08:08 PM
I do appreciate your not being anonymous, John, but I've seen what has happened on other sites with the name calling so I choose not to identify myself. I go back 65 years in Westport and know how honorable you are. But I choose to disagree on Baron's South and think that this could be a wonderful resource (senior housing and health center) for the Town.
John Izzo April 14, 2011 at 09:41 PM
Dear Fellow westporter Ah I got you by 2yrs, it of course is your call ,perhaps in different economic times I might see your position on Barons South a little differently, when all the facts are out we'll have to really speake to each other personally, by the way thanks for the compliment I do take a great deal of pride in being as honorable as I can be Best John


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