RTM paves the way for major Westport road work
Westport's Representative Town Meeting approved several measures Tuesday night designed to pave the way for improving both the conditions and management of local roads.
The RTM voted resoundingly to use nearly $2 million in federal and state funds for road repairs, and $50,000 in asset forfeiture money for the Police Department to buy three Harley Davidson motorcycles.
Major town thoroughfares such as North Avenue and Long Lots Road will benefit from the improvements, with funding coming mostly from a new round of stimulus funds. The town obtained the Recovery Act money after the Department of Public Works quickly submitted its application to the state Department of Transportation last June for additional funds.
While no objections were voiced to the road repairs, a spirited discussion among RTM members preceded approval of the appropriation for the motorcycles.
Finance Committee Chairman Michael Rea said that the Harleys would be useful for police trying to control speeders, but John Klinge of District 7 differed.
"I just wonder if this is really how you want to spend half of our $100,000 [Asset Forfeiture] Fund for these kind of discretionary expenses," Klinge told Police Chief Al Fiore.
Other committee members raised concerns about the safety, maintenance and insurance costs of the motorcycles.
Fiore acknowledged these concerns, but said the motorcycles represent an economical investment. He also pointed out that the motorcycles would offer other advantages over squad cars.
"They're not as easily spotted on some streets as a patrol car, so they can effectively run radar ... and not be detected as quickly as a patrol car with reflective lettering and a light bar," he said.
In addition to enforcing speed limits, Fiore said the motorcycles could also be used as escorts for the vehicles of visiting dignitaries, such as former President Bill Clinton, who attended a fundraiser in Westport in 2007.
Despite these reservations, the appropriation for the Harleys passed with near-unanimous support.
Looking ahead, Deputy Moderator Jonathan Steinberg laid out the plans for a joint meeting of three RTM committees on Sept. 22 on an issue that promises to spark a far more fiery debate -- deer control.
The issue comes to the RTM after more than 200 town residents submitted a petition to the legislative body and First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, alleging that the current size of the town's deer herd threatens residents' health and safety.
Experts representing differing views on the controversial subject will speak at the meeting, and residents will also be invited to comment. Steinberg said solutions to the claims of deer overpopulation in town would take time to develop, and recognized that "this is a very controversial issue with very strong emotions."
"Controversy" already characterizes town reaction to another key issue -- the new sewer assessment bills sent out last week. Joseloff said that some residents have complained about higher rates. But he added that 1,826 users -- 45 percent of those linked to the sewer system -- would be paying less than they would have paid under the previous format, which implemented a uniform charge for all users.
"I think we'll have to be creative in our ways that we conserve water," he said of the new rates. "This is the town that has embraced conservation efforts in many ways, and this certainly calls our attention to the need to conserve water."
Joseloff said the new rates will be further discussed at a Board of Selectmen meeting scheduled for Sept. 15.