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Does your vote mean what you think it does?

Next Friday, July 26, there will be a Town Meeting and a vote in Cornwall that could have a profound impact on the town’s future and perhaps even its continued existence. Is it overly dramatic to say that the future of not just West Cornwall, but all of Cornwall, hangs on the ballot’s 39 words and a rather modest expenditure?  I would tend to say probably not — if the voting outcome gave voters a clear picture of what their vote would achieve — but it doesn’t.

At the recent Septic Informational Meeting, I spoke in favor of treating the cost of installing a wastewater treatment solution for West Cornwall as a town-wide infrastructure expenditure not dissimilar to how we handle the cost of bridge and road work.

After serving on the WC Septic Committee for 2-plus years, I have come to realize that government regulations have drastically changed the requirements for how we handle water and septic issues in some locations, especially near rivers and where high density housing already exists.  I believe it is no longer possible to put these costs on the backs of individual homeowners when those costs routinely reach into mid six figure numbers.

I applaud Martha Lane’s writing a guest commentary for The Lakeville Journal, but her $30,000+ estimate as the cost to be borne by each West Cornwall property owner was arrived at by dividing estimated costs by the total number of impacted sites in West Cornwall; however, the plan put together by WMC engineers would only reach about 25% of the homes/businesses. Therefore, her estimate would need to be multiplied by four. 

At the Informational Meeting, First Selectman Gordon Ridgway responded to a questioner who asked what would happen if the ballot question is voted down. He said the Study Group would be disbanded and our work would all be for naught. It is not clear to me that that is a necessary or appropriate outcome. The ballot language says, “so as to continue the work of the West Cornwall Water Septic Study Group.”  The fact is that the Study Group does not need money to continue to meet or make recommendations. What the Study Group needs to do is present a specific recommendation with a meaningful cost estimate that the citizens of Cornwall can make a judgment about.

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This ballot issue is not about a win for our town, it is about our Board of Selectmen and their ability to make the final decision, regardless of how the citizens feel.

If the issue is voted down, the selectmen can simply say either that the townspeople do not want to do anything to solve West Cornwall’s problems or they can say townspeople don’t want to spend town money to solve WC’s problems. Same vote, but very different approaches are needed and appropriate depending on how you read the results. If the ballot issue is supported and $10,000 is expended, we have essentially learned nothing new. The numbers used on the Preliminary Cost Options are pure guess-ti-mates.

So who wins? Certainly not the citizens of Cornwall who are not being given any clear issue to vote on or knowledge of what their vote, yea or nay, will result in; and certainly not the property owners in West Cornwall who see themselves trapped in a deteriorating and desolate streetscape. And finally it is all the citizens of Cornwall – East Cornwall, Cornwall Bridge, North Cornwall, Cornwall Plains and West Cornwall – who are losing a crucial and iconic part of our town.

How to vote? It is up to each of you, but I urge everyone to be sure they get a direct and specific answer to what their vote will mean to each individual member of the Board of Selectmen.  We already know who you are: Gordon Ridgway, Priscilla Pavel and Marina Kotchoubey.  I urge you to know what your vote will mean to each of them before you cast your vote Friday night.  They will tell you they are listening to you, the voters. Be sure you know what they are hearing from you.

 

Joanne Wojtusiak is a 35-year fulltime resident of Cornwall Bridge, a member of the West Cornwall Septic Committee and a former chairman of the town’s zoning board of appeals.