Finance candidates air views at forum
FAIRFIELD — No large divides were revealed between candidates running for the Board of Finance at Wednesday’s League of Women Voters forum.
Five of the candidates — Democrats John Mitola, Sheila Marmion, and Elizabeth Zezima and Republicans Tom Flynn and Chris DeWitt — are incumbents. The sixth candidate on the ballot for the Nov. 7 election is Democrat Christopher Skoczen, a newcomer to town politics, did not attend.
All agreed that with the state’s current financial issues, the town needs to not only tighten its belt, but find ways to increase revenue through methods other than higher tax rates, and encourage economic development.
“We have entities in our town that generate revenue,” DeWitt said. “We often talk on the Board of Finance that we need to maximize our revenue.”
DeWitt said the finance board has been “very vocal” about asking the administration for a long-term strategic plan. He said he found recent talk about adding an ice rink to the H. Smith Richardson Golf Course during renovations of the clubhouse as “disconcerting.” “I think it really comes down to the fact that we need a plan,” he said.
“We keep saying we need to bring in more business,” Zezima said but said the town is already business-friendly, and pointed to a low commercial vacancy rate as proof. “We need to continue that trend,” she said. “We do have some property left that we can develop, but we have to be flexible and thoughtful on zoning.”
For Flynn, currently the board’s chairman, “Our long-term opportunity is really commercial development. We need to take advantage of opportunities like the Metro Center and other areas of town.” The town also needs to provide incentives to businesses to entice them to move into Fairfield and “drive our economic engine forward.” You don’t, he said, “cut your way to prosperity.”
“I think the bottom line is we need to ensure that Fairfield remains an attractive destination, not only for people moving into town but also for businesses,” Marmion said, adding the community’s downtown area is “thriving.” An important part of economic development, she said, is also providing necessary funding and support to the school system.”
Mitola said the town needs to, in a responsible way, expand the grand list to ease the tax burden. He cited an apartment proposal on Unquowa Road, which he said is an example of responsible expansion. “There has to be a balance between expanding the grand list” and keeping Fairfield’s small-town feeling.
He said, however, that it isn’t the finance board’s role to make economic development proposals.
None of the candidates gave any specific areas of government, or municipal services, that they felt should be cut, and a suggestion regarding regionalizing some services met with lukewarm support.
“That’s a tough one,” DeWitt said. “I think sharing services is tough... I really can’t think any shared services we would ever share with another community.”
Flynn said perhaps some “back office functions” in departments like Public Works, the tax collector or assessor, or information technology could be regionalized.
“The most important thing we need do, we need to maximize the delivery of our services,” Marmion said, and continue to look at innovative ways to do that.
For Zezima, the idea of shared services has to be on the table. “There is a lot of duplication of services,” she said. “I come from an industry where we talk about economies of scale.” Perhaps the emergency dispatching could be consolidated, Zezima said but added she would not touch the education system.
In response to a question about consolidating the town’s two high schools as a cost-saving measure, Mitola, a former school board member, said that should not even be considered. Not only was he not convinced it would save money, Mitola said the town already went through that process. “We made a conscious choice to have two high schools,” he said. “We made a commitment to two high schools.”