What the Referendum Results Mean for Easton
Voters went to the polls on Sept. 21 to decide the future of five ballot questions affecting quality of life issues for the town. They approved all but one of them, the funding for the design of a multi-use pathway intended to increase pedestrian and bicyclist safety along Sport Hill Road. The official results were 555 in favor and 865 opposed, or 39% in favor to 61% opposed.
The months-long debate over the multi-use pathway leading to this week’s vote had been spirited, with strong opinions expressed both in favor of and against the concept plan, which was first presented during a public design charette held on Nov. 16, 2019. Dozens of letters from residents articulating their views on the issue have been published in the Courier and many of those positions have been reiterated through public comments at Board of Selectman meetings as well as at the September Town Meeting. (Video of these meetings, including public comments, can be accessed from the Channel 79 page on the Town of Easton website.)
As outlined in the Sept. 14, 2021 Sport Hill Road Pathway Informational Packet posted by the Board of Finance on the Town of Easton website, the original plan was presented to the Board of Selectmen on May 16, 2019, and received unanimous support. The concept plan was updated by the Planning and Zoning Commission in consultation with the Metropolitan Council of Governments (MetroCOG), and on August 29, 2019, the formal application was signed by then First Selectman Adam Dunsby and submitted to the state. Easton was later notified by the State of Connecticut that the application was approved as the highest ranked grant proposal submission in the Bridgeport/Stamford Region.
At the March 30, 2021 town wide referendum, voters had approved or endorsed the pathway as a non-binding advisory question which asked whether the town should allocate $249,400 to cover 20% of the $1,247,000 project, with the other 80% coming from federal transportation funds administered through the state. The total project cost was set at $1,247,000. The final official results on the question were 708 in favor and 604 opposed, or 54% in favor to 46% opposed.
The Board of Finance initially rejected the expenditure by a 3-3 vote at its March 2, 2021 meeting, but later approved it by a 4-2 vote after further study and following the March 30 advisory vote. These approvals were based on the estimated cost of $1.2 million with $1 million funded through grant reimbursement, but the final cost could only be determined after the completion of a more detailed design plan. The voters’ rejection of the proposal to appropriate $80,000 for the initial design of the multi-use pathway on Sept. 21 referendum means the project will not move forward after all.
The Board of Selectmen – who had voted unanimously in favor of the pathway and all of whom are running for re-election on Nov. 2 – offered the following comments about the pathway question.
First Selectman David Bindelglass said, “The vote on the pathway failed and tomorrow I will notify the State that we will not be accepting the million dollars that they had allocated for us and the path will not be built.
“It is disappointing to me that this bipartisan effort has failed to gain support but the town has reversed itself and has spoken. My promise to the town has always been to allow the town’s people to decide the big questions before it. I remain proud that we have had an open and honest process on the town’s part, and I will continue to present opportunities that I believe add value to the town and support all of our investments in Easton.”
Selectman Bob Lesser was also “disappointed about the pathway, initiated by the previous administration, because I believed it would enhance our town and protect those who use that route from Keller to the Village Store. The people have spoken, but I hope we can find another way to improve the safety of this part of town.”
Selectman Kristi Sogofsky said, “The vote indicates the town does not believe this proposal was the right one for our community. We now must move the conversation forward to address this known safety issue. We need to take a serious look at what we possibly could do along Sport Hill Road. We’ve identified a safety issue with the kids walking there and with other people walking there. I think now we need to look at other options as to what the town could do to address something that we have identified as a concern for many people in town.”
Jeff Parker, who is running for First Selectman on the top of the Republican ticket with incumbent Sogofsky, also weighed in. “The rejection of the pathway does not change the public safety concern of our citizens walking along the side of Sport Hill Road. A thoughtful solution needs to be developed. I look forward to joining the conversation.”
The other four questions on the referendum were approved by Easton voters by significant margins. The proposal to spend $550,000.00 to partially replace the roof at the old Staples School at 660 Morehouse Road passed 1023 (73%) to 382 (27%), the new Land Use Ordinance was approved 1094 (79%) for and 298 (21%) against, the Tax-Exempt Vehicle Ordinance received 1,196 (85%) votes for and 214 (15%) against, and the revised Ethics Ordinance was adopted by a vote of 1,124 (82%) and 255 (18%) against.
First Selectman Bindelglass offered the following comments on the approved referendum questions:
“There were several items on tonight’s referendum that passed easily and I am very pleased. They will bring about historic changes in our town and their effects will be felt for many years to come. We brought long overdue relief to our disabled citizens who in addition to their hardships face economic burdens because of the taxes on the modified vehicles that are needed to transport them. In Easton, I have urged that we recognize diversity in all its forms, and people with disabilities are one such group.
“The updated ethics ordinance is necessary for our town to deal with the types of ethics issues that may arise in Easton and towns all around us. The town will also now have a say in the disposition of significant parcels of town land when they are bought, sold or leased. Other groups in town have failed before to bring this about, but I am very proud that our Democratic led board of selectmen was able to succeed in finally giving the town this important ability to set its own destiny. We succeeded in funding the roof repairs at old Staples.”
Lessler, Bindelglass’s Democratic running mate concurred. “I am very pleased that four of the five items on the ballot today were approved. All four were advanced by our current administration and will make our town better and stronger. I am particularly pleased that the ethics ordinance passed. It will ensure that all public servants have their duty to the public they serve at the top of their mind. I’m proud to have played a key role in bringing it to the voters.”
Selectman Sogofsky offered the following comments on the approved questions:
“The Land Use Ordinance is the result of many years of dedication and persistence by a small group in town. They reached out to each of the selectmen last year, asked for our input and then proceeded to negotiate and compromise to reach a proposal that the board could support. It is a true example of bipartisan cooperation. The people of Easton now have a direct say in the future use of one of our town’s most valuable assets, our land. It’s a responsibility, and I hope it leads to continued engagement and involvement by many of our residents.
“As for the other items on the ballot, the tax exemption for handicap vehicles is a small way to help our neighbors who face significant expenses. I’m pleased to see such strong support for the proposal. The updated Ethics Ordinance offers more clear definition and direction for our Board of Ethics. We have an obligation to hold anyone who serves this town in an official capacity to a high standard. This ordinance helps in that regard. Funding the roof replacement at the old Staples School is our obligation as the owner and landlord of the building. The people recognized that duty and authorized the funding for the much needed work.
“Thank you to everyone who took the time to vote in the referendum, and took the time to learn about each of the issues on the ballot. I received many well thought out questions that showed people wanted to truly understand what they were voting on.”
The polls at Samuel Staples Elementary School had a slow but steady flow of voters. Candidates in the Nov. 2 municipal election greeted them from booths placed outside the polling place. A hot pink sign on the door to the polls informed voters that the school’s adult restrooms were for use by poll workers only and not the general public.
At noon, 393 votes had been cast, according to Dori Wollen, Republican registrar of voters. There were about 835 votes counted by 4 p.m., according to Jim Bromer, deputy registrar with a final total of between 1,379 and 1,420 votes counted for each referendum question.
As of Sept. 20, Easton had 5,638 registered voters, according to Jim Bromer. The party breakdown is as follows:
- 1,652 Democrats
- 1,594 Republicans
- 2,312 Unaffiliated
- 80 Others
The 1,420 votes tallied for multi-use pathway referendum question represent 25% of Easton’s registered voters.
The official results of the Sept. 21 referendum can be accessed on the Town of Easton website: https://www.eastonct.gov/home/news/official-results-town-of-easton-referendum-on-09-21-2021.