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Letter: Shuffle's Expensive yet Inadequate

Vickie Riccardo writes in a letter to the editor that a right-sized Senior Center on Edgerton Road would be better and less expensive than renovating Town Hall and moving the Board of Education to Leroy

To the Editor:

Please vote NO to Stop the Shuffle on Dec. 13.

The Shuffle’s primary goal is to provide an appropriate and safe facility for seniors. I am not persuaded that Darien needs to relocate the Board of Education to expensively renovated space, nor a full-service Community Center, to meet that goal.

Unfortunately, our elected officials did not consider other options before voting to increase our indebtedness by $6.979 million. Worse, they did not seek solid information about operating expenses for a full-service Community Center. These failings affect every taxpayer, especially (and ironically) seniors living on fixed or declining incomes.

We finally have the will to solve our Senior Center problem. Let’s consider building a right-size Senior Center on Edgerton, or renovating vacant space in Town Hall, before implementing a costly plan just because it’s the plan at hand. On Dec. 13, vote NO to Stop the Shuffle.

Vickie Riccardo

John Sini November 24, 2011 at 11:59 AM
Mr./Mrs. Chapin, I only raise the issue because it confounds me that a project that is more than double the cost of the Shuffle and brought forth in the midst of tougher economic times, did not create the same sort of scrutiny as the Shuffle nor even a faint call how that capital project would impact the schools' operating budget. I believe Mr. Abelino is correct in his assessment that there is an alternative motive. A most interesting analysis is a review of the referendum signature gatherers. Sure there is a bi-partisan group, but you'll find many of them to be DTC members and public officials that have opposed the Shuffle right from the get go. Lastly, despite what you want to believe the studies were done!!! The last analysis on a new build was done by Mrs. Klein and resulted in a greater than $6m cost. This means the delta between a new build versus the Shuffle is ONLY about $1 MILLION -- and the Shuffle delivers the Town so much more benefit than a simple tear down and rebuild of the Hollow Tree facility. Feel free to call me at 203.969.4133 and I'll direct you to all the data so you can see it for yourself.
John Sini November 24, 2011 at 12:09 PM
Fom the Darien Times, 2005 "I will be voting against the 2005- 06 budget presented to us tonight by the Board of Finance," Riccardo, from RTM District 6, said. "I think that the board's effort to present a single digit percentage increase in the mill rate is misguided - and the result short-changes a changing Darien." Riccardo said the cuts to the BoSs budget that disturbed her most included the elimination of a full-time position from the Department of Public Works; "deep cuts" to proposed capital projects, "the most dismaying of which is the deferral of repairs to the Gorham's Pond Dam;" and "the swashbuckling slash of $1.1 million demanded of the Board of Education in the year when we'll be opening our sorely needed new high school ..." "Our first selectwoman has reportedly wondered whether Mr. Hovell is correct in his presumption that 'most taxpayers in town don't want a 9 percent increase in their taxes every year,'" Riccardo said. "Well, tonight I'm one taxpayer who says he is incorrect. At times the increase may need to be higher, or perhaps lower. This year, in my opinion, it should be higher." "Let's face it, Darien is no longer a sleepy little town," she added. "Residents want and deserve a level of municipal service and public facilities that cost money to provide and maintain. Sharing the burden through our taxes is the fairest way of assuring that all residents who want to avail themselves of what the Town can (and should) offer can participate."
John Sini November 24, 2011 at 12:15 PM
What say you, Mrs. Ricardo? You were only one of 3 RTM members to vote AGAINST a 8.9% budget increase in 2005, because it was NOT large enough to sustain a "level of municipal service and public facilities." Why are you now against sharing "this burden" of the Mather Center?? I very much look forward to your response.
