How to spend my money wisely

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To the Editor:

Stairways and Costco.

You are probably wondering where I am going with this. Hold onto the railing, I’ll explain. I am following plans for Norwalk to spend a quarter of a million dollars to replace a concrete staircase off of MLK Boulevard. Seriously. $12,000 per stair. Oh, and that includes heating elements, railings and lights. $250 ,000 out the door. Or is it out the window?

Wanting to see the crumbling staircase encased in ice caps and yellow “caution tape” protecting broken railings, I drove by the staircase after a trip to Costco. Fresh off of saving 48 cents per quart of spaghetti sauce. Pretty fired up that dog food was 50 cents cheaper per pound. Raisin Bran was 1/2 off. Cha-ching. All part of other $42 savings on a $265 tab.

Why do I mention this? It’s called responsible spending. Or some may say spending wisely. We do it every so often when considering expenses – it’s my wife and my hard-earned money being spent; exactly how our $8,014 in tax dollars should be spent.

I was shocked to see a staircase with merely some normal wear and tear. No crumbling concrete. No broken railings. No ice caps. No caution tape. A nice job by Public Works, I’d say.

So tell me – where are the surveys and mayor’s town-hall-style feedback sessions demanding a new staircase with heated steps and lights? Does Public Works plan to cut shovels and salt from the budget? Oh, wait – I know: global warming will thaw the ice – but wait then, why the heating elements? Has Erin Herring, the assistant city clerk, weighed in on this pork project? Is her phone ringing off the hook about high taxes, high crime, schools not making the grade, crumbling roads? Or a crumbling, useless staircase?

Norwalk town officials continue to do a horrible job spending the money we give them. Simply put, my family lives within our means. Accordingly, why doesn’t Norwalk tryout a little “Costco mindset” displayed above? Along with no crumbling concrete, there were no lights. Fine. Bid the job for lights. Spend as if it’s your OWN money and MUST be spent wisely. Better yet, this time how about not spend the money at all?

The 68-page Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Pilot Program has a photo of the staircase. The staircase looks great. So why not flip to page 54 and instead, fund the real-time open parking space digital counter signs proposed for around Norwalk? The same signs that the TOD say help reduce congestion from circling in search of parking that can make up 30 to 70 percent of on-street traffic. Or is the parking problem in SoNo solved?


Local and state politicians and officials: Please stop wasting my money. Start to clip the proverbial coupons and demonstrate some responsible spending. The overwhelming majority of the $250,000 is not for a staircase. It is a stairwaste.

Kevin Kane



7 responses to “How to spend my money wisely”

  1. sofaman

    I’m more than a little tired of pedestrian safety presented as frivolous. This town is shamefully short on sidewalks, crosswalks, proper bus stops, bike paths, etc., etc. The civic-planning era of “If you’re not in an automobile, you don’t exist” must end.
    The cost of a public project is always a bit of sticker shock. But your letter seems to be a collection of aimless complaining. What exactly are you proposing?

    I’ve spent years as a Metro-North commuter and I can guarantee that these “shovels” are often late, or a no-show. That staircase must be treacherous in icy conditions. So we’re rebuilding a staircase BEFORE someone falls and cracks their skull? Good.

  2. LWitherspoon

    @Kevin Kane

    Well said. I too would like to see elected officials act as frugally with our tax dollars as they do with their own money. How much do you want to bet that the same elected officials who are so generous to unions with our tax dollars have Costco memberships? The entire calculus changes when it’s personal money being spent.

    Regarding the aforementioned stairs, Councilman Dave McCarthy surveyed them and his conclusion was the same as yours. His reward was that Mike Mushak, who lives walking distance from the stairs and believes he’ll benefit from their construction, speculated that Mr. McCarthy hates South Norwalk. A perfect example of what happens to elected officials who try and exercise restraint on spending.

  3. Mike Mushak

    L Witherspoon, your comment is unfair and inaccurate, as are the contents of the letter above. The stairways are heavily used and are in a dense neighborhood where over 5,000 people live within a 10 minute walk of the two stairways (at Clay and Hamilton, although this project is only for Clay St. improvements) The current stairs are unsafe, darkly lit at night, steep, and are deteriorating. There is no crosswalk at the top of Clay St across Flax Hill where a lot of folks cross every day (which this project includes.)

    NON has accurately reported on the stairway, but the Hour has not, curiously enough. The stairway is NOT $247,000, but is $63,000. The heating of those stairs, through sensors that only go on when the stairs are ice or snow covered saving a lot of crew time so will pay for itself quickly, is $15,000, or 6% of the total project cost.

    The balance is in improvements to drainage, lighting, guardrail, sidewalks, and crosswalks that are much needed on this very busy route.

    The careful snow clearing and salting we are witnessing this year was not always so, and there were many times in past years that the roughly 400 or so folks who use the stairs every day (extrapolated from a professional study and survey) had to deal with dangerous conditions negotiating the steps with snow and ice on them.

    Just one lawsuit caused from an injury on those stairs could potentially cost the city many times what the investment would be to renovate these unsafe and steep stairs.

    There are at least 20 condo complexes with hundreds of units, as well as hundreds of single and multi-family houses, in the neighborhood owned by taxpayers who deserve the same improvements that other areas of the city enjoy to improve their safety and quality of life. Or do they? According to some, they don’t.

    I wonder why.

  4. Tim D

    What a dumb letter. Everyone knows you look into that dog food your buying at Costco it more than likely comes from china and in some cases may have a recall. I used to think the same thing – but you get what you pay for.

  5. Bill

    I agree with this guy mostly, but focus on the personnel expenses, not the actual capital expenditures. We need better infrastructure, we should be enhancing those parts of the city. What we don’t need is more city employees making obscene wages and retiring at 55.

  6. LWitherspoon

    @Mike Mushak

    Thank you for your reply. Exactly which part of my comment was inaccurate? Do you not live walking distance from the proposed stairs? Did you not say in a prior comment that the stairs will benefit property values, including your own? I’m at a loss. Please explain.

  7. Kevin

    Sofaman – Thanks for your reply. I’d treat your response with more time and courtesy if you participated in this forum using a real name but I’ll reply anyway. What exactly am I proposing? Read my letter again. There should be alternative considerations to spending on projects that are in greater demand. Projects that are at the core needs of the town. Search my other postings in Nancy on Norwalk were I offer sensible, cost effective solutions.
    In general, enough with the cracked skull, lawsuit threats. What happened to assuming risk and taking prudent measures to avoid personal injury. Take one step at time, hold onto the railing, use caution, wear appropriate footwear, . Or is that the city’s job to follow people around warning of dangers at every step? I’d prefer my tax dollars go to fighting frivolous lawsuits then funding the stairwaste. Lights I’m OK with. And where are the complaints to DPW for lack of shoveling and salting for the staircase? We know priorities are messed up but to me, it seems a simple “Hey Mr and Mrs Public Works folks, Hal Alvord here – your priority for snow removal is A, B, C.” Are the stairs part of that priority?
    I don’t follow every spending plan in town but in the private sector I work in, asking for a $250,000 capital expenditure requires extensive, clearly articulated justification REGARDLESS of real or perceived merit. I must build my case or at a minimum, asked to leave the conference room and come back with better justification. Where are all the facts and figures for this project? I’d like to see more facts and feel the town has not vetted this project completely. The vague assumptions and extrapolations don’t cut it. On a related note and after trying to decipher lack of order on norwalkct.org, here is what I see regarding the amounts: “2a) Authorize the Mayor, Harry W. Rilling, to execute an agreement with Vaz Quality
    Works, LLC for Project NTOD 2014-1, Pedestrian Access Enhancements on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive at Clay Street, for a sum not to exceed $246,037.21 pulled from here: http://www.norwalkct.org/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/8796

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