Penfield, GE, taxes top debate topics as Tetreau, Tymniak face off
With two weeks remaining till the Nov. 3 election, the contenders for first selectman, joined by their running mates, sparred face-to-face for the first time at Monday’s League of Women Voters’ candidate forum.
The GOP’s standardbearer, Representative Town Meeting Chris Tymniak, said under his leadership, “Fairfield will once again be a premier community in Connecticut,” with excellent schools in a “safe and vibrant community.” The Republican added that he would fight to bring businesses to town in order to lower the tax burden on residential property owners.
Fairfield, incumbent First Selectman Michael Tetreau said, under his leadership is already the community that Tymniak described, with fully funded schools and libraries and a AAA bond rating, a tax increase under 2 percent for the past three years. “We don’t want to mimic Ansonia,” the Democrat added, referring to the city where Tymniak had been administrator until recently. “We have too much value in Fairfield, and too much to lose.”
Tymniak, 36, finishing his first term on the RTM, has touted his experience working as the city manager in Ansonia for the last two years, noting that Ansonia has had a tax decrease the last two years, while increasing education spending.
On the other hand, Tymniak said, “Fairfield has had massive tax increases.”
Tetreau, seeking election to his second full term, said Ansonia lowered taxes by taking money from its bugdet’s rainy day fund and now faces a possible 8 percent tax increase next year. “He’s lucky he got to leave town before he has to pay the bill,” Tetreau said.
“You didn’t fund long-term liabilities,” Tetreau, 63, said of Tymniak’s tenure in Ansonia. “It’s $35 million and going up. That’s fiscal mismanagement.”
The future of General Electric’s corporate headquarters in Fairfield was a topic of debate at the forum, along with the shuttered Penfield Pavilion, which has been closed since being damaged by Superstorm Sandy in October 2012.
Tetreau said he is among those concerned that GE will follow through on its threat to move its headquarters out of the Fairfield, which was made in the wake of its officials’ criticism of state tax policies earlier this year. He said has been working to keep the GE headquarters in Fairfield — the town’s largest property taxpayer — every day since the relocation threat was made. “I’m still working on keeping GE in Fairfield,” Tetreau said. “I’ve not played politics with it like some ... I’ve lobbied the state for the best deal to keep GE here.”
His opponent, Tetreau said, has no idea of what meetings have been held, and who was in attendance. Tetreau also said he is part of group that includes elected officials and businessmen looking to change the state’s competitiveness in the long term.
“GE has notified us every step of the way,” Tymniak said, adding a coalition should have been formed with other mayors and first selectmen to put pressure on the state to make it more viable for the company to stay.
Tymniak said the Farrell Corp. was considering a move from Ansonia, but that city’s administration was able to keep the manufacturer there. “We got federal money, state money and we all got together,” he said. “We couldn’t afford to lose our largest employer. We helped develop a road, and a new site for that company.”
Tetreau said there is no need for a business developer in the first selectman’s office, such as Tymniak has proposed.
“Someone who reads the Wall Street Journal every day, and looks for mergers and acquisitions, looks for businesses that need to move to Fairfield,” Tymniak said.
“You want to hire someone to read the Wall Street Journal,” Tetreau said, but added the town already has a excellent economic development director, with a vibrant downtown and a nearly 95 percent commercial occupancy rate.
“We need to pick up the pace,” Tymniak said. “We should expect more.”
As for Penfield Pavilion, Tymniak said, the town at this point should proceed with rebuilding the structure without a firm idea what reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be available.
Penfield, closed since it was undermined during Superstorm Sandy in 2012, could not simply be repaired because of the extent of damage to its foundation, the town was told by engineers.
“I voted against the larger building,” Tymniak said of one reconstruction option. “It wasn’t fiscally prudent.” He said Penfield needs to be reopened as quickly as possible, and the town made a mistake by waiting “for an insurance check.” Tymniak also said other communities submitted their projects to FEMA right away and have been approved for funding.
Fairfield has received FEMA funding for a variety of projects following the storm, such as rebuilding the bulkhead at Southport beach.
Tetreau said the town was ready to repair Penfield within 60 days after the storm, until engineering consultants said the existing foundation would not be adequate. “We listened to our citizens,” he said. “They wanted to evaluate a number of options.”
In response to a question from Tymniak, Tetreau said the Penfield Building Committee believes the pavilion will be reopened by mid-summer 2016.
Running mates discuss issues
Marmion was in her third term on the RTM when she was appointed in January to the Board of Selectmen to fill the vacancy created when Cristin McCarthy Vahey was elected as a state representative. Like Tymniak, McArdle is finishing her first RTM term.
“My concern is she’s been on the RTM less than two years and has been largely silent,” Marmion said, and has not been “a strong voice for her constituents.”
On the three member Board of Selectmen, Marmion said, “you need to engage ... there’s nowhere to hide on the Board of Selectmen.”
“I have a lot of common sense,” McArdle said. “When I’m new to a board or situation, I don’t like to jump.” She likes to listen and “take it all in” first, she said.
McArdle said she would like the next administration to prioritize spending and get costs under control and ease the tax burden. She also said she’s hearing from seniors that the town’s tax-relief program is too complicated. “It needs to be made simpler,” McArdle said, and easier for the seniors to access.
Senior tax relief, Marmion said, is the purview of the RTM, which reviews the program, and makes any necessary changes, every two years. “I think we made terrific changes to the senior tax relief,” she said.
Asked what she sees as the role of the selectmen, and if that changes if one is the minority on the board, Marmion said she doesn’t think politics plays a big role on the Board of Selectmen.
“When we make decisions, we make sure we’re making them free of politics,” Marmion said. “I’m going to miss Kevin Kiley, because, frankly, he’s reasonable, and keeps the best interests of the town at heart, and that’s what we need.”
Kiley was dumped by the GOP during the caucus in favor of McArdle. Like Marmion, he was appointed to fill vacancy on the board, and previously served on the Board of Finance and RTM.
“I think it’s disappointing when politics come into it,” McArdle said. “I would certainly agree with that. I tend to be very thoughtful and always willing to listen to all sides.”