Chris Noe November 24, 2011 at 01:33 PM
The Republican driven "shuffle" falls on party lines because it had no support from the Democrats. Knowing that voters are lazy consumers who simply vote party lines the outcome is highly predictable. Am I the only one who sees the failure of the two parties? The "shuffle" won't make or break Darien it's the mentality surrounding it that will topple this great nation. I'm 51 years old, 30 years ago when I was 21 I could quit my job and have another in minutes. The country and Connecticut are in a major downward economic spiral. Manufacturing is gone and won't come back to Connecticut for reasons like: Taxes, unions, weather, electric costs... tort reform (remember that?). Will the next failed sectors be banking, insurance, shipping, utilities... and education? Why not failed government? It should be. It's the failed policies of Clinton, Bush and Obama that have let our jobs move overseas. I have driven all over this country and there is severe poverty all around us. Young people can't find jobs and wind up as protesters or on drugs. It is no longer business as usual, we need to wake up and smell the coffee... ...but voters are lazy consumers.
Chapin November 24, 2011 at 01:58 PM
Luca - There is no inconsistency. If you are trying to goad me into saying I was against the Police project, you won't. Admittedly I did not analyze it as I was in the process of building my own business. If the proposal was put forth today, I can assure you I would analyze it independent of other projects & a controversial piece of land. If this is indicative of local town politics, shame on all parties involved. Whether you like it or not, the Police/Weed projects are not being debated/voted on in December. Your comments can not turn back the clock so I expect a thoughtful analysis of the current capital projects. In his defense, Mr. Sini attempts to provide hard data to support his view and I respect his opinion. However, you routinely generalize that opponents of the Shuffle are anti-affordable housing without evidence to support your view. My household for one believes in affordable housing in Darien. Keep in mind, we are a Republican and Democrat household without ties to either party. Please stick to facts/reason and not poorly veiled allegations of discrimination. It is not productive. As Mr. Sini has accurately noted, the referendum faces a high bar. If the referendum succeeds, clearly bipartisan support is needed. The petition was a telling first step. My guess is that Republicans comprise a decent amount of the one thousand signatures so the evidence supports broader opposition than your "Democrat" conspiracy theory.
sebastian dangerfield November 24, 2011 at 06:48 PM
Chapin 1-Im not goading you into saying or admitting anything. Im simply pointing out an inconsistency. 2- You misread/misunderstood my contention. No I dont think anti shuffle people are anti-AH--I think they are PRO AH. As a result, I dont see how you can ever allege I am claiming discrimination. The point I have consistently made is that the objections raised by the anti shuffle crowd seem disingenuous. Being fiscal watch dogs --that is commendable. But you cant be a fiscal watchdog on only 1 issue and be a cheerleader on more expensive capital projects. If you dont want to review the past-as a way to judge things, thats fine. But then can I ask you not to look at the initial cost estimates? They are in the past. No need to review them as a gauge of anything-if you want to stand by that logic. What we should be reviewing, then is only the present cost estimates and if the cost makes sense. I personally think you are correct in reviewing elements of the past -as a way to gauge/judge things -and how they have progressed. But I dont limit it to the cost estimates of 2010 shuffle. I also include the actions and concerns of the opponents of this project-and I think I have the right to ask why those costs overages-were of little or no concern. It helps me to understand things and if the concerns are real or manufactured. In this case, I think that linking the capital expenditure of 7 mio to quality of education is knowingly unfair.
sebastian dangerfield November 24, 2011 at 06:53 PM
And lastly chapin --seeing as you want to maintain the high level of discussion--and you want to be fair--can I ask if you agree that the contention by the anti shuffle crowd will negatively affect the quality of education and impact on other capital projects --ELIMINATING all other choices. I have to say that the police station or weed beach or the cost of the high school or even buying 35 leroy have ever been described as impediments to education. And if you are interested in getting to the right answer, I hope you also seek to correct this impression as well. Thanks.
