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
Wouldn't it be more prudent to spend some money digitizing our records instead of a new temperature and humidity controlled vault? How much does that cost? The only answer that I have gotten so far, is that we need a town hall now because that is what they had decided then.

One of the responsibilities I'm tasked hourly, especially now just days before Christmas, is telling my kids, “No we can't have that. It's not in our budget, or you must wait.” That's what we need to say to our elected officials. “We can't have that. It's not in our budget. You must wait.”

I'm skeptical of what the future holds for our town and especially students if we move forward with this project. I'm annoyed that teachers and staff in our schools are asked to wait for programs and increases that they are due. Especially if we have an asset that we could sell on the open market for $1 million. This is decades after we had the opportunity to merge with another high school to give our kids a real high school experience.  An opportunity that very well could still be on the horizon. Which would leave us with an exceptional and equally historic option for a town hall, the Center School.

I'm worried that anecdotally there are necessities like roads, sewer and infrastructure that we should be focusing on repairing and maintaining that fall second to the thousands of dollars that we are wasting on studies for a building that most will not need to step foot in for most of the year. How much did those boilers cost to replace vs. the studies after studies after studies that we've paid for? While prospecting for a construction vendor, I stopped into every building department in every Town Hall in NW CT. They were all municipal buildings, not multi-million dollar architectural award winners.

I am confident that the Greater Litchfield Preservation Trust will preserve the courthouse. It's right there in the name, and they've done such a beautiful job in the past. Dr. Lee got married there, why wouldn't other couples want to?  It would be great as an event space. After a concert or wedding, people could stop in and spend money in our shops and restaurants and generate some tax revenue!  

I'm afraid that donating the Annex gives a false sense of charity. Giving the impression that the generous town of Litchfield is inviting low income families to thrive here.  But what if the project never gets funded by a state that's out of money? Then the Housing Trust can sell it at market value to any buyer. I'd prefer we keep any property we have, because obviously, we use it. But if necessary, why shouldn't the town sell the parcel at current market value? Our schools could certainly use the proceeds.

Who is looking out for the young families on the lower end of income bracket (but just not low enough to be approved for affordable housing) who buy a fixer upper starter home in Litchfield to send their kids to good schools?  Who then pay ever increasing taxes to pay for an extravagant town hall, instead of the schools that brought them here.  Once that loan is paid, taxes won't go down.  There will always be another building project to pay for.  I'm not saying that some people may want to keep our taxes high as a way to keep the riff raff out, but some may say it seems that way...

Ultimately, as you can see. I'm not sold. I don't see the value to the taxpayers, or our students. In fact, I see a lot of cost.

I'll be voting no and no.   

Respectfully,
Meg Finn
Litchfield