Who would spend $1 million to build a new trail stretching from the parking lot at Community Lake to the senior center? After all, we already have the Quinnipiac River Linear Trail. No fiscal conservative would do that, right?
Dear reader, please buckle your seat belt.
Mayor William W. Dickinson, Jr. included this new trail in his capital projects budget for 2013-2014. A portion of the trail would be 900 feet of elevated boardwalk over the lakeshore behind White Way Laundry. It would also include a paved section 1500-foot-long ending at the senior center. The cost would be about $1 million. The town would also face future maintenance expenses, but probably they would not be large enough to trouble anyone who was not a fiscal conservative.
The rationale for the project is that some members of the senior center like to walk. They want a new place to do that. Our Quinnipiac Linear Trail, which will be lengthened soon as part of still another capital project, is either not long enough or not convenient enough for them. A representative of the senior center said in 2011, therefore, that this new trail “makes a lot of sense.” Does it?
This trail is a strange priority: The mayor has elected to pass on additional infrastructure improvements in favor of a new, niche amenity few will use.
This idea for a trail dates back to at least 2003. At that time, the mayor said that we did not have money for other amenities such as little league baseball fields, but over time he appropriated money for this project. His plan has survived council votes, too, so he has had political support. The last vote in 2011, however, was the closest: 5 to 4.
To get this project through, the mayor used some strong-arm tactics. He decreed that the construction of the trail must be merged with the project to improve Hall Avenue, which would cost an additional $1 million. He has warned that if the council had any interest in upgrading Hall, it would have to accept the construction of the new trail, because … well, because he says so. Although that was a false choice, and a bad one, the council, by that divided vote, agreed to these terms. It may be hard for it to now change course and retrieve the $1 million budgeted for the new trail.
The mechanism for the arm-twist was a grant application. In 2011, the mayor sought the council’s approval to apply for a grant in the amount of $1 million. The single application sought money for two projects: Hall Avenue and the trail. Even if the full amount of the grant were awarded, therefore, the grant would cover only one-half the cost of both projects, which the mayor combined.
The council could have insisted that the mayor separate the projects, by denying permission for that particular grant application. It could have insisted that a different grant application cover the Hall project only. At the same time, the council could have voted to forget the new trail. That would have preserved the possibility for a grant, which would have paid in full for an upgrade to Hall, and saved $1 million. The council, however, approved by that vote of 5-4 the combo-application and accepted the mayor’s coercive terms.
The grant has since been approved. The town now has $1 million in grants to apply to $2 million of projects. Will the council feel compelled to proceed with both projects, even though one of them is a questionable amenity? Or, can it find a way to save the $1 million that the trail is costing us? Who, if anyone, will be the fiscal conservatives?
The vote on the budget is scheduled for May 14, 2013.
Mike Brodinsky is a former town councilor, chairman of the School Roof Building Committee and host of public access show “Citizen Mike.”