May 19, 2013
Written by Macklin Reid
Tuesday, 26 April 2011 00:00
Problems and budgets, Bennett’s Pond and the cell phone tower — The Ridgefield Press asked candidates in Wednesday’s special election for a Board of Selectmen’s seat to answers questions, in writing, within word limits.
Voting will be from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. tomorrow in an unusual Wednesday election. Voters cast ballots at the three regular polling stations:
• District I at East Ridge Middle School;
• District II at Scotts Ridge Middle School;
• District III at Yanity Gym.
The two Republicans in the race, Maureen Kozlark and Marty Heiser, responded. Independent Party candidate Tony Di Preta chose not to answer, saying The Press should have asked different questions.
“My biggest concern is the town debt, over $100 million — that we need to deal with it,” Mr. Di Preta said. “Number two is the roads, the condition of the roads. And number three is the school system, and security and safety and health of our citizens. These questions were not put forward as important questions ... These supersede all the questions you sent me.”
Here are questions The Press asked and answers Mr. Heiser and Ms. Kozlark provided.
1. What’s the biggest problem facing Ridgefield and how would you address it?
HEISER: As I walk past the empty stores on Main Street my heart sinks. The Schlumberger, Chambers and Balducci properties sitting empty are a constant reminder of our need to attract business. I will address this issue by reaching out to new businesses with an aggressive package of tax incentives and help from local government and the Chamber of Commerce. I will also promote the “branding” of Ridgefield, to promote residents spending their dollars in Ridgefield.
KOZLARK: The biggest problem is to continue providing all the services that makes Ridgefield the wonderful community it is without increasing the tax burden to an unsustainable level. Broadening our tax base by increasing the commercial component is one way to address this issue. Targeted commercial development in the Route 7/35 corridors coupled with diversification of the commercial tenants in the downtown and Branchville areas must be continued. Shopping locally pays dividends as well.
2. As a selectman, what future would you like to see the town pursue for the 153-acre Bennett’s Pond South property?
HEISER: Less than 9% of the tax revenue collected in Ridgefield comes from commercial properties. The property on Bennett’s Pond south is one of the few remaining areas zoned for light commercial development. I would like to see the town benefit from these potential commercial tax streams that will ease the burden on the residential taxpayer. If this type of light commercial development is not possible, I would be in favor of keeping the areas as pristine open space.
KOZLARK: The settlement of all remaining litigation of Bennett’s Farm is a necessary first step. Intelligent development of this site should balance light commercial use with little if any residential development. Thoughtful planning would conserve as much open space as possible to preserve our fragile environment. Finally, the relocation of essential town functions from marketable commercial space to this site should be investigated thus promoting a higher valued redevelopment of prime downtown commercial space by new businesses and a broadening of the tax base.
3. Explain your views of the town and school budgets that will be going to voters.
HEISER: I think the town and the school budgets going to the voters are balanced and affordable. 75%-80% of every tax dollar goes to the BOE and 80% of the BOE budget pay for salaries and benefits of teachers and administrators. If the members of the teachers union would agree to slight adjustments in their health care package by going to a HSA, the taxpayers would save $500,000 immediately. If administration expenses such as four assistant principles at the high school could be looked at, there would be significant savings without touching any programs, losing any teachers or affecting the classroom curriculum. On the town side, we should move right away to begin the process of running a gas line to the high school. RHS costs the town more in energy expenses then all the other school and town buildings combined! We need to address that cash-hemorrhaging situation without delay.
KOZLARK: The annual budgeting process produced outcomes that sought to offset the delivery of required services within the parameters of fiscal constraint. The reality is Ridgefield, our country and our own households must achieve such balance. As a selectman, I participated in the budget process and spent countless hours at multiple meetings striving toward this result. The town budget is a fiscally conservative response. As a former Board of Education member, I know firsthand the challenges of working to deliver first-class education results with limited means and multiple unfunded state and federal mandates. I opposed the $850,000 decrease in the school budget imposed by four Board of Finance members as shortsighted and detrimental to the school system. Cuts of this magnitude have negative consequences to the quality of instruction being provided and to think otherwise is to delude oneself. The school budget should not have been cut so drastically.
4. Do you think the town should buy 29 acres as open space for $1 million ($350,000 from taxpayers, the rest from Conservation Commission donors) and lease part of it as a cell phone tower site? Why?
HEISER: The land purchased for a cell tower is a win, win, win situation. The town receives beautiful open space that is largely purchased using private money. The taxpayers will receive vastly improved cell reception in the north end of town, reception that will enhance safety and the ability of first responders. Finally, the town will receive a perpetual revenue stream of approximately $100,000 annually — recouping quickly the initial investment.
KOZLARK: I support responsible acquisition of open space to preserve the environment, especially when the town can leverage its investment threefold with private funding. It’s clear the town requires increased cell coverage in northern Ridgefield to address safety concerns. Emergency respondents are currently hampered by lack of cell coverage. However, I do respect the expressed concerns of the neighborhood and have participated in several meetings on this subject. As selectman, on this issue and many others, I pledge to weigh the needs of the entire town against legitimate individual concerns and will be thoughtful and intelligent in reaching that balance.
5. Why are you a better choice than your opponents?
HEISER: In the next six months the BOS will be negotiating four contracts with public employee unions. There needs to be a strong, conservative, business minded Republican on the BOS that is not beholden to the unions for campaign donations or to the majority party. I will represent you, the taxpayer.
KOZLARK: Non-partisan ten year service on the Board of Education sets me apart. I bring needed intelligent insight into the school budget, Ridgefield’s largest expenditure. I don’t view issues or make decisions through a partisan prism but rather an independent assessment based on what is right for all Ridgefield residents.
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