Rocky Hill residents will have an added decision to make this election season and this choice will be even more relevant to their local community.
The Town Council approved the inclusion of a $10 million appropriation designed to protect the town's existing open space and farmland on the November ballot.
During a recent meeting of the council, resident William Pentman said that there are benefits to attaching the measure to the presidential ballot, such as the anticipated turnout for the election, as well as being able to hold the referendum at no additional cost.
While councilors found consensus on the question of whether to include the referendum on the election ballot, those who spoke during a public comment portion of the meeting were split on the issue.
Krista Mariner and Sophie Mariner, mother and daughter, said that they would support an even larger figure dedicated to preserve the town's open areas, perhaps as high as $20 million. Krista Mariner said that her "concern for farmland preservation began at an early age” and was something she learned from her parents.
Former Board of Education Chairman William MacDonald also supported the appropriation.
"Our schools can't support any more development," he said, referring to the end-result if there were an influx of hundreds or thousands of new students into the school system because all the open land was snapped up by housing developers and eventually purchased by families with children.
However, Jacquelyn Farnham was concerned about how money had been spent on previously approved open space referendums and asked if an accounting of this money could be made available.
Michael Casasanta and Meg Casasanta said that they opposed the issue going to a referendum because the voters had just approved a $43 million project to improve the local schools. The Casasantas also said that the council had neither provided the public with enough information to make an informed decision about the new appropriation, nor explored what alternate state and federal sources of funding might be available to meet the same ends.
Democratic council member Barbara Surwilo said that the referendum gives Rocky Hill the permission to borrow up to $10 million to preserve open space and farmland, and that, since the municipality had no eminent-domain land-seizure rights, "not a dime can be spent" until parcels of land become available and the owners are willing to sell their properties and the development rights to the town.
Although the immediate effect of the appropriation may be to slightly boost taxes, in the long run the action would "stabilize the tax base" because it would curtail further development in these areas that would lead to higher property values in the surrounding communities, she said.
Republican council member Nadine Bell said that she supports the referendum “with reservations.” Bell said that the council needs to “make clear to the public that we have a lot of other needs that must be prioritized,” such as general school improvement, road repair, and fire-safety systems in Stevens and West Hill Elementary Schools.
Council member Philip Sylvestro seemed to sum up the thinking of most council members when he said that the upcoming presidential election, coincident with a possible, slight economic upturn, "is the appropriate time to try the minds of the voters on this issue."
Council member Larry deBear said, “We can talk about prioritizing items in the budget until the cows come home, but that doesn't mean we don't do things with the money.”