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Three candidates seek to be next Newtown First Selectman

There are three men vying for the position of Newtown First Selectman.  Incumbent Pat Llodra decided not to seek reelection to a fifth term.  Republican Selectman Will Rodgers, Democrat Dan Rosenthal and petitioning candidate Andy Clure are looking to fill the role.


Rodgers has been involved in local politics for 20 years in some volunteer capacities, was on the Legislative Council for 12 years—6 as the chair. 


Rosenthal is a member of the Police Commission, served on the Legislative Council and on Planning and Zoning.  He is also on the board for Newtown Rotary and a member of the Board for Newtown Lacrosse.  The bulk of Rosenthal’s career has been spent in financial services doing marketing, investor relations and business development for hedge funds.  He recently pressed pause on his career, but wants to bring that business focus to town government. 


Clure has coached his children’s sports teams, was on the Edmond Town Hall Board of Managers and was Chair of the Community Center Commission.  In 2015 Clure was elected to the Board of Education.  He notes that the education budget is a little more than two-thirds of the town's budget.


Rosenthal says one of the first things that’s needed is a strategic planning process that involves all segments of the community: individuals, families, seniors, and the business community.  He wants to shrink the priority list to help lower taxes and focus on economic development.  Rosenthal wants to find new ways to try to reach people and engage the public in idea sharing and the decisions the town makes.


Clure wants to see if there’s a way to lower the mill rate.  He says one of those ways could be to fill some vacant space in town.  He’d like to see a small business incubator space come to Newtown.  Small businesses having a tough time either finding space or being able to afford space that need a conference room could benefit from such an incubator.  Clure says whether it's discounted or maybe the town having a percentage of the business could be beneficial.  Clure also suggested a Film Commission.  He says in addition to showing off Newtown, people involved with the films would be patronizing local businesses.  If elected, Clure says he wants to have an open door policy with expanded hours.


If elected, Rodgers wants to continue solid fiscal practices, preserve the fund balance and tighten up spending procedures.  He wants to develop a plan to maintain roads in a prospective manner and active economic development efforts to engage businesses in coming to vacant spaces, where it's appropriate.


Rosenthal says one of the first things that’s needed is a strategic planning process that involves all segments of the community: individuals, families, seniors, and the business community.  He wants to shrink the priority list to help lower taxes and focus on economic development.  Rosenthal wants to find new ways to try to reach people and engage the public in idea sharing and the decisions the town makes.


Rodgers says the election is being cast as a change for change sake, but this is a time for experience because of declining state But he notes that there's always room for improvement, especially in communication and community involvement.


Rodgers says he’d like to continue to see the Fairfield Hills campus readied in for development, other than municipal development.  He says the economy has recovered sufficiently to market Fairfield Hills, now that the town has done some of the groundwork by bringing in utilities and putting them underground. Some streetscape projects were state finance so Rodgers is hopeful that Newtown will see a pick up in development.


A streetscape project was recently completed at the Fairfield Hills campus.  Clure would like to see more people using it as a park.  The 45,000-square foot community center will be located on the campus.  Several outreach programs created after 12-14 have located to buildings on the campus that have been renovated.  Clure would like to see a restaurant or an outdoor theater located there as well.  He called it a crown jewel of the town.


Rosenthal favors mixed use of the Fairfield Hills campus.  But he says with a 20-year lease structure, it’s difficult to get somebody to invest in a building there and sink millions into an upgrade.  The town has to own the land according to the deal with the state, but if a business wanted a 100-year lease, they would effectively own the building.  Rosenthal would not want to see free-standing homes on the property, but believes some level of apartment housing above retail shops would be ok.


The referendum approving the design and use of a $15 million grant from GE for a Community Center was approved in April 2016.  The building will also house an aquatic center and the senior center.  


If elected, Rosenthal says his goal would be to make sure that the Community Center is managed well.  He wants to think beyond Newtown’s borders to try to drive as much usage as possible to the aquatics portion of the center and make sure it’s not a drain on the town.  As for the police station, he wants the planning process done in the public forum, show residents a few designs and possible locations along with the pros and cons for each.  Rosenthal wants to bring business planning to other capital projects examining how many people each one would reach and what's the potential revenue.  He doesn’t believe the town has the luxury for “wants” and building things in the hopes that people come.


The police station is probably the next big project for Newtown.  Clure says right now the police have to go to other town’s facilities for training, which is expensive.  He could envision the station located on the Fairfield Hills campus.  Clure would like to see a difference to approval than how the community center was done.  He suggested a mock-up be available for people to see before a bonding referendum.  When it comes to the Capital Improvement Plan, Clure says he wants to press pause for a year, with the exception of road maintenance to help lower the mill rate.


Rodgers says the Community Center is moving forward with the planning process.  But he says because the senior center is part of that, the seniors are somewhat held hostage to the overall progress.  Rodgers says the police station is going out to bid.  He notes that it is a more straightforward project than the community center because of the donation from GE.


Rodgers says the state budget is by no means a final solution and municipalities are looking at declining state aid over the next few years.  Rodgers says he would combat that by pursuing economic development, thinking outside the box and significant cost-cutting efforts.  He says that would include regionalization of services, privatization of services where appropriate and other standard cost-cutting measures like expanding the collective purchasing program.


As for state budget cuts and the possibility of Connecticut sending less funding back to the towns, Clure says municipal leaders will have to rethink almost everything from the ground up and prioritize needs over wants.  He says the cuts should not come from education because that’s something that a town is built around.


Rosenthal believes the local budget planning process has to start early, with a focus on controlling spending.  He doesn't think Newtown has the luxury of hiking taxes any further.  With state funding, the cuts in the two-year budget are management.  He says the expectation should be that the state is not going to kick in additional revenue and the goal should be, over time, to create autonomy from the state.  Rosenthal says this four-month impasse should be used as a warning shot over the bow to try to wean Newtown off of state aid over time.


One unique challenge in Newtown is the path forward after the shooting at Sandy Hook School.


Clure says there are many great groups in town helping people with the short and long-term effects of 12-14.  He wants to have a grant writer on staff that could always be looking out for new forms of financial support.


Rodgers is involved in the Newtown-Sandy Hook Community Foundation.  When they were involved in collecting information to create that foundation, they were told by other municipalities which went through disasters, that there would need to be a long term stream of money.  He says they were also told that a time will come when other sources of funding fall off and the town will be faced with a dramatic or abrupt drop in services.  His number one priority is to guard against the drop off so there can be a tailing off.  His general concern is the community healing and moving on.  He hopes that can be advanced by the creation of a permanent memorial, for which the town has allocated money.


Rosenthal was not surprised when the community came together to support one another after 12-14.  He says community wellness is important.  Rosenthal is on the Center for Support and Wellness, which originally oversaw federal grant money.  He’d like to have a person running that who can help identify gaps in services and try to find community programming to fill that gap.


The Board of Education evaluated closing a school because of declining enrollment, but at the elementary level, enrollment is trending above the projects that were used.  Rosenthal believes that should be refreshed continuously as a matter of good fiscal policy.  He says the Board of Ed is looking at the extra space at the High School to see how that could be used if it’s not direct classrooms.

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