At Two Upcoming Town Meetings and Two Town-wide Votes

Easton property owners will help chart the town’s future at two upcoming Town Meetings on March 23 and April 26, and two town-wide votes on March 30 and May 4. In addition, taxpayers can register their opinion about the proposed 2021-22 town and school budgets at the Board of Finance public hearing on March 22.

These are historic events because residents will be able to attend in person for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic required all official town gatherings to be conducted virtually in March 2020. In-person voting was suspended by the governor’s executive order for last year’s budget vote. The order gave final authority over budget adoption to the Board of Finance.

So much participatory democracy is happening in late March, April and early May that it can get confusing. Residents may want to put the dates on their calendar, make sure they understand the process and familiarize themselves with the facts so they can participate as fully educated voters.

Two Town Meetings will be held: A Special Town Meeting is set for Tuesday, March 23, followed by a referendum vote on Tuesday, March 30 on the matters on the Special Town Meeting agenda. The Annual Town Meeting will be April 26, followed by the budget referendum on May 4.

March 23 Agenda

Topics on the agenda for the March 23 Special Town Meeting are as follows:

1. Appropriation of $49,770 for the Easton Police Dept. to purchase body and dash cams to comply with new state mandates (click on link and view #5 on the minutes)

2. Ordinance change increasing the stipend available to Easton Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services volunteers. 

3. Senior Tax Relief for the Elderly Ordinance [2021 Committee Report – draft and 2021 Ordinance edits highlighted]

4. Decision to join the  Westport Weston Health District (Presentation March 2020). You can learn more by watching the video of the March 4 public hearing about joining the WWHS. The March 2, 2020 video is available for viewing here.

5. As an advisory question, residents will be asked, “Should the town of Easton appropriate $249,400 for the local match requirement (20% of the total project cost of $1,247,000) for the costs associated with constructing a multi-use/pedestrian pathway along Sport Hill Road from the entrance of the Helen Keller Middle School to the crosswalk at Silverman’s Farm.”

Proposed Pathway

The proposed pathway  would provide off-road use for pedestrians, cyclists, strollers, wheelchairs, and other non-motorized recreational forms of transportation, according to the article What is the Proposed Pathway on Sport Hill Road? by Justin Giorlando, town land use director. The purpose is to provide a safe thoroughfare for users and protection from the high-speed traffic on the roadway. It would be designated as accessible under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA).

The area between the Easton Village Store and the crosswalk at Silverman’s Farm is a popular destination for residents and visitors, particularly at seasonal events. It’s also a highly traveled after-school route for Helen Keller Middle School students. However, the location of the proposed pathway is widely known to be unsafe for those not traveling in a vehicle. 

“I support the multi-use pathway on Sport Hill Road,” Police Chief, Rich Doyle said. “I feel it will improve the safety of cyclists and pedestrians walking in the area, especially the students that bike and walk between HKMS and the vicinity of the Easton Village Store.”

A community conversation called a charette about the multi-purpose pathway took place in November 2019 and was well attended. The plan was for residents to vote on the path at a Town Meeting and referendum in 2020. But the Covid-19 pandemic shut down all in-person gatherings, including government meetings, hearings and town wide votes. 

The Board of Finance at its March 2 meeting voted 3-3 on a motion to appropriate $249,400 for the town’s share of the pathway with the other 80% of the $1,247,000 project to be funded by an approved grant from the state’s Transportation Alternatives Program. The motion was thus defeated because a majority vote is required to approve a motion. Discussion about the pathway appropriation agenda item can be viewed on the March 2 meeting video at 2:14:55.

The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously on March 4 to include the proposed pathway on the March 23 Special Town Meeting, adjourned to the March 30 referendum, as an advisory question. You can read the March 4 minutes here and watch the March 4 meeting video here. 

The Concept Plan, Final Presentation, Focus Group Notes, and all the Survey Data collected are available on the Easton website.

The Board of Finance will still have the final say on the fate of the pathway, but the town-wide vote will afford guidance about the will of the people.

April 26 Agenda

The agenda for the April 26 Annual Town Meeting has not yet been released but will include a resolution on declaring racism a public health crisis and discussion of the 2021-22 municipal and school budgets. The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously at its March 4 meeting to rescind the resolution on racism and allow voters to decide if the resolution is desired by the community at the April 26 Annual Town Meeting and May 4 budget referendum.

The Board of Finance has been meeting with town department heads and reviewing their budgets this month. All of the meetings are open to the public and viewable on Channel 79 after they happen. You can look at Easton government agendas, minutes and recordings here.

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By Nancy Doniger

Nancy Doniger worked as a journalist for three decades and was a founding editor of the nonprofit Easton Courier in partnership with the School of Communications, Media & the Arts at Sacred Heart University (SHU). She served two years as executive member and is now a contributing editing of the Easton Courier. She was a former managing editor of Hometown Publications and Hersam Acorn Newspapers covering Connecticut's Fairfield and New Haven counties. She was a correspondent for the Connecticut section of The New York Times from 1995 until the section was discontinued in 2006. Over the years she edited The Easton Courier, The Monroe Courier, The Bridgeport News and other community newspapers. She taught news editing as an adjunct professor at SHU and served as coordinator and member of the Community Assets Network for the Easton, Redding and Region 9 schools. She was a member of the Newtown Community Center Commission, member of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), board member of the New England Newspaper and Press Association (NENPA), and past president and board member of the Barnard Club of Connecticut. She has won awards for her writing from SPJ and NENPA.