Taxes, spending and credit status top finance candidate concerns
This year’s election for the Board of Finance features contests for three six-year terms, and a Democrat running unopposed to fill the remaining two years of a term.
There are four finance panel seats on the Nov. 3 ballot, but only three are for full six-year terms. The fourth, for which incumbent Democrat John Mitola is unopposed, is to finish out the last two years of a term.
Mitola was appointed in December 2014 to fill a vacancy until the 2015 elections. He served on the Representative Town Meeting from 2011-13, and on the Board of Education from 2005-2011, where he also held the chairman and vice chairman positions.
Republican incumbents James B. Brown, the finance board’s vice chairman, and James Walsh, are seeking re-election. Their opponents are Democrats Kevin Hoffkins, currently a member of the Representative Town meeting, and Kevin Lennon. Lennon is a member of the Human Services Commission. Incumbent Democrat Tara Cook-Littman chose not to run.
Brown has served on the board since 2009, and has been the vice chairman since 2013, while Walsh has served on the board since 2012. He was appointed to fill the seat previously held by Kevin Kiley when the two swapped positions. Walsh had resigned from the Board of Selectmen because of potential conflicts with his legal practice, and Kiley was appointed to fill his spot on that board.
With residents already shouldering 85 percent of the town’s total tax burden, Brown is concerned that General Electric may follow through on its threat to move its corporate headquarters out of town, and out of Connecticut.
“We need foresight and a long-term plan that will attract businesses to Fairfield, in spite of the business climate in Connecticut,” Brown said.
BOARD OF FINANCE CANDIDATES
James B. Brown
Background: Vice chairman, Board of Finance, 2013-present; member, Board of Finance, 2009-present; member, Board of Finance Audit Committee; board member, Motor Transport Association of CT, Inc.; vice president and general manager, William B. Meyer Inc.
Personal: B.A. and M.B.A., Loyola University, Maryland; married, four children
Top three issues: 1. Economic Development to reduce residential tax burden; 2. Long-term financial planning; 3. Maintain AAA credit rating
Background: Served on RTM since 2009; RTM assistant minority leader 2011-13; served on RTM subcommittee to extend senior tax credit; practicing attorney
Personal: Married, one child
Kevin J. Lennon
Background: member, Human Services Commission
Personal: Children in Fairfield schools
Background: member, Board of Finance; Representative Town Meeting, District 2 (2011-13); Board of Education (2005-11) and served as its chairman and vice chairman; practicing attorney since 1987 with current practice specializing in municipal law, employment and labor law, and collective bargaining.
Personal: Married, two children.
Top three issues: 1. Taxes; 2. AAA credit rating; 3. Keeping debt service low
James F. Walsh
Background: Board of Finance, 2012present; Board of Selectmen, 2010-12; Representative Town Meeting, 1999-2010, served as moderator and minority leader; former chairman, Republican Town Committee; attorney.
Personal: B.S., Finance, Boston College; J.D., University of Bridgeport (Quinnipiac) School of Law
Top three issues: 1. Taxes; 2. AAA bond rating; 3. possible GE relocation
To keep the municipal budget affordable, Brown said there needs to be a review of every town department’s function and budget, and “develop a plan to find efficiencies, improve our model of providing services and invest prudently in education.”
The Board of Finance must protect the town’s AAA rating and control the debt, he said, so it continues to meet the credit rating agencies’ criteria.
Smart choices on budget cost drivers, such as debt service and health insurance, are needed to continue to provide the services residents want, Mitola said, while still keeping taxes low.
Mitola also sees keeping the town’s AAA rating as a priority. “This is so important because it allows the town to borrow money at very low rates,” he said, “which enables us to maintain and invest in our infrastructure.”
That is achieved, Mitola said, by maintaining sufficient financial reserves and fully funding pension obligations.
He also agrees long-term planning is needed to keep debt service at an affordable level.
“I will scrutinize the budget to limit tax increases to be equal or less than 2 percent,” Walsh said. “I have led the charge on the Board of Finance to cut expenses to bring in affordable and more predictable tax increases.”
As with Mitola and Brown, Walsh said the AAA rating must be maintained by continuing to conservatively budget revenues and expenses, and to fund the town’s reserve accounts.
Walsh also said he will “proactively manage the possible loss of tax revenue and mitigate financial impacts of any GE property sale.”
Neither Hoffkins nor Lennon responded to an email for their top campaign issues. However, on the Democratic Town Committee website, Hoffkins said he is committed to keeping Fairfield affordable for seniors, and to provide a quality education for students. “I will work to make sure building projects are well planned and executed, and that budgets are as lean as possible,” Hoffkins said. “Fairfield is a beautiful town and a wonderful place to live. We must keep it that way.”