Although much of Wednesday’s Board of Finance meeting focused on concerns with the property, board members spoke about developing more transparency through a blog on Patch.
The Board of Finance unanimously elected Democrat Helen Garten as vice chair and Republican Avi Kaner as chair. Kaner recognized seven new committees that have been instituted within the seven member, republican-majority finance board to provide guidance and optimal communication to town departments and offices.
The committees, which represent the areas in need of critical attention most, were identified as:
- Financial Planning and Reporting, run by Janis Collins, who will work with and provide guidance to Westport’s finance director to produce a monthly financial status report and make Westport’s finances more transparent via user-friendly documents the public can view at meetings and online.
- Legal and Contractual (including labor), run by Helen Garten, who will prepare for contract negotiations that are due to take place in two years and structure a sustainable benefits package.
- Government Efficiency (consolidation between the schools and town), run by Kaner and Garten, who will save money by consolidating services rather than cutting services or increasing class sizes.
- Employee Benefits run by Tom Lasersohn, who will compare Westport’s employee benefits program to neighboring towns’ and private employers’, in addition to hiring a new actuarial firm.
- Public Safety (police, fire, EMS), run by John Pincavage, who will guide the three department’s large budgets, making them more efficient and equally as effective.
- Revenue Enhancement, run by Micheal Rea, who will track town assets, like Baron’s South, and establish ways to enhance revenue while keeping taxes as low as possible.
- Audit Committee, run by Brian Stern, who will protect and monitor processes that affect town assets while making sure they stay transparent.
Kaner stressed the need for transparency throughout the board’s operations and stated the board would be instituting a blog on Westport Patch where a different committee chairperson will update the community and present their thoughts to them on a monthly basis.
“The idea is to be fully transparent and communicate among us, between the Board of Finance and the department heads, and with citizens of the town,” Kaner said.
First Selectman Gordon Joseloff—who is , a Web-based news site that some say —approached the podium and opposed the idea of board members blogging on Patch.
“As far as blogs, I think if you published on the town website, everybody could republish as they wish. But I caution you about favoring one website over another, ,” Joseloff said.
The meeting began to gain some character during the discussion of the latest request for proposal (RFP) for the property. answered questions from board members and the public after presenting the ninth draft of their RFP.
Daniels proposed up to 100 apartment units, 60 of which would be affordable housing. Many residents took issue with the 60 percent figure, stating the number should realistically be lower.
“We believe it won’t cost anything and there will be revenue flow back to the town,” Daniels said.
Daniels’s presentation was not enough to convince board member Brian Stern, who expressed concern with the financial structure of the project.
“I’m asking you to change it (RFP) on behalf of the board of finance because I don’t believe your financials are there,” Stern said. “We need to know exactly what we’ll get (out of this). The last thing we need is to be a landlord -- what a disaster that would be.”
Westport resident Joyce Colburn said we should question Westport’s future needs and seek out the best possible use of the Baron’s South “irreplaceable land.”
State Representative Jonathan Steinberg believes Westport should continue to pursue offers from other companies capable of developing such a project, noting there are currently three parties interested in the job.
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