Riverside Park work takes step forward; New London City Council gets resolution supporting $925,000 in improvements

New London - The City Council's Finance Committee on Monday forwarded to the full council a resolution that would designate $925,000 from a bond ordinance approved in 2011 for improvements to Riverside Park.

The plan to improve the park is based largely on a proposal developed in 2011 by the Community Research and Design Collaborative at the University of Connecticut. To better link Winthrop Elementary Magnet School, the park and the Thames River, the plan would involve building a set of stairs from the school to the park, a pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks on the riverbank and a pier to stretch out into the river.

The plan also calls for additional picnic and activity spaces within the park.

The proposal passed the committee unanimously, with the support of Council President Wade A. Hyslop and Councilor Erica Richardson. The committee's third member, Councilor Michael Passero, was absent from Monday's meeting.

"I have been through the park since the effort to save the park and I see how much more that park is being utilized and I appreciate the fact that those who voted to save the park did," Hyslop said. "It certainly shows that there is a need for a park on that end of the city."

Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio voiced his support for the improvements and told the committee that the city would not bond the full $925,000 at once, but would instead bond what it needs as each phase of the plan progresses.

The early phases, he said, would include general landscaping and a better connection between the park and the Winthrop School. Later phases would include a pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks and a pier into the river.

According to a debt service schedule Finance Director Jeff Smith prepared for the councilors, the city's average annual payment for the Riverside Park project would be roughly $67,000.

For each city resident, the project would cost 1 cent per week for the first year, 3 cents per week for the second year and 5 cents per week for the remaining term of the debt, Finizio wrote in an email last month to the City Council.

In an email to the mayor, City Treasurer Donna Rinehart said adding the debt to the city's budget would not require a tax rate increase of even 0.01 mills, which is the smallest change that could trigger a recalibration of the city's tax rate.

"While there is a nominal financial burden on the city to conclude this project, it is not enough to cause even the smallest tax rate increase," Finizio wrote. "At peak debt service levels, this project still costs the average New Londoner less than a penny a day."

Given that the project will not necessitate an increase in the city's tax rate and cost taxpayers less than a penny per day at most, Finizio said he believes the project "easily satisfies the test of affordability and, indeed, could be one of the best 'bangs of the buck' that I have examined in my entire time as mayor."

c.young@theday.com

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