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With Armageddon Near, It's Time to Say Goodbye

It's been a great three and half months doing Stratford Patch. Billboards don't lie, right? So this is probably it.

THIS WILL PROBABLY be my last column, based on what I saw on a huge billboard along I-95 in Stratford for the past month. 

Certainly for most of this week, with the sun virtually disappearing since I hardly remember when, it has seemed like Armageddon, although I felt like Noah Wednesday night bailing water out of my basement after the torrential rains that evening. 

So I just wanted to take this opportunity to say that it’s been a pleasure meeting so many of you and being part of the team that has brought online news and information to the town via AOL-Stratford Patch. 

BUT WHILE Armageddon may or may not occur Saturday, it was the end of the world for at least one project that was recommended to the full Town Council for approval as part of Year 37 in federal Community Block Grant funds. 

The debate started harmless enough at the May 9 Town Council meeting. After all, the block grant agenda item came up after a lengthy debate over the new town budget, so how contentious could a simple list of projects be to approve for the estimated $635,000 in federal funds that will become available Oct. 1?

It started out with a statement by Councilwoman Stephanie Philips, who told her fellow members, “We have a deadline of Thursday to accept this money," at which point Philips offered a motion "to approve the CDA funding as amended in our [meeting] package." 

The motion was seconded by Councilman Jason Santi. 

The allocation as it appeared in the meeting agenda is as follows: 

PUBLIC SERVICES
South End Community Center - $48,100 - Operation of the Center
Stratford Health Department – $11,800 - Wooster School Based Health Center
Senior Services PT Van Driver - $10,000 - Part-time van drivers
Faith Comm. Development Corp. - $9,000 - Financial and housing counseling
Center for Women & Families of EFC - $8,000 - Family Strengthening Services
Total Public Services: $86,900 

HOUSING
Stratford Housing Authority $50,000 - vacant unit painting
Stratford Housing Authority $30,000 - vacant unit repair
Residential Rehabilitation Program - $55,000 - Residential rehab.
Total Housing: $135,000 

PUBLIC IMPROVEMENTS
Stonybrook Gardens Co-OP - $76,100 - Phase 2 of water system replacement
Birdseye / Stratford Acad. - Field Improvements - $70,000 – Phase 2
Birdseye Mun. Complex - $10,000 – Door actuators for HC accessibility
South End Sprinkler Park -  $5,000 - Design work for a sprinkler park
Total Public Improvements: $161,100 

INTERIM ASSISTANCE
Town of Stratford - $125,000 Clean-up expense / June 24, 2010 tornado
Total Interim Assistance $125,000

PLANNING AND ADMINISTRATION
Management/Oversight - $127,000

Total Planning and Administration: $127,000
Program Total: $635,000

Then it became interesting.

Alderman Christian Barnaby then spoke up.

"I would like to see some changes" in the allocations, he said. 

At that point, my meeting notes became a scribbles of figures, and apparently it was about the same for others including Council members because the numbers were not adding up to $635,000. 

Finally, after a quick recess, Barnaby's numbers fit.

 

First, he would cut by more than half the Block Grant funding to go to repairs to the south end housing project, from $135,000 to $60,000.

 

He also cut funds for the Birdseye and Stratford Academy field improvements, and gone completely was the sprinkler park seed funding.

 

Barnaby also upped from $125,000 to $140,000 the funding that would go toward cleanup of the June 24, 2010 tornado.

 

The big winner was the Stonybrook Gardens water distribution system replacement, which went from $76,100 in the original plan to $154,200 in the final plan, an increase of 102%. 

THIS PROMPTED Councilman David Fuller to comment that the South End is "slighted" in Barnaby's plan. 

To which Barnaby retorted, "We just increased the mill rate again … 

"We can't spend money on water parks and painting" at public housing projects. "They can paint their own," he said. 

"The people at Stonybrook need clean drinking water," Barnaby continued. " … we need to spend [this money] in the right areas.

"The Stonybrook work is needed right now." 

Councilman Dempsey then said that Stonybrook Gardens "is a quality of life issue … there's no water pressure … they can’t even take showers."

Councilman James Connor then said, "I'd like to respond to Mr. Fuller's comment. Mr. Dempsey's district has been neglected for a long, long time." 

To which Councilwoman Philips replied, "District Five has received the majority of funds from [Community Development] … in fact, they still have unspent funds. 

"I would just like to dispel the notion that they've been neglected. They just turned back money to CDA that couldn't go to Clover Park." 

Alderwoman Kimberly Meuse then asked about the cleanup costs. "How much did that come to?" 

Mayor John Harkins was then called upon by Council Chairman Tom Malloy and said something to the effect that there was an urgent need to clean up after the storm, and that this kind of expense was limited to 30% of the available block grant funding. The mayor added that 70% is required to go to projects that benefit low and moderate income residents. 

It would be Barnaby's day. "Services are being reduced," he said. "I am a big proponent of children and the schools. But I can't see putting this money" to items like sprinklers and painting.

"We need to put this money toward current problems in town." 

But Philips wasn't finished. Certainly, the housing authority will survive with the result that those units will take a little longer to be improved. But she refuted Barnaby's claim that the residents there can do the painting themselves.

"People just can’t just go in and paint units and fix the rugs … these are repairs required to be done, but are beyond the capabilities of the occupants." 

The Council then recessed briefly and when they came out, they would consider another "friendly amendment," this time from Philips. She proposed adding $15,000 for the Vought Place application at Stonybrook Gardens Cooperative, an amendment that was only opposed by Chairman Malloy. 

Thus, the Democrats had been given the small bone by Republicans that  allowed them to vote along with the majority to unanimously approve the total block grant package as amended by a 10-0 vote.

To read the FINALl Block Grant Recommendation, CLICK HERE.

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