Joseloff on State of the Town: 'We're in pretty good shape'
Updated 9:29 am, Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Projecting a confident view of his agenda and Westport's economic future, First Selectman Gordon Joseloff delivered his annual State of the Town address Tuesday.
"We're in pretty good shape," he proclaimed in the speech delivered at a meeting of the Westport Rotary Club at Rizzuto's Kitchen and Bar. "Despite the economy and other things, we attract people to Westport. It's good because it helps us maintain our home values."
Housing is now among the top issues for Joseloff, a Democrat at the midpoint of his second four-year term in the town's top elected job.
Last month, his proposal to build a senior residential campus at the town-owned Baron's South property survived a challenge when the Representative Town Meeting rejected a citizens' petition appealing a recently approved zoning amendment that facilitates the project. A committee set up by Joseloff is now developing a request for proposals from prospective developers, but he emphasized that the project is still in a formative stage.
"In Westport, we have the tendency to discuss and chew over projects for five to 10 years before something happens," he said. "We're probably in the second to third year of this project, so it's going to be a while. Whether it's a for-profit or not-for-profit [operation], it's on the table. We need to have consensus behind the project to make it happen."
While Joseloff said the senior complex would have a limited impact on taxpayers, he acknowledged the looming financial impact of the town's municipal employee pension and health-care obligations.
"We're still faced with unsustainable and untenable costs in pensions and health care," he said. "We made agreements with our labor personnel that we're going to have a hard time meeting."
The town is awaiting a report from the town's actuarial firm, Pentegra Retirement Services, that will outline a new annual required contribution to the town's Other Post-Employment Benefits fund, which pays for retired town employees' medical costs. Westport had an OPEB ARC of more than $4 million in the 2010-11 fiscal year.
After being delayed for months because of uncertainty about the number of town employees covered by the OPEB fund, Pentegra's chief actuary, Jeff Kissel, said the firm would deliver the new required contribution for the OPEB this month. But that new calculation will likely not be ready until August at the earliest, Joseloff said Tuesday.
"We've set the mill rate, so there's no rush that it has to be done in the next week or two weeks," he said. "I just want it to be as accurate as possible."
Joseloff also revealed in his remarks that his administration and the town's firefighter union have reached a tentative agreement for a new contract. This will suspend arbitration on the fire pact, a process that was initiated after the Representative Town Meeting last year rejected a new contract for the union. The RTM will likely vote on the tentative deal in September, Joseloff said.
New contracts for the town's municipal employee and public works union, however, are still in the arbitration process.
Joseloff also discussed a package of consolidation measures agreed to last month by his administration and Board of Education officials, which will see the education administration take over some town technology functions. He said this first round of consolidation did not equate to large savings, but indicated more cost-saving measures could follow.
"I have told [Superintendent of Schools] Elliott Landon and [Board of Education Chairman] Don O'Day that everything is on the table," he said. "It's an effort to engender how much more we can do with less."
Noting recent efforts by the Planning and Zoning Commission to spur downtown revitalization and the openings last week of the highly anticipated Shake Shack and Tarry Lodge restaurants, Joseloff had an upbeat outlook for the town's economy.
"We're seeing a lot of movement in retail space. Eventually we'll see growth in the Grand List on the commercial side," he said. "That's good for residential taxpayers because it will ease our burden."
Joseloff referenced the possible construction of a parking deck at the Baldwin parking lot on Elm Street and a new movie theater as projects that could be cornerstones of future downtown revitalization.