Chapin November 26, 2011 at 02:28 PM
Luca - As I noted many times, the Police/Weed projects are sunk costs. No amount of debate/analysis can turn back the clock and prevent the projects from going forward. I am sure many residents believed the projects were wasteful when proposed but we can not change the past. I never mentioned the impact on the school budget. My point has been and will continue to be a $7 mn project originally budgeted at $4.5 mn needs further review. I don't care if the overage came from the Klein, Campbell or Stevenson administration. The comment section on the Patch does not leave enough space for a thorough critique of the project but I will mention one assumption that supporters use I find not relevant, "good time for borrowing". The current interest rate environment should have limited bearing on the attractiveness of the project. For argument's sake (I don't have the exact figures in front of me) let's assume the "annual cost" to finance the project over the next 20 years is roughly $475k/year. If interest rates were 1% higher or lower, would that factor into the budget? Would the town feel comfortable spending $7.7 mn if rates were 2.25% (roughly same annual expense) or pay $50k more if rates were 1% higher? This reasoning reminds me of the housing crisis in this country and to a lesser extent Darien. Arguing cheap financing makes the project or "house" attractive is a mistake. Low interest rates ameliorate bad capital decisions.
John Sini November 26, 2011 at 05:26 PM
Chapin, the RTM and BOF werewell aware ofthe causes for the increase before their positive votes. See www.DarienCT.gov for all the relevant info.
Ruth Anne Ramsey November 26, 2011 at 10:00 PM
I think anyone who is against the shuffle should sign up for classes there and invite friends-like I have tried to do over the past year or so. No one would join me after the first time because it was too depressing. One of my friends actually said it attacked her self esteem to go into the place. I know of at least 4 friends who would attend classes and probably eat lunch there too if the place was not so "depressing" There are a lot of people with opinions that dont have all the facts they say things like Sell the property at 35 Leroy. Well maybe they need to know the amount of money our town has spent defending itself at the corner of Leroy and West that the library owned and sold to "Developers". Stefanoni owns it ! Where are the numbers for the project on Edgerton-are we factoring in the value of the land there? How come so much can be spent on Education, beaches and the police department and our Senior Citizens are forced to be in a place that is a disgrace to this town. Its discriminatoin of the worst sort against people who have not choices-Or they would not be at the Edgerton Facility. Ruth Anne Ramsey Former Member Advisory Commission of Aging and Affordable Housing
Vickie Riccardo November 27, 2011 at 12:57 AM
Answering Mr. Sini – Government spending should be well justified. Back in 2005, I thought the Boards of Selectmen and Education justified their budget requests. I disagreed with cuts made by the Board of Finance and, recalled Murry Stegelman’s principled stand on the Darien High School appropriation, which he voted against because the plans lacked a pool. I don't remember if the Darien Times quoted that part of my statement. We need a new Senior Center. We don’t need a new Board of Education Center. That piece of the Shuffle has not been justified. I also continue to wonder why the BOS and the Mather Building Committee did not scale back significantly based on the large increase between the feasibility estimate ($3.5 - $4.5 million) and the design and development estimate ($7.16 million) when the latter became public in August. Instead, they tweaked and appropriately included previously excluded items, such as the required fire sprinkler systems, and recommended appropriating $6.979 million. Once the RTM endorsed that appropriation, Darien’s taxpayers validly asked to take part in the decision by referendum. It's time to let the people decide if the Shuffle is a sensible way to provide a new Senior Center.
Chapin November 27, 2011 at 12:59 AM
Mr. Sini - I appreciate your assistance. I have read the history and the data you suggested. I think the point of this debate is despite the RTM and BOF votes, a large # of your constituents do not believe the Shuffle is the most prudent use of Town resources at this juncture. Ms. Ramsey - I respectfully disagree with your assertion that "so much be spent on Education, beaches and the police department...." accurately reflects the state of Darien's financial obligations. Lumping programs together is disingenuous. According to the Town's financial projections, total expenditures are projected to increase on average 5%/year over the 5 year forecast period. Total Board of Ed (ex debt service cost for buildings) will grow at 5%/year, in line with total town expenses. While the town absorbed an increase in debt to fund schools, going forward, debt service/repayment actually does not increase relative to the 10/11 budget. The largest % increases in the budget fall into buckets that are difficult to contain. First, pension & police retiree medical is projected to grow 8%/year over the next 5 years. Second, Town medical & dental is projected to grow 10%/year over the next 5 years, well ahead of projected the total 5% budget growth. Lastly, the debt service and repayment related to the Police Station is a fairly large slug. For a point of reference, annual debt service/repayment at it's peak is roughly 3x the expense of Weed Beach and 35 Leroy Purchase combined.
