We had two open forums outlining the strategy implementation that the Board of Selectmen believe will help us develop a more sustainable and future proof village for our future. If you couldn’t attend or didn’t see the recording of it on the local television channel, the following is a short synopsis of our discussion.
To begin, we went through the demographics of our town and its evolution from what many consider its optimum in the 1970’s. Our median age is slightly above 51 years of age now, higher than the state median age of 40.4 which in itself places Connecticut as one of the oldest median states in the nation. Projecting into the future, we will become much older.
Another aspect of this is the number of homes that are not the primary residence of the occupant. This has dramatically increased over the past 50 years. Also, the percentage of rentals available within our village is below the Litchfield County average and less than half of the national average. More importantly, housing ownership nationally is delayed by high housing cost, (our village is specifically higher), limited housing stock and student debt. The median debt upon graduation nationally is over thirty thousand dollars per year. Our children are graduating with a mortgage!
After going through the demographics, we went on to a discussion of how we might change the future.
The first item that we discussed was increasing our Downtown Charm and Vitality. We, as a community, have a lot to offer- a great school, natural beauty and recreational activity options, a culture of volunteerism- that make this town a wonderful place to live. While we have augmented this by the renovation of the old building done by Bunny Williams which is now called 100 Main, one new store in our town is not going to restore the attractiveness and vitality of our town center. We aim to do this by established a mixed-use zone in the heart of our village, perhaps creating a culture zone, encouraging density in the downtown area while preserving our natural resources and, most importantly, being careful to keep our distinctive character.
Following this we discussed the importance of increasing the availability of affordable rental units within the Town of Canaan. As mentioned above, home ownership is delayed due to a number of factors. An additional one is that our children tend to get married at an older age than we parents did.
Affordable rental units increase our tax base. These units, whether done by a home owner or a charitable trust are taxable. Further, we need a range of housing options for both young people and down-sizing seniors who find the physical requirements of owning a house too difficult. We want the children of our village to be able to afford to stay here.
Last, we want to increase the connectivity options available in our town. What does that mean and why is this important? Today, over 6.7 million Americans work in the technology industry and that number is growing by leaps and bounds yearly. It makes up 10% of our economy. It has more jobs than construction and the financial sector put together. And many of its employees have the option of working either part-time or full-time at home. The key component of this is having a high-speed fiber optic/wireless connection that allows the transmission of large amounts of data.
There is a large digital divide occurring in our nation and we don’t want to be on the wrong side of this chasm. The truth is that private developers of fiber optic networks are concentrating their development efforts to large cities and the surrounding suburbs because those areas are the most profitable. Rural areas just don’t have the density and profit potential that they find attractive.
Make no mistake, this is, today, a utility that is just as important to growth as was the creation of electricity and the phone networks of prior generations. The difference is that these networks were created by giving monopolies to certain vendors in an area and requiring them to serve everyone in their area with service, no matter how remote, at the same price is everyone else. This is not a requirement when it comes to broadband. Consequently, we will have to do it ourselves or wait another generation to get it. Think of the internet based on a fiber optic/high speed wireless network as a super highway. Today, we live on a potholed, dirt road.
What we proposing to create is a network that would cover initially about 93% of our town, either through an actual fiber optic cable connected to our home or business or a faster speed wireless network that would exceed the speeds currently offered. In offering this network, we could provide both internet and the option to convert to a phone service using the Voice Over Internet Protocol, (VOIP) for less than people are paying today. If we can get 320 subscribers in our town, this would pay for network. It would be town-owned and operated. If we do this, the system would pay for itself and allow us to extend the fiber optic portion of the network over time to cover everyone in Falls Village. This is not a pipe-dream. We could do it.
Over the next month or two, we will be doing many ‘dog and pony’ meetings throughout the town to discuss this further. You can find the website outlining the economics of this on the Selectmen’s page if you want to drive down into the details that was done by NEO Partners. Note that we have chosen the sixth option of the ones that have been given to us.
The success of these three main thrusts of our plans will be measurable. We will see a few new businesses come to town. Quality jobs will be created and new families will move into town. Most importantly, the demographic profile of our town will shift to younger age, populating our wonderful school, bringing new volunteers to our fire company and ambulance core and giving our children and seniors more housing options.
What can you do? Several things in fact. You can support the Fiber Optic initiative, the zoning changes to help us get more downtown vitality, support increasing our line item in the budget for downtown renovation and maintenance, continue to volunteer and embrace affordable, mixed use housing.
We, your selectmen, are optimists. We want to ensure that we prepare our little part of the world to get more than our fair share of what the future offers.
Moving on to other matters, we will have a Town Meeting on Wednesday, November 13th at Town Hall starting at 7 PM. Four items are on the agenda. First, by town ordinance, we must ratify the teachers contract at Kellogg school for the next three years. Second, we need to approve taking $4100 from the environmental fund for removing the buried oil tank at Kellogg school. Third, the Kellogg school wants us to approve expending up to $15,000 from their Capital Reserve to bury the propane tanks underground. Finally, we have received an offer from Aquarion to purchase the assets of our water works for $345,000. We need your approval to proceed with the sale. Both the Board of Finance and the Board of Selectmen have given their approval for the sale. Representatives of Aquarion will be at the meeting to answer any questions that you might have.