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Harbor plan goes to voters in Stonington

By Joe Wojtas

Publication: The Day

Published October 08. 2012 4:00AM   Updated October 08. 2012 6:46PM

Stonington - Tuesday's town meeting features a lengthy agenda including a controversial decision about whether to approve changes to the Stonington Harbor Management Plan, reimbursing the school board for repairs to the West Broad Street School sprinkler system, hiking restaurant fees and giving a tax rebate to New England Science & Sailing. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the high school.

The Stonington Harbor Management Commission spent almost two years working on proposed changes to the 12-year-old harbor management plan.

One of the more important changes includes a procedure for the assignment of moorings in the harbor, which until now has been guided by precedent and on a case-by-case basis by the harbormaster.

The proposed plan states this has resulted in distribution of moorings that is unsystematic and highly inefficient. The commission wishes to phase in a GPS-based grid plan that it says will relieve overcrowding and "enable scores of new moorings to be assigned."

Annual mooring fees would be $20 for private and special purpose moorings and $100 for commercial moorings.

Pawcatuck resident Gail Shea has criticized the town for allowing the changes to be voted on at a town meeting instead of a referendum, which is how the original plan was approved. Shea said that a document showing the proposed changes was not available long enough in advance of the meeting.

First Selectman Ed Haberek said town attorney Thomas Londregan has said that while state law requires plan changes to be adopted in the same manner as the original plan, the town meeting is the town's legislative body and can approve ordinances or send them to referendum. Copies of the plan are available in Town Hall.

The town is also asking voters to use $89,807 from the town's fund balance to pay for emergency repairs to the West Broad Street sprinkler system which had to be made before school could reopen last month. The money was not in the 2012-13 school budget. If voters reject the request, the school system would have to find the money somewhere in its budget.

Voters will be asked to approve a $15,939 tax reimbursement to New England Science & Sailing. That is the amount of taxes the group paid in the nine months before it became a tax-exempt, non-profit organization.

Voters will also be asked to rescind a provision that calls for the Indian and Colonial Research Center property in Old Mystic to revert to the town if it is no longer used for a research center and museum open to the public. Haberek said the town is not interested in owning the property and the center needs to own it without restrictions to obtain grants.

Voters will also vote on revising the restaurant licensing ordinance to increase annual permit fees and set fees based on classes of the restaurants but delete fee variations based on numbers of seats. For instance, all Class II restaurants would now pay a $135 fee compared to the $25 to $75 they pay now depending on how many seats they have.

Haberek said the fees have not been raised for years. Earlier this year residents opposed a plan to join Ledge Light Health District, which would have handled restaurant inspections. To have local control and still conduct all the mandatory inspections, Haberek said fees need to increase.

"We tried to be a little less expensive than other towns," he said.

Voters will also decide whether to adopt an ordinance that will place restrictions and requirements on peddlers and solicitors in town. Haberek said the town has been receiving more and more resident complaints about people selling door-to-door.

By requiring the sellers to get a permit, he said the town will have more control.

Voters will also be asked to approve a revision to an existing ordinance which would allow the first selectman to approve the purchases or goods and services up to $10,000 without competitive bidding. The limit now is $5,000. Haberek said the change is needed because of rising prices.

Also on the agenda are resolutions to spend $3.5 million to repair town roads and $2.7 million to repair the town's athletic fields. Votes will not be taken, though, because of an Oct. 17 referendum on the two items.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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