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8-term incumbent Danbury Mayor challenged by veteran

Mayor Mark Boughton is seeking reelection in Danbury to a ninth term. While he has been in office for 16 years, Boughton says there are still some projects he would like to see through. That includes opening the new high school Freshman Academy, making infrastructure imprvements and setting Danbury up for the state’s new economic reality. One proposal included in the draft state budget is elimination of the car tax. Boughton says he’s in favor of getting rid of taxes, but without a mechanism to replace the funding, municipalities will be forced to raise property taxes.

Democratic challenger Al Almeida got into the race because he wants to see a better return on investment for property tax payers. He says taxes have been on the rise the last several years while at the same time services have decreased. He cited Friday closures of City Hall as an example. Almeida also suggested having some Saturday hours at City Hall. He is also concerned about development, saying that senior housing has been needed since the Plan of Conservation and Development was drafted a decade ago.

Quality of life issues remain one of the biggest concerns for residents, behind finances. The City budgeted for two new basketball courts last year. Boughton says they are scouting locations and hope to have an announcement by the Spring. In the meantime, he wants to improve the City’s relationship with PAL, where there could be no-fee open gym nights. When asked about the former Boughton Street YMCA, the Mayor says work has started and the Boys & Girls Club is in talks with the Connecticut Institute for Communities. If it doesn’t work out, he says other organizations may be interested in filling the space.

When it comes to quality of life issues, Almeida says people have expressed an interest in more picnic areas, somewhere to swim other than Candlewood Lake and a bike trail or path. He wants to bring more youth programs in the City. Almeida wants to redevelop the downtown area. He says a boutique hotel might be needed in the area so that parents of WCSU and NVCC students can stay closer to the campuses. Almeida says that would spur business at other places downtown. He also wants to look at clearing the way for a fastfood restaurant to come to downtown or bringing in something to improve nightlife.

Another quality of life issue is panhandling and homelessness. Boughton says the good news is that the chronic homeless population has continued to drop. The City is beefing up the Unified Neighborhood Inspection Team, adding a police officer and a firefighter. Boughton says they will be stepping up inspections of illegal apartments. He notes that there are certain neighborhoods where they have specific problems. Notices are sent out about inspections. Boughton says if someone doesn’t comply, they could be put into a commercial tax category and they’ll be taxed significantly more because they’re running a rooming house. Someone from the Police Department would be reassigned to UNIT, mainly for code enforcement.

Almeida is calling or an intensive citywide traffic evaluation. He suggested turning some streets into one-way streets. Almeida says that could also reduce pollution from vehicles sitting in traffic.

The Zoning Commission recently approved a text amendment clearing the way for off track betting to become an accessory use in a restaurant. Boughton hasn’t offered an opinion in favor or against OTB, saying it will be a decision of the City Council, not him. Boughton called it an added amenity that people could chose to utilize or not, describing it both as not being the savior for downtown some people have called it nor the horrible thing others have said.

Danbury is completing initial designs of renovations to the Waste Water Treatment Plant, which Boughton says is needed regardless of an EPA decision on phosphorous removal regulations, which adds $20 million to $30 million to the project.

Almeida wants to address overcrowding in the schools among other education-related issues. He cited statistics like 77-percent graduation rates, Danbury ranking 77th of 116 municipalities in per pupil spending. He opposes the idea included in the General Assembly proposed budget to have teachers contribute more to their pensions.

Four of the City’s elementary schools were expanded two years ago. There is a bulge of students in grades 4 and 5. Boughton doesn’t anticipate any more additions. He says the temporary classrooms are easily movable and not what they were 30 years ago. He notes that they are air conditioned and the staff likes them. Boughton added that they can move with that bulge of students or the City can be strategic with redistricting.

Almeida wants to work with local businesses to increase internship programs for kids so that when they graduate from high school, they’ll have job skills. He says that’s especially important for families who can’t afford college.

Boughton is exploring a run for statewide office in 2018. He won’t make a decision on whether he’s running for that position until January. A number of factors will be considered including fundraising success, the field of candidates and his health issues. Boughton is recovering from a successful brain surgery to have a cyst removed. He expects to be back to 10-percent by Christmas.

Almeida says the Mayor’s Office should not be a consolation prize for someone who may try to take a third bite of the gubernatorial apple.

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Jim Bohannon

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