First selectman candidates debate taxes, development
In their last meeting before next Tuesday’s election, incumbent First Selectman Michael Tetreau promised to keep tax increases low and services high, while his opponent, Republican Chris Tymniak, made a much bolder promise.
“My intent is to actually reduce taxes,” Tymniak said at an election forum sponsored by the Fairfield Rotary Club during a Monday luncheon meeting. In Ansonia, where Tymniak served two years as city administrator, he said he helped the administration cut local taxes two years in a row by asking every department head to make a 4 percent reduction in their budgets. Officials also used $2 million from the city’s budget surplus to help achieve the tax reduction.
But Tetreau, a Democrat serving his first four-year term as first selectman, said, “One size does not fit all. Where are you going to find 3, 4 or 5 percent from our Fire Department?” He said you can’t ask the Fire Department to stop going to fires after a certain hour, and Tetreau said the same thing holds true for the Police and Public Works departments.
“I woud ask, ‘What can you live without, what do you not need?’” said Tymniak, a Representative Town Meeting member. For example, he said, Fairfield paves its roads at a level higher than the state does, costing more money. “Your car can’t tell,” Tymniak said, when turning off of Black Rock Turnpike, a state road, onto Stillson Road.
After pointing out that Stillson Road is also a state road, Tetreau said he sits down with each department head and goes through their individual budgets line by line. “I don’t think the issue is necessarily cutting services, but how can we work together with our departments to find more efficiencies.”
Tetreau said if re-elected, his administration would continue to find ways to cut expenses, and used the Department of Public Works as an example. For certain jobs, he said, the department “bids” the work internally, to see if it is cheaper to do it themselves, or hire an outside contractor. Opportunities will increase, Tetreau said, as technology advances.
“Outsourcing is the way of the future,” Tymniak said, and pointed out that taxpayers are able now to pay their tax bills at People’s United Bank. “We can do that more and more in the town,” he said. “Everything’s got to be on the table.”
According to Tetreau, the town now anticipates a 1.5 percent tax increase in the next fiscal year, making it three years in a row with a tax increase under 2 percent.
Tetreau also touted a strategic plan being created to help guide the town’s future development. Tymniak, however, doesn’t think much of that. “The strategic plan, Trumbull has one, Bridgeport, has one. I think it’s overinflated,” he said.
Tymniak said he wants the town’s commercial base to expand, and he wants to bring more corporations to Fairfield. Increasing the grand list of taxable properties, he said, will lower the tax burden on residents and will, in turn, attract even more businesses.
The first selectman said the town maintained a 95 percent commercial occupancy rate during the recent recession. “You don’t see lots of vacancies,” Tetreau said, and reminded the audience that Save the Children moved its headquarters from Westport to Fairfield. To bring to Fairfield 5 percent of the commercial businesses in Fairfield County, as Tymniak said he wants, is not the right thing for Fairfield, Tetreau said.
“We’re not trying to be a Stamford,” Tetreau said of that proposed level of development. “We’re not trying to be a Norwalk.”