Saturday, October 4, 2008

DARIEN'S BIG BUCKS IN DOUBT


Financial woes may hit Darien the hardest
By Michael C. Juliano Staff writer Connecticut Post

Darien could be the American town "hardest hit" by the national financial crisis, according to a national business publication.
Business Week measured the percentage of residents working in the financial, insurance and real estate sectors to rank cities and towns with at least 20,000 residents. The magazine had help from PolicyMap.com, a Philadelphia data and demographics firm.
According to PolicyMap.com, 27.2 percent of the 20,655 Darien residents work in those industries. They earn a median salary of $168,000.

Darien topped the list but other Connecticut towns weren't far behind.
Westport was ranked No. 7; Wethersfield, No. 10; West Hartford, No. 15; Stamford, No. 64; Trumbull, No. 109; Norwalk, No. 374; and Stratford, No. 499.
Westport, which has a median income of $137,133, has 19.4 percent of its 26,822 residents working in those fields.

Among Stamford's 120,338 residents, with a median income of $65,582, 13.2 percent work in those fields. Low on the list was Norwalk, where 9.7 percent of residents work in those fields.
According to PolicyMap.com, Greenwich did not appear on the list of 500 cities and towns because the Census bureau considers it a county subdivision, said Emily Kahoe, a geographic information systems specialist with the firm.
"Greenwich, though a town, is not recognized by the Census Bureau as a census place," she said. Claritas, the data provider that estimated the 2007 data for Policy.Map.com,
does not estimate county subdivisions.
This means there is no ranking for other area towns, including Fairfield, Monroe, Oxford and Milford. Bridgeport is recognized as a city, said Phil Vu of PolicyMap, but the percentage of its population working in finance, insurance and real estate was likely not high enough to rank among the top 500.

Since sizable segments of the population work in affected industries, impacts from the crisis are rippling through the area, local officials said.
Darien First Selectwoman Evonne Klein said, in general, municipalities are concerned about collecting tax revenue, but she added Darien is on track and about where it was last year, collecting 52 percent of property taxes since the year began. Property taxes account for about 90 percent of Darien's revenue.

"We'll continue to watch this," Klein said.
Klein said she also will keep an eye on requests for social services, which increased recently, and will adjust the budget accordingly.
"I think overall that the mood people have is caution," she said. "People are saying this is more than a hiccup, but they are optimistic about the future."
Carol Wilder-Tamme, executive director of the Darien Chamber of Commerce, said the Business Week article contradicts itself by saying that smaller towns will feel the effects more than New York.

"If someone loses their job in Sioux Falls, it's much different than someone losing their job in Darien because there are so many more options here," Wilder-Tamme said. Greenwich and Stamford have many jobs in the financial services sector, she said, adding, "It gives us many more opportunities than other people."
"I have hopes that Darien will repeat itself," she said. "People are being more careful with their money, but there's no sense of panic. It's too early to tell."
Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff said the town has been affected by the financial crisis, but not as much as others.

"It has not shown an impact on tax collections, so people are still paying their taxes," he said.
Property transfers are down, but real estate is still strong, he said.
"We don't have a good handle on the degree of impact yet," he said, but Westport's human services department is receiving more calls for energy assistance.
"There are people who are stressed out and seeking help," Joseloff said.

Kevin Lally, executive director of the Westport Chamber of Commerce, said he has heard people say they are worried about losing their jobs, but he has not heard grumbling from the retail industry. "The people complaining the most are the restaurants," he said.
Prashat Gopal, the real estate writer for the magazine's Web site and story author, said the cash flow for towns in lower Fairfield County may diminish as many Wall Street workers lose their bonuses or face layoffs.

"A lot of these towns are bedroom communities for Wall Street," Gopal said. "When they don't have those bonuses, they're much less likely to upgrade their homes or even buy a house in Darien."
The loss of cash in Fairfield County may hurt the rest of the state since less tax revenue will be sent to Hartford, he said.
"Fairfield County is the economic engine for Connecticut," Gopal said.
Struggling companies that need loans may find them hard to come by in the dried-up credit market, he said.
"There are a lot of different ways it can affect towns," Gopal said. "We're not saying these places are going to collapse or head into dark times, but they are places to watch that might be impacted sooner."

Joseph McGee, vice president of public policy and programs for the Business Council of Fairfield County, said the financial woes surely will affect lower Fairfield County.
"If Congress gets its act together and creates some liquidity in the markets, it'll be tough but we'll be OK," he said. "If they don't, then you're looking at big trouble for the whole country."
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