A debate was held Wednesday night in New Fairfield featuring the candidates for First Selectman and Selectman. The candidates covered a range of topics including keeping the small town look of New Fairfield in the town’s center, protecting water quality of Candlewood Lake and increasing public safety among other topics.
Republican Susan Chapman is seeking reelection to a second term and touted some accomplishments over the last two years. Democrat Theda Lambert is looking to unseat Chapman. She is a political newcomer and an attorney by trade.
Chapman touted several accomplishments in her first term. She says a budget meeting town needs while keeping taxes low has resulted in New Fairfield maintaining its AAA bond rating. The Library project is under budget and being completed on time, with a grand reopening on Saturday. After many years, she says the water system project will be placed on the Bond Commission agenda in December. The town has added "Google Government" which has saved the town money and improved employee efficiency. A new website is more user friendly and accessible. A 24/7 paramedic has been added to the New Fairfield emergency response force, lowering response times. Two new local officers have been added to the force as well. All officers have been outfitted with Narcan and laptops.
Lambert says residents have told her that New Fairfield's governance is in need of better economic leadership with better communications and transparency. She's not a politician, and from what residents tell her, she says that's a good thing. Lambert says New Fairfield needs an executive manager and not a politician. She wants the town to be as recession proof as possible, but in order to do that the town must become competitive. Her family moved to New Fairfield because of the schools and Candlewood Lake. She wants to support the schools and not take money from them. Lambert says the town's population is aging faster than those of surrounding towns, and has the slowest growth in housing of the area.
They were asked about the New Fairfield Housing Trust lease proposal of town owned land behind Meeting House Hill School for affordable senior housing. Chapman says the project is worth bringing forward for a townwide referendum. She understands that some nearby residents don't like the proposed location, but acknowledged that there is a need for affordable senior housing in town. Lambert says the marketplace should dictate supply and demand. If there's a need for it, she says a developer would have come in already and built affordable senior housing.
When it comes to a budget, Lambert says a realistic one needs to be put forward each year. She says there's been a surplus each year in the last four years, about half a million dollars each year. She says that's money being collected by government not going back into taxpayers pockets. She was critical of the excess being used and not going back to residents. Lambert questioned why there's more money coming in than expected and less than expected being spent.
Chapman says revenues were up significantly this year and that was a large part of the surplus. She notes that Department heads tell officials what they need, and the difficult decisions are made about what can be funded. Often times the Board will say that if there's money left over, those priorities can be taken care of. Chapman noted that the real estate conveyance tax increased by 60-percent from 2013.
The candidates also answered questions about how best to protect the water quality of Candlewood Lake. Lambert says she is concerned with the blue-green algae blooms that effected the lake this summer. She says the properties that surround the lake need to have buffer gardens to prevent runoff into the water. Lamber says the money that comes from docking boats should go back into making sure the lake is cleaned up.
Chapman touted stocking sterile grass carp in the lake to control invasive Eurasian Milfoil. She and the other chief elected officials from the towns that surround the lake are working on a comprehensive plan for best practices. Chapman agreed that buffer gardens around the lake are needed. But she says the watershed is effected by all properties and more education is needed.
A question about how to keep the small town look of New Fairfield, especially in light of rumors that a developer wanted to bring a Walgreens to town, was also posed to the candidates. Chapman says the developer told her that the deal fell through. She says that’s not a viable site for a Walgreens. The infrastructure of the town and the zoning rules don’t support that type of business. Chapman told the developer that the residents wouldn’t allow a big business to come in an run the small businesses out of town because those businesses are owned by local residents.
Lambert says Shop Local initiatives need to be front and center. She also proposed creation of a Chamber of Commerce so all local small businesses could work together. Lambert says there are good stores in New Fairfield and more people should be shopping local. Lambert proposed putting in a sewer system in the town center to help commercial enterprises. She says they are hampered by the growth issues, citing a Dunkin Donuts proposal that failed because they couldn’t put in a bathroom. She was also critical of a business being turned away because anything dealing with food would have used too much water and put too much of a strain on the system.
Chapman says the person who purchased the Post Office building will clean up that site and hopes they attract a business there. She says businesses moving from one location in town to another part of town is not a bad thing. She says it will likely put pressure on the monopoly one owner has in town with rents that are tough for the small business owners. She says it will likely promote competition and a downward trend of rents.
Lambert says when a monopoly occurs, that when the government has to step in. She doesn’t know who the person being referenced is, but has heard the same stories when she has been out talking with residents.
Selectman candidates, both incumbents, Democrat Mike Gill and Republican Kim Hanson also took questions at the debate.