Roads, sidewalks top Danbury’s capital improvement list

February 23, 2018 GMT

DANBURY — Road and sidewalk improvements, especially in downtown, will take top billing in Danbury’s newest capital improvement plan.

The plan includes almost $10.6 million for 50 scheduled general government projects on the constantly growing to-do list for the city’s 18 departments.

The list is reviewed each year by the city’s top officials and is incorporated into the overall city budget each spring.

But with repeated cuts in state funding — and not just for improvements on state roads — the improvement plan is less a rigorous program than a backed-up inbox of deferred projects, Mayor Mark Boughton conceded this week.

“It’s more of a wish list than an actual ‘This-is-what-we’re-going-to-get-done’ list,” he said. “We end up picking à la carte off of that.

“It’s in the budget but it’s not necessarily funded,” Boughton continued. “We borrow $3 million each year for capital projects and we’ll probably use a large portion of that for paving.”

The formal plan, approved by the Planning Commission last week, includes $2.1 million in various paving, drainage and road improvements. Depending on how the final city budget divvies up funding, the council and public works staff will prioritize and apportion specific road and drainage improvement projects as they come, Boughton said.

Sidewalks on Main Street also will be the focus of any funding made available in the final budget, Boughton said.

The formal plan includes $660,000 for downtown streetscape improvements and another $625,000 for general city sidewalk repairs and replacements. The city also receives some federal grants each year for certain sidewalk projects, Boughton added.

The plan also sets aside $1.4 million for school roof replacements and $500,000 for police vehicle replacements.

The complete 2018-2019 plan, including city leases and several other major projects, is 33 percent higher than the current list, City Planner Sharon Calitro said. Reimbursements for some of the projects, if completed, would cut that increase in half, she said.

The full six-year outlook for the program includes hundreds more projects costing more than another $600 million, most of which remain completely unfunded, including more than $203 million in already-deferred projects.

“It’s nothing more than Economics 101: Allocation of scarce resources, with the scarce resources being money,” Planning Commission Chairman Arnold Finaldi said. “Some of (the projects) are more important than others. A school that doesn’t have water or a public safety issue, for example, would be more important than a new pickup truck at the airport.”

Still looming, though, is the planned $95 million bond referendum to overhaul the wastewater treatment in Danbury that also serves Bethel, Brookfield, Newtown and Ridgefield. The project includes about $35 million for phosphorus removal as mandated by a state environmental order nearly a decade ago and a lawsuit by several environmental groups, which the city vehemently fought until settling in November and paying a $100,000 fine.

Although the plan is officially listed in the next fiscal year’s capital improvement list, it is unclear whether the city would place a referendum for that bond on this fall’s ballot.

A $10 million engineering plan, already funded by a previous voter-approved bond, is still in the works and would identify the exact specifications and cost of the work, Boughton said. The final cost would be split between Danbury and the surrounding towns the plan serves, per the agreement.

The City Council expects to review those engineering plans before deciding when to pursue the bond, he added.