Vickie Riccardo November 27, 2011 at 01:04 AM
Answering Mr. Sini – Government spending should be well justified. Back in 2005, I thought the Boards of Selectmen and Education justified their budget requests. I disagreed with cuts made by the Board of Finance and, recalled Murry Stegelman’s principled stand on the Darien High School appropriation, which he voted against because the plans lacked a pool. I don't remember if the Darien Times quoted that part of my statement. We need a new Senior Center. We don’t need a new Board of Education Center. That piece of the Shuffle has not been justified. I also continue to wonder why the BOS and the Mather Building Committee did not scale back significantly based on the large increase between the feasibility estimate ($3.5 - $4.5 million) and the design and development estimate ($7.16 million) when the latter became public in August. Instead, they tweaked and appropriately included previously excluded items, such as the required fire sprinkler systems, and recommended appropriating $6.979 million. Once the RTM endorsed that appropriation, Darien’s taxpayers validly asked to take part in the decision by referendum. It's time to let the people decide if the Shuffle is a sensible way to provide a new Senior Center.
John Sini November 27, 2011 at 01:51 AM
Let's be clear: Mr. Stegelman's stand was related to a capital appropriation for the new high school, not an operating budget... Much different than being one of three RTM members to vote against a almost double-digit increase in the town's operating budget because it wasn't enough. What you won't admit is the shuffle accomplishes a lot more than just a new senior center and office space for the BOE, for a modest incremental cost than simply a new senior center build --which was over $6 million by last count.
Ruth Anne Ramsey November 27, 2011 at 04:22 AM
So we should not do the "shuffle" for seniors because we have already obligated ourselves to other bonding isssues. I thought the "no" people as well as Noe are saying that they want to use the Edgerton property after they spend some more money fgiuring out how much a new Senior center would cost - hard numbers by experienced builders. The land value must be figured in or out on both projects in order to make it apples to apples. So if No and Noe get their way the only things we wont have are a faciiy that can be used after 3:00 and on weekends and there would be no possibility of 20 units of senior housing! I dont know how we could calculate the cost of those two lost opportunities but they exist. Lets face it this is all about the need to be right and not the needs of the towns people who have no choice. It reminds me of the Republicans who were against Evonne Klein no matter what she proposed.
Chris Noe November 27, 2011 at 01:56 PM
Kazooti, I offered Plan B as a compromise between the R's and D's. It does not reflect what I want. I envision a senior center similar to Groton CT. Anyone who wishes to be informed prior to this vote must visit Westport and Groton Senior Centers. Right now we have a "senior center" after this we WILL NOT. We will have a "community center." This is the wrong direction. Babyboomers are coming, we need to be prepared. To do this right we need an awesome Senior Center just like Groton. GPS "102 Newtown Road 06340" The R's have dug us so far into this hole I am looking for a way out. This is where Plan B comes from and I think it is really good for Darien Incorporated and the taxpayers. It can be tweaked... but it's a compromise. The biggest problem I have with the shuffle is it's use of the old library. We are wasting precious land. The current senior center building is a disaster, we all agree. Plan B Senior Center in the basement at town hall. The BoE remains upstairs only the maintenance part that is in the basement moves to the town garage. If the senior center needs to grow in a few years we can take advantage of the expired lease and move into the space currently used for arts. High-End town houses at 35 Leroy. 20 million dollar units, 80 car parking garage beneath, target buyer- investment, part time use, guest house, toy storage, all of the above. Ball fields on Edgerton Cost 3.5 million Completed Summer 2012
sebastian dangerfield November 27, 2011 at 02:04 PM
Chapin the cost of financing today absolutely matters. it would not matter if you never intend to build. If I am to believe the stoptheshuffle crowd, they want to build--so the cost of financing is as material as the cost of everything associated with the project.
