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Ridgefield First Selectman candidates debate the issues

Ridgefield incumbent Democratic First Selectman Rudy Marconi is seeking reelection in November.  He is being challenged by former Norwalk Republican Mayor Dick Moccia for the position.  The town’s leader is elected to a four-year term.  Marconi has served a total of 20 years as First Selectman.

The candidates were asked about commercial development sprawl and the 8-30g affordable housing statute, which allows developers to bypass local zoning regulations as long as a certain percentage of units are designated as affordable.  Moccia says what works for Danbury or Bridgeport does not work for Ridgefield.  He wants the state to revise the statute.  Moccia also expressed concern about the impact of development on the wastewater treatment plant.

Marconi says a big question about commercial development that came up recently was whether a proposed winter club on Peaceable Street was commercial, even though it was in a residential neighborhood.  He believes it was commercial.  The rehab facility planned for Old West Mountain Road, despite the application calling for 14 rooms, it would have allowed up to 42 rooms.  He also said that would have been an encroachment.

Marconi says there are a lot of things on the horizon for Ridgefield he’d like to shepherd through over the course of another 4-year term.  One is working with the state on the Route 35/Main Street project.  He says only a minimal amount of trees will be cut and the planned widening was scrapped.  Instead there will be dedicated turn lanes to help with traffic flow.  He called that critical.  Marconi says the Branchville TOD is a good location for affordable housing. 

Moccia says there needs to be a better evaluation of road maintenance over the next four years.  He also wants to look at school maintenance.  Moccia also proposed better customer service when residents have questions and concerns.  He wants to set up a system where residents could get a work order number by sending a photo of blight, potholes or other issues.  He noted that Wilton has a system, called Click Fix.  Moccia says the town should also hire a grant writer on a contingency basis to bring in more state and federal funding.

Marconi says the town has to be careful on spending.  He notes that the Board of Selectmen eliminated 7 positions in order to bring in a flat budget.  He agreed that the roads need attention, but said the quality of paving material has been an issue.

Much of the discussion centered on keeping the small town feeling in Ridgefield, while also allowing economic development.  Moccia says that goes back to lobbying Hartford for changes to the 8-30g program.  He wants to do more to curb truck traffic off Route 35, or at least a weigh station to make sure they’re regulated.

Marconi says land use is a planning and zoning issue, and overall they try to do a good job.  What the Selectmen needs to look at is see how development in New Canaan has changed that town.  He says they need to look outside the box and work with land owners to be proactive to prevent 8-30g developments.  As for economic development, Marconi says he worked hard to keep Boehringer Ingelheim in Ridgebury.  Planning and Zoning worked with him to keep the pharmaceutical company in Ridgefield.

Marconi was asked if the upgrades to the sewer treatment plant are worth the increased fee to users.  He wants to work with the WPCA, but says the upgrade is a state mandated issue.  Marconi noted that users are charged in 35 categories based on water usage.

Moccia says a mixed-use system with commercial also paying in, the increase could be controlled.  He questioned why, if it’s a DEEP mandate for upgrades, it was left to the last minute.  Moccia called for better planning.

The candidates were also asked if the current pension system with police and firefighters is sustainable, and if not, what changes should be made.   Moccia says the Board of Finance looks at the numbers every month.  He notes that the Pension Board has done a great job keeping the pensions in good actuarial shape.  He doesn’t believe there will be a sustainability problem.  Moccia says if the state goes back and has the towns pick up part of the teacher pension costs, that could be a problem.

Marconi says the defined benefit plan several years ago was unsustainable, but after negotiations, a defined contribution system was put in place.  He says that was a lot of hard work.  Every new employee, over the last 5 years, has been part of the new system.