Ballot questions recap: Sewer project passes; zoning, wetlands board to split

Approval of the $48-million sewer plant renovation, the creation of a seperate elected Inland Wetlands Board, and approval of state constitutional question firming up procedural hurdles to the sale of state property left environmental-minded Ridgefielders pleased with Tuesday’s voting results.

“It’s been a great day for the environment, particularly here in Ridgefield,” said Conservation Commission chairman James Coyle.

“You don’t often see so many important ballot initiatives at an election at the same time, and these three were certainly major,” he said. “... All the issues passed resoundingly, and that just encourages me that the people of Ridgefield and the people of Connecticut realize how important the environment is to our future.”

Ridgefield’s $48-million sewer plant renovation was approved 7,067 “yes” votes to 4,687 “no.” Voters also strongly favored separation of the Inland Wetlands Board from the Planning and Zoning Commission, with 8,861 “yes” to 2,928 “no” votes.

Of the eight other charter changes on the ballot, three failed and five were approved.

“It passed,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said of the $48-million sewer plant initiative. “I think it’s very positive that the people of Ridgefield recognized the need of maintaining our infrastructure. It’s critical to our community, and for us to be able to continue to grow.”

While grants aren’t now guaranteed, voters passage of the sewer plant question put the town in a stronger position to claim $11.5 million in potential grant money, and reduce the projected cost of the project from about $48 million to about $36.5 million.

“If that hadn’t passed we’d be back to the drawing board with the state, absolutely looking at a reduction in the amount of grants that we receive,” Marconi said. “So all of that is behind us now and we need to move forward.”

“Hallelujah!” said Water Pollution Control Authroity chairwoman Amy Siebert, whose agency will oversee the sewer project. “We’re certainly pleased and glad to see that it passed, and we’re looking forward to continuing the design and getting the new plant built.”

Marconi said, “The process will be to get the engineering completed, go to construction documents, get it out to bid, and the bid awarded — all of that needs to take place prior to July 1 2019.”

“Certainly, everybody’s working really hard to make sure we’ll meet that deadline,” Siebert said. “So far we’re looking like we should be able to meet that  [July 1] deadline. Then, we’ve got to hope for a good bidding process so we can get a good price and move forward.”

Rebecca Mucchetti, chairwoman of the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Inland Wetlands Board, was gracious in defeat on an issue that had been subject of months of debate.

“I'm disappointed, of course, because I think that the combined review of the Inland Wetland Board and the Planning and Zoning Commission has been an enormous asset to the town,” she said, “but the Conservation Commission did a good job making their case for a separate board and the voters agreed with them.

“Ridgefield is fortunate to have so many people invested in the protection of our natural resources, and while we don't always agree on the method, we all strive to make environmental decisions that are in the best interest of the town.”

Charter questions

Among the nine Ridgefield charter questions on the ballot, two charter change proposals to make elected positions appointed, and one change concerning the Annual Town Meeting were rejected.

The proposal to make the treasurer appointed (Question 5) was down 5,070 “yes” to 6,704 “no.”

And the proposal to make the tax collector appointed (Question 6) lost 4,905 “yes” to 6,861 “no.”

Voters also defeated Question 8, a charter change that would have allowed the Annual Town Meeting to reduce budgets before they are sent to referendum only if the meeting is attended by at least 2% of registered town voters — roughly 360 based on about 18,000 voters currently registered. That proposal went down 5,073 “yes” to 6,428 “no.”

All five of the other proposed charter changes were approved by comfortably wide margins.

These include proposals to:

  • Prevent a candidate from running for more than one office in single election;

  • Charge the finance board with creating a “master budget schedule” by which the school board and selectmen’s budgets are heard, commented on, and eventually approved by the voters;

  • Allow the selectmen and finance board to determine how to spend money left over when capital projects are completed under their approved budget amount.

  • Delete the charter’s “standards of conduct” section — but only after a new ethics code is proposed by the selectmen as change to town ordinances, and adopted by a town meeting;

  • Permit a variety of “technical changes” including things like re-naming various boards and commissions — such as the “Commision on the Disabled” being re-named the “Commission on Accessibility.”

The two state constitutional amendments, Questions 1 and 2, passed by wide margins in Ridgefield, and were comfortably approved statewide.

The first amendment puts state transportation money in “lockbox” designed to prevent it from being spent non-transportation purposes. Ridgefielders support it 9,980 “yes” to 1,319 “no.”

And the second amendment set up a process making it more difficult for the state to sell-off property — requiring a two-thirds vote of both houses of the state legislature for most major parcels, such as state parks. It was passed in Ridgefield by 9,140 “yes” to 1,819 “no.”