New Milford riverfront committee looks to become permanent
NEW MILFORD — The Riverfront Committee is coming up on the end of its limit as a temporary panel.
But while members are seeking to make the panel a permanent one, there’s uncertainty about how their efforts to promote and revitalize the riverfront would be funded.
Town officials have recently renewed efforts to better use the Housatonic River to attract businesses and tourists.
Liba Furhman, the committee’s chairwoman, said the members could work with other town agencies and propose recommendations, keep public support moving, offer events, work on a master plan and not let any plan created from the current study just “sit on the shelf.” Those study results will be presented next Wednesday.
She said becoming a permanent committee will show that this is an initiative the town supports and could help them get more grants. She said other towns treat this type of committee as a government agency.
Under the proposed ordinance, there would be seven members with staggering terms so that the entire committee isn’t made up of all new people each time.
Some council members said they support the river and the committee, but took issue with the submitted draft ordinance. They said they worried there were loopholes that would guarantee the committee funding the town didn’t have or pull town employees from their jobs.
Councilman Michael Nahom said he wasn’t comfortable adding expenses to the budget and shifting the burden to taxpayers.
“We have a process for nonprofits asking for money and doing this goes around that,” he said.
Councilwoman Katy Francis said that when the committee was first proposed, it was announced it “wouldn’t be a burden on the town” and would use grants and donations instead of town money.
“We don’t have a lot of money for things we need to do in town,” she said, adding it’s an issue of needs versus wants.
Julie Bailey, who serves on the committee, said they used to have a budget of $6,500 and volunteers have put about $8,000 of their own money behind the riverfront work as well. She said it should be included as an itemized item in the budget that the town wants to support.
“I don’t think private residents should be subsidizing it,” she said. “The town should be excited for it.”
Furhman added that the town doesn’t always have to include money in the budget for the committee, but should at least have the line item for it.
Town Attorney Randy DiBella said he would work with Furhman and seek feedback from Town Council to tighten the propsoed ordinance, including not having mandatory funding.
“This is a good framework,” he said. “We can work to make it palatable.”