Vickie Riccardo November 27, 2011 at 04:35 PM
Mr. Sini – You quoted me in your post. I objected to operating and capital cuts, specifying the Gorham’s Pond Dam. Also, capital expenditures have operating impacts. They should not be considered in a vacuum. As I said before, government spending must be justified. For that reason, I will not cite your vigorous support of the Shuffle if someday in the future you object to capital expenditures. Rather, I will respect your right to consider capital and operating proposals individually and on their merits when they are presented.
John Sini November 27, 2011 at 05:31 PM
Mrs. Ricardo, I didn't run for townwide office as a fiscal conservative, only to find ample evidence to the contrary. If I ever do chose to do anything along those lines, I would hope my platform and message would be somewhat consistent with my past voting record and will welcome voters to study my past decisions to help them make an informed decision. During my research I have found that there have been so many contradictions among those that have opposed the Shuffle most vigorously. This leads me to believe there is an alterior motive behind the whole thing.
John Sini November 27, 2011 at 11:09 PM
Perhaps Mrs. Ricardo can explain why, if we don't need such an expenditure, the last stand alone study conducted by Perkins Eastman (which was commissioned by Mrs. Klein) in March 2008 called for a new senior center which would span up to 22,500 square feet and cost up to $8 million. If we vote no on the referendum, what kind of expenditure do you envision for a stand alone senior/community center?
Dave November 28, 2011 at 12:43 PM
John, I can't speak for Mrs. Ricardo but in my opinion the alterior motive today is that the economy is awful. It really is that simple. That and that this is a three part plan with only two parts accounted for. Still waiting on numbers and facts and approvals for senior housing at Edgerton. Dave
sebastian dangerfield November 28, 2011 at 02:26 PM
Dave, Unfortunately though the stop the shuffle website is saying that they want to build a senior center. So with all due respect the facts are : no objection to an 18 mio dollar police station. No objection to a 3+ mio dollar weed beach (with I believe a nicer snack hut). A desire to buiild a senior center --just not at 35 Leroy. These dont sound like the actions of people who are concerned about the economy in december 2011. If economics were the sole driver, the 2010 economy was just as bad and there was no objection to much more expensive undertakings. I dont say--I dont want to go to Chipotle because the 7 dollar meal is too expensive--after just eating at Scena for 50. I would say I dont want to go to chipotle because I dont want to go there. And then you would have to ask why --and if the answer keeps coming up its too expensive--then Im guessing that we all would know its something else. That something else has been the Democrats sole driver for the past 4 years. Affordable housing at 35 leroy. I dont know why they are trying to fool anyone. Look at the people who object--its basically all democrats. Has there been any other issue that has existed for this group in the past 4 years? No. They want AH there-- its obsessive. But its undeniable. All these other platitudes are smokescreens. No one can tell us the proper size of a senior center from their group--they are just hurling out concerns--and hoping one will stick.
John Sini November 28, 2011 at 03:58 PM
Luca, the last senior center study the Dem controlled BOS initiated was the Perkin-Eastman study and construction estimate in '08 which outlines the need for 18,000 sq feet (with an option to build 4,500 more) for a total cost of $6.35 million (or $7.85 million with the optional 4,500 sq feet). I gather this is what they are talking about when they discuss a "modular senior center." Note that this estimate does not include soft costs/FFE, so the cost would be higher. All this trouble for about a $500k difference between the Shuffle and a stand alone project means you are probably on to something...
sebastian dangerfield November 28, 2011 at 04:53 PM
haha Yeah. Im disappointed that people seem to want to have an insincere discussion on the matter. Ms Riccardo makes a good point , in her response about looking at everything individually...but after numerous studies and expensive alternatives that raised no objections on her part, when they were not proposed at 35 leroy, leads me to believe that she isnt concerned about 6.35 mio and she isnt concerned with 6.9 mio. Mrs Riccardo, just for informational purposes, and to essentially confirm my belief, if the referendum derails the shuffle, is it correct to assume that you prefer affordable housing at 35 leroy or in the alternative, to sell the property , intending it to be senior housing? Thanks very much for a reply.
Vickie Riccardo December 02, 2011 at 01:24 AM
Mr. Sini -- Ms. Sullivan presented a "modular senior center" plan to the BOS last year. She provided concept drawings at her own expense. Mr. Abelino -- To confirm that I'm concerned about appropriating $6.979 million for the Shuffle, scroll up to the letter which started this conversation. Then refer to the many statements I made/published during my failed run for the BOS. There's the target. Go ahead; shoot. But before you do, perhaps you can reconcile statements made by Ms. Stevenson, Mr. Campbell and Mr. Pankowski in August (when the design/development estimates for the Shuffle topped $7 million) to assure Darien's taxpayers that the Shuffle's price would be closer to the feasibility estimates of $3.5 - $4.5 million, and their subsequent recommendation to appropriate nearly $7 million for the Shuffle in October. Fire sprinklers should have been included from the start, so they're off limits. Consider nice vs. essential. I can just as easily ask Shuffle proponents about their actions over the 12 years that the BOS studied options for the Senior Center. No one, other than the BOS, was publicly promoting replacing the Senior Center, and that includes the Commission on Aging. I do not speak for Stop the Shuffle. But I support selling 35 Leroy for sr. housing and using the proceeds to pay for a new Senior Center. Using DBR overlay zoning and restrictions, we can assert local control over re-development. Inclusionary zoning regs. require that 12% be affordable.
John Sini December 02, 2011 at 01:42 AM
Mrs. Ricardo, If you would show me the needs based analysis Callie's proposal was based on, it would be helpful. Otherwise, it's just another last minute stab a disrupting a very reasonable plan. I'm sorry that the Klein administration didn't have the fortitude to pursue a new senior center based on the analysis she comissioned or else we wouldn't find our Seniors in the pickle we do today.
sebastian dangerfield December 02, 2011 at 03:17 AM
Ms Riccardo, I think your responses are reasonable. But I am not asking about your opinion on the costs/value. I saw you asked on what basis mr palen based his assertion that the anti shuffle crowd knows it will be years before any senior center would be built if the shuffle fails. Im saying, its pretty clear , it will be a long time. Just look at what has occured in good times and now in less good times. The thing keeps getting pushed aside. If you have information that would provide evidence that the senior center can be built in a short time, Id love to listen so I could evaluate if it has any chance to get done quickly---but there is no plan--and Im pretty sure we all know mr palen is correct.
Chris Noe December 02, 2011 at 04:17 AM
Darien seniors hold the short straw in Darien. The new senior center is a community center. The senior center is history
John Sini December 02, 2011 at 03:22 PM
Perhaps Mrs. Ricardo could reconcile the following with her belief that the property should be sold: "Only public uses have been considered for the site. Why? Municipalities typically purchase land for a public benefit. Sale of the property delivers no real public benefit... Historically, Darien has not bought land for a commercial use." Source: 35 Leroy Ave. Public Use Assessment Presentation to the RTM on 9/22/08 by Evonne Klein
sebastian dangerfield December 02, 2011 at 05:35 PM
Whereupon, at this point, I would expect Ms Riccardo to say "yes, mr abelino, I concede that it will be a long time before any senior center gets built, if my scenario would be followed. But, apparently, admitting that someone else is correct, is not possible. I dont think ms riccardo has to reconcile ms klein's position. But I do think that ms riccardo never satisfactorily reconciled her own past statements of advocating for higher mill rates and bigger spending, even so far as saying mr Hovell was wrong that all people want low taxes. And now arguing that she is a fiscal watchdog. I think its pretty clear. Democrats want affordable housing at 35 leroy. And republicans dont--and are willing to put anything in that space if it will block affordable housing. Its pretty much that simple--and all this talk about respect for senior citizens by republicans is as sincere as democrats being concerned about the level of spending that is being done. In the end, the referendum will fail--and most likely the next step will be for Mr Bayne to introduce some new angle to delay or impede the shuffle. That has been the sole focus by the minority party in the last couple of years-- They needed to win a majority for this to stop and they didnt. Now they resort to all sorts of deceptive tactics such as linking educational quality to defeating the shuffle--etc. "Mr Palen what proof do you have it will be a long time." Come on--it doesnt take a genius.

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