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Newtown's Lack Of Coordination



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Newtown’s Lack Of Coordination

Newtown’s Parks and Recreation Department watched incredulously as defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory last week when the Board of Selectmen dropped plans for a recreation/community center at Fairfield Hills from the town’s capital improvement plan (CIP). Just a week before, the facility appeared to be on a fast track since the selectmen were poised to expedite funding for the preliminary stages of the proposed facility. Ironically, that sudden spurt of momentum may have been the project’s undoing.

Senior citizens balked when they saw plans that included facilities for their activities moving forward quickly without their full review or consultation. They gathered 200 names on a petition calling for a standalone senior center and withdrawing their support for a combined recreation/community center. When the Legislative Council learned of dissention in the ranks of senior citizens over the combined facility at Fairfield Hills, interest in the expedited funding for demolition and design work for the project quickly waned, and the recreation community center was quickly transformed from an idea moving boldly toward fruition to an opportunity to reduce the town’s debt costs. Bonding for the project was dropped from the CIP at the next selectman’s meeting and heralded as a budget cutting measure.

 The temporary demise of the recreation/community center at Fairfield Hills is one of the most stunning examples of the lack of governmental coordination we have seen in Newtown in recent years. (It should reappear in the CIP for 2009-2010.) The players included the Board of Selectmen, the Parks and Recreation Commission, the Commission on Aging, and the town’s finance authorities, the Legislative Council, and the Board of Finance. Although the Parks and Recreation Commission tried to engage the Commission on Aging in planning for a combined facility, in the end the seniors did not have the information they needed nor the sense that their voices had been heard. Parks and Recreation, the selectmen, and budgetmakers on the council and finance board were proceeding on assumptions that were not valid simply because no one had taken the time to schedule hearings and information sessions that would include Newtown’s seniors in the process. The seniors themselves ended up operating on an assumption: that the political leadership of the town was ready and willing to consider a standalone facility at Fairfield Hills for senior activities.

Now that all sides are coming to belated realizations about what is possible within the austere fiscal and political context of too many municipal projects and too little taxpayer tolerance of excessive property tax hikes, it may be possible for the kind of dialogue that will lead to the consensus and support that every public project of this magnitude requires. If there is a lesson for the future to be learned from this tangled turn of events, it is this: Better coordination leads to fewer trip-ups.

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