STAMFORD -- Standing before the city's planning board, Stamford resident James Van explained to board members why he can't afford to have his home flooded again.
"My daughter has a brain injury. She doesn't move in any shape or form." said Van. "If you ask us to evacuate, we can't evacuate, because my daughter's wheelchair alone is 200, 300 pounds. I can't move it; I can't carry her out."
Van lives on Oakdale Rd., where the Noroton River flows. The Planning Board's proposed $47.2 million capital budget includes $36.6 million in taxpayer funded projects, including Oakdale Rd. restoration and deteriorated culvert replacement. This is the project Van spoke in favor of at Monday night's public hearing, hoping the allocated $300,000 will be enough to prevent future flooding in his home.
"This is a public hazard and life hazard," said Van.
Since 2003, Van said water has risen "knee-high" in his house on separate occasions. Another Oakdale resident, Jessica Vandervoort, said her property has also been flooded. In 2013, she said her home was hit by what was called a "100 year flood." Vandervoort said she was out of town with her family and returned to five feet of water in her basement.
"It floated all the oil out of our oil tank which then spread all over our property and totaled our cars," said Vandervoort. "We had to have the hazmat team come clean it up and it was an enormous, mostly uninsured, expense from which we are really still recovering."
Van said he's seen cars floating "chest-high" which, Vandervoort said, looked like boats floating down the street. Van said if his family ever had to leave quickly, it would be difficult.
"Now we have oxygen on the ground floor and a lot of machines; a hospital bed and everything in the living room," said Van. "So a lot of moving machinery."
After hearing their accounts, Planning Board Chairwoman Theresa Dell said the board will make the Oakdale Rd. project a "number one priority" for the fiscal year. She also said the board will speak to the city's engineering department about possibly calling it an emergency supplemental project, which would take it out of the capital budget.
"Take this out and make it a priority to possibly do this now as a supplemental before we get into the spring rains," said Dell.
However, Dell said the planning board's request with the engineering dept. is not guaranteed, but the project will remain a capital budget priority. Engineering projects account for 20.65 percent of the capital budget at $7.5 million, second to the Board of Education coming in at 22.89 percent of the budget.
Regan Allen, whose 4 children attend Stamford Public Schools, said she is concerned about the air quality at Dolan Middle School. The budget includes $250,000 for district-wide indoor air quality to fix the penthouse units at Dolan and replace the media center air conditioner at Rippowam Middle School.
"My son goes to Dolan and I think the quality of the building is affecting his education," said Regan Allen.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Winnie Hamilton said safety is also a big concern of hers. Dr. Hamilton compared the district's infrastructure conditions to the bridges and roads in Connecticut as "wearing and worn in, in some cases."
Another project brought up at the meeting was the case for a new city animal shelter. Outreach to Pets in Need President and Co-Director Ali Girardi spoke on behalf of the nonprofit that supports the pets at Stamford Animal Care and Control.
"The 50,000 [dollars], we're grateful. That keeps the project going," said Girardi. "I understand we need to choose the site," said Girardi.
The board budgeted $50,000 for the shelter this year, and encouraged Girardi and animal shelter employees and volunteers to keep searching for a site.
"Everybody on the board supports a new animal shelter, and I haven't heard anybody from city government that doesn't support a new animal shelter," said planning board member Jay Tepper, who gained applause from the meeting's attendees. "So I would go out on a limb and say you're going to get one, but first you got to find out where to put it before we can appropriate money for it.
In total, there are 180 capital project requests in the budget. Dell said the board would make adjustments to the budget based on Monday's hearing before it is presented to Mayor Martin on March 1. The budget will then be submitted to the boards of finance and representatives for review.
Click here to see a copy of the budget.