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Brookfield First Selectman candidates square off in Chamber debate

Brookfield incumbent Democratic First Selectman Steve Dunn is seeking another term in office, and is being challenged by political newcomer, Republican Mel Butow.

In opening remarks during a debate last night held by the Brookfield Chamber of Commerce, Dunn said he’s worked hard over the last several years to bring the Boards of Selectmen, Finance and Education together to discuss budgeting. He says that gives the Finance members a better understanding of what the school needs are, and the Education members an insight into the spending restraints. He plans to work on the capital budget in November and December, and then work that into an operating budget.

During his opening remarks, Butow noted that he is new to politics and new to Brookfield. After Superstorm Sandy struck his home on Long Island, he and his wife moved to Wilton to be near their daughter. They eventually settled in Brookfield. He is a member of the Economic Development Commission and the Planning Commission, and has 40 years of financial and managerial experience. His main reasons for seeking office are because of issues with the budget and high-density housing.

The candidates were asked about affordable housing. Butow says he would pursue a new moratorium on affordable housing when the current one ends in a year and a half. If a new moratorium is not granted, Butow says he would pursue ways to discourage those kinds of developments, including making the developer pay an education fee to offset the impact on town services. He says they moved to Brookfield for the New England charm, which would be destroyed by high density housing.

Dunn says Brookfield had to prove to the state that it made progress is getting affordable housing units before the moratorium could be granted. Brookfield Village was approved before he took office. There was a proposed 7-story development, but he negotiated with the developer and now it’s down to a three-story building. Dunn says it’s better to manage where those developments go, like only on Federal Road, rather than expensive court fights.

On economic development, Dunn touted the work done over the last few years, which resulted in two awards to the town recognizing economic excellence. He said a Starbucks could be coming to Brookfield, and noted that Branson Ultrasonics will be locating their headquarters in town. He called that good development.

Butow says there are a lot of empty storefronts on Federal Road, which sends a bad message to developers. He made the analogy to the movie Field of Dreams, that if strip malls are built, it doesn’t necessarily mean businesses will come.

The pair agreed that once the streetscape plan is finishes, and if a grocery store does commit to the area and create a 60 spot municipal lot, there will be sufficient parking in the town center area.

When asked about protocol for offering businesses tax breaks, Dunn says he has offered only two in the four years that he’s been in office. It would have to be a unique situation, like getting Branson to move its headquarters. The agreement is an abatement, which declines year after year, for six years. The other offered abatement is for the grocery store, which has an agreement in principal with the town.

Butow says he is concerned with Brookfield Village getting a tax abatement and believes the town is getting taken advantage of by the developer. That project has been slow to start and finally getting underway. The tax abatement was offered by the previous administration. Butow says if there are further building delays, the abatement offer should be rescinded. The New York native says sometimes a Brooklyn attitude is needed in Brookfield.

There are some big projects on the horizon for Brookfield, including building a new Huckleberry Hill School, and having the Center School students relocate to that facility. The candidates were asked what they would do with the current Center School. Butow says Danbury children should not be bused there, as suggested by Mayor Mark Boughton in a recent interview. Butow wants to look into the possibility of having the library use the space.

Dunn says he told Boughton they would talk about it when the building is free, which won’t be for at least three years. Dunn says Brookfield has better, higher use for the building than leasing it to Danbury. Unless the price is right. Then he says there could be room to negotiate for Danbury to not only pay a lