Declaring that they were not provided with long-term cost analysis, the Board of Finance (BoF) voted 4-2 to not support the town’s during Tuesday night’s BoF meeting at .
While the board’s vote does not seal the $1.65 million fiber-optic plan’s fate, it may send a message to Wilton voters that the plan should not be passed when it comes up to the public budget vote. If passed, the plan would link town hall, the library, and Wilton High School via an underground network connection.
“I would still like to see a more concise, better though-out analysis, I would feel a great deep tug of regret if we couldn’t take advantage of the trenching at all,” said Board of Finance member and Wilton Rep. Gail Lavielle, who supported laying the conduit but remained skeptical of the current plan. She stated that at its current stage, it would be “irresponsible” to recommend financing of the fiber-optic network as it stood, and that information on “opportunity costs, savings and tangible benefits” needed to be supplied.
First Selectman William Brennan and the town’s IT Director John Savarese felt that they had provided sufficient information in the form of a 105-page report. The BoF countered that future costs, which would include repairs, maintenance, replacements, and possible upgrades were inadequately explained and estimated.
When Bof Member Andy Pforzheimer asked Savarese for an estimate of what the project would cost three years from now if the plan were to be instituted in full today, Savarese did not answer with a number, instead questioning if the BoF were inquiring about maintenance costs, which caused dissatisfaction among BoF members.
“I feel just as frustrated as the others [board members],” said Lavielle. “There is a figure that says ‘This is what it will cost to install everything that needs to be installed, done, maintained, everything, to run this thing once it is at full throttle, during each year’ …You have to look out for the period of time that this thing would be finished and compare” it, said Lavielle. The comparison, it might be presumed, is to the costs of what the town currently has and how much the current network would cost in the future if no plan were enacted to the cost of the new plan.
Savarese asked exactly “what numbers” the BoF wanted, expressing that the report included relevant cost data.
Pforzheimer said that it was not good practice to provide such a document and “’say that the numbers are in there somewhere.’”
Proponents of the plan stressed that time to institute a fiber network are optimal, given that roads needed to be dug up for the . Digging up the roads is “half the battle,” said New Canaan’s IT Director Chris Kaiser, who spoke on the benefits of a fiber-optic system, which has been in place in New Canaan for 10 years. Kaiser said that New Canaan’s connected areas never lost phone or internet connectivity because of the underground wires. He said that the network was intuitive as well, and did not require third-party troubleshooting maintenance.
While the BoF agreed that it would be wise to implement the cables now, the board would not back the plan as it were.
Board member Al Alper disagreed with the plan enough to “recommend the town to vote it down,” expressing frustration that the BoF had asked for a clearly delineated plan but was not supplied with one. “The numbers aren’t there,” he said. “Many of the answers were prefaced with ‘I think’ and ‘It should’, and I don’t think that’s anything a board of finance should base a decision on.”
Residents will be able to vote for or against the fiber-optic plan on May 1 during Wilton’s annual town vote at the .