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OPINION




Letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the editor or partners of Litchfield.bz. Letters to the editor should be 300 words or less. Letters over the 300 word limit will be continued on another page. We reserve the right to edit and shorten the text. Please avoid CAPS, BOLD and underline for emphasis. We encourage letters providing positive solutions for current issues. Letters should be brief and refer to current or recent events. Please include your full name, a street address and a daytime telephone number for verification; only the name and town will appear. Letters should be e-mailed to editor@Litchfield.bz

Letters about the Litchfield Referendum on Wednesday need to be 300 words or less. Letters also need to be submitted before noon on Tuesday, December 18. (It requires a lot of extra steps to post letters over 300 words.)

  
To the Editor,
 
I think it is unfortunate that the two proposals before us have made it to referendum in Litchfield.  I hope the discussions about parking on the green do not distract from the decisions before us.
 
Courthouse aside, we do not need a new town hall. 
 
We have a town hall and an annex.  What we need to do is to take care of both buildings, and to maximize their usage.  As a community we have a responsibility to spend our money in a responsible way, and refrain from freely giving away resources.
 
There are many other issues in town that could use our dollars.  Infrastructure. Law enforcement. Schools.  How is school security in Litchfield?  Didn't we have a board member recently suggest arming custodians?
 
Let's not spend money where we don't need to. 7.5 million dollars!
 
So many good choices await us. Meg Finn's excellent letter spoke about a few of them.  Now there's someone with a good five year plan.
 
Two no votes help get Litchfield back on track.
 
Sincerely,
Gary Leavitt
Bantam
 
 
To the Editor,

I do not believe that the town hall "space" issue needs millions of dollars to solve. Nor do I see the town hall staff and space requirements increasing given the trend over the past ten years of a declining population. Other less expensive operational efficiency options should be explored.

I attended a Committee meeting that was formed to justify a new town hall. What struck me the most at this meeting was that the Committee members and architect consultant were all eligible for social security. The Committee's agenda was the baby boomer's old brick and mortar approach to make town government more "efficient." The millennium generation and future generations to come will never set foot in a town hall. Their generation has learned to communicate digitally and they have little interest in the location of a brick and mortar town hall.

Options that could be explored should include increasing the use of digital communications and document storage. Digital storage eliminates the need for voluminouspaper storage. All the old paper documents can be scanned for easy online viewing and then those original paper documents that have to be retained long term by law could be stored at an offsite vault freeing up existing town hall vault space. Other ideas to free up space include looking at the relocation of Probate Court office. There is no mandate that the State of Connecticut Probate Court serving 12 towns has to be housed in the Litchfield Town Hall. An alternate Probate Court office location could free up a good portion of the existing lower level town hall space.  Consideration could also be given to relocating the lower level police office. Perhaps relocating the police office to the LIS/LHS campus could serve a multipurpose school/town safety issue.  continued
 
 
To the Editor:
 
LitchfIeld officials are holding a referendum on December 19 to answer two questions: 1) Should the town spend $7.6M renovating the Courthouse on the Green as a Town Hall? 2) Should the town donate the Bantam Annex on 10.5 acres---appraised at $1.1 million in "as is" condition---to Litchfield Housing Trust (LHT) for affordable housing with 24 units planned?

Officials swore at November town meetings that the Courthouse Town Hall (CTH) will increase taxes only a negligible amount as the Litchfield Schools Project is gradually paid off.  After the meetings, the Board of Selectmen (BOS) voted 4-1 against the CTH, stating the building is inadequate. Yet they back the giveaway of the million dollar Annex, even though we can ill afford it with town debt at $26M. What's more, LHT needs state funding to build but doesn't have it. The state's debt was $74 billion in 2017 and at best, funding is many years away.

Despite BOS votes against the CTH, the plan soon rose again with a referendum-forcing petition from members of Courthouse owner Litchfield Preservation Trust (LPT). First Selectman Leo Paul stated publicly on 12/4 he will vote no, with three other selectmen reiterating opposition. Mr. Paul added something new: the cost of Courthouse upkeep is $6K to $10K per month with eight months needed for pre-construction planning. These costs are extra, i.e. not included in the $7.6M referendum. continued
 
 
To The Editor:
 
The Litchfield Green Merchants used to refer to Mondays as “Court Day.” It meant no parking and very little business. Since the courthouse left, there has been a significant increase in business, occupancy, and infrastructure investment, just in-time for Litchfield’s 300th Anniversary.
 
When the courthouse left, The Green occupancy rate was 60-70%. After years of convincing businesses to move into the Town Center, the occupancy rate is now an astonishing 90-95%. The renovated Jailhouse added 18,000 sq. ft which is at 100% occupancy.
 
Most of the 85 tenants on The Green, are family-owned businesses, employing 400+ local residents. Parking on The Green and the municipal lot is currently limited to 250 spots. It takes simple math to realize that the employees of 85 tenants, fill-up much of the available parking. 
 
When the final Town Hall plans were revealed, the merchants expressed their parking concerns and were told, “Parking will be addressed after the Town Hall is approved.”
 
To understand the merchants parking concerns, try to find a spot today near the Litchfield Post Office. This could be the entire Green, if parking is not properly addressed, prior to moving all Town Offices on the Green.
 
Several alternative uses for the courthouse have been presented, all of which have financial backers, no cost to the taxpayers, “preserve” the courthouse, and reduce our tax burden.
 
It does not seem fair to force a vote of this importance a week before Xmas. The Merchants of Village Green, therefore, urge you to “preserve” our Town Center vote "no" on Wednesday Dec 19th. 
 
Let us then engage in meaningful dialogue as a community and create alternate plans that “preserve,” not only our historic courthouse, but our Town Center and the family-owned businesses that occupy it.
 
Jonathan Wilson
Litchfield
Village Green Merchant Representative
 
 
To the Editor:

Regarding the Bantam Annex & Town Hall

At the very first meeting I attended about this topic, I heard our First Selectman tell the audience “I can sell ice cubes to eskimos.”

I myself was in sales for quite a long time and someone taught me, when value exceeds cost by $1, you've made a sale.  Unfortunately, in regards to a new town hall, I've yet to see the value.  

To quote the New Haven Register back in 2012 a Board of Finance member said, “Listening to people's comments around town, one gathers anecdotally that there are some people out there who are skeptical of the project and don't know why we need a new town hall.”  Here we are, 6 years later and I'm still one of those people.

From the same article, “In spite of Paul's insistence that change was necessary, Selectman Jeff Zullo wasn't confident that residents would buy it.  "I don't know of any mandate that would require us to renovate this building," he said.”

I'm not clear on why this town hall must happen now. At this point, I'm just not sold.  6 years later, permits are being written, birth certificates issued, and property is being taxed.  Business is running as usual at both the town hall and the annex. It seems to me that this project was suggested back before the internet was part of daily life.

Back in the olden days when every document was printed and archived. Back before the market crash of `08, when everyone (or at least the Town of Litchfield it seems) had plenty of money to wonder how to dispose of.  We need to re-evaluate what our needs are moving forward. Why, with so much of government being automated, do we need all of this square footage?  continued

 
To the Editor:
 
Mr. Stedronsky makes some very good points, particularly about the $11 million I stated previously, and I don’t disagree with the concepts he presents. I quoted this number only because it has been publicly stated by the Board of Selectmen as the amount required to do necessary upgrades plus an addition to the existing town hall in order to house all of the town’s services, i.e., existing plus five to be relocated from Bantam. The $11 million number, I have been told by someone claiming to be in the know, was pulled from thin air simply to make the less expensive new town hall cost of $9.2 million appear more palatable to the taxpayers. 
 
My personal feeling is that a compromise of partial courthouse renovation and existing town hall renovation (no addition) to house, for example, the probate court and police services, would give all parties a favorable result for their efforts and very possibly at a reasonable total cost. For any of this to happen, however, the voters must approve the referendum for the town to accept the GLPT’s gift of the courthouse, and the Selectmen must be willing to accept a compromise solution.
 
Gerald Gault
Litchfield
 
 
To the Editor of Litchfield.bz:
 
Let’s get past the scary Taliban-like persistence and tactics of the Greater Litchfield Preservation Trust and its alarmingly zealous band of militant followers who are trying to foist the old courthouse on Litchfield for conversion to the town hall, and consider the merits of the conversion itself.
 
For starters, the courthouse wouldn’t be an unconditional gift. It’s unequivocally stipulated in GLPT’s petition which forced the town meeting/referendum that the courthouse must be used as Litchfield’s town hall. That means it can’t be sold or leased to provide revenue for the town and can’t even be used for any other municipal purpose. (And, of course, the town must pay for upkeep even when the building isn’t being used.)
 
And converting the courthouse properly (and properly is the operative word) would cost much, much more than the $7.6 million GLPT is touting. In the beginning and unhappily ever after.
 
So Litchfield would be stuck with the architectural equivalent of a horse: a pile of bricks you keep throwing money into.
 
As for the actual merits, there are none, no merits at all. The courthouse would prove to be a gift from hell, a gift that keeps on taking. Even majorities of the committee that recommended the courthouse option to the selectmen and the finance board that approved the bonding did so reluctantly, without enthusiasm.
 
Thus, it’s clearly a bad deal for everyone except GLPT. For the good of Litchfield and its taxpayers, then, “no” is the only way to vote. The Board of Selectmen rejected GLPT’s offer for good reason and our First Selectman promised to vote “no” in the referendum. So let’s join them in rejecting a god-awful deal by voting “no” on 19 December . . .
 
Yours faithfully,
Paul Mordecai Rosenberg
 
 
To the Editor:
 
At the Town Meeting last night, I raised a rhetorical question to the spokesman for the retail businesses in the center of town. My question was 'What sort of business do you envision for the Courthouse that would have less impact on parking than the proposed town hall?'  By the spokesman’s and several other speaker’s descriptions, the parking situation in the town center is so dire that any additional cars would negatively impact the vitality of the retail establishments on the green. I did not mean to imply that the GLPT would allow the building to remain vacant and shuttered – they would never allow that – but it seems that that is precisely what the spokesman was asking for.
 
The best thing for small retail businesses’ vitality is more small retail businesses. Competition does not reduce individual retailer’s traffic, rather it increases everyone’s traffic. Up to a point. The limiting factor is congestion and parking.
 
Russell Barton, the developer of the County Jail, offered to purchase the courthouse, presumably to develop it into a sustainable business. Mr. Barton, as a smart businessman, would hardly be expected to invest several million dollars in a building only to leave much of the square footage empty. The town offices employ about 30 staff, or about half what the Superior Court employed, and that number is not anticipated to grow. I doubt that any private investor would back a project of this scale and limit it to 30 employees in the building. If parking is already nearing the breaking point, then I would think that the idea of having the town offices occupy the courthouse would be embraced by the business community. That is, unless they are just blowing smoke about a non-existent parking problem.
 
Jim Katzin
Litchfield
 
 
To the Editor:
 
A recent letter to the editor makes an assumption that is wrong. The writer states that if the referendum to spend $7.6 million on the courthouse is defeated, then most likely the town leadership “will have to renovate and expand the town hall” at a cost of over $11 million.
 
This is just wrong.  If the referendum fails there are several alternatives that either the Board of Selectmen and/or the Greater Litchfield Preservation Trust can pursue.
Based upon conversations with very knowledgeable men in construction, an 8,000 square foot addition to the present town hall would cost well under $5 million.
 
While estimates for just renovating the first floor of the courthouse are harder to come by, the best information I’ve received is that such a plan would also cost less than $5 million. And neither of these plans would plug up the traffic in the center of town.
 
Further, if the BOS allows a committee to address this issue without having its hands tied, there may be even better options not now being discussed. 
 
This Town has a very real chance to actually lower taxes within a couple of years, if everybody plays their cards right.  And we can start by (1) setting a limit on what we’ll spend on a new courthouse to under $5 million and (2) not giving away a town asset easily worth $1 million.
 
James Stedronsky
Member, Litchfield Board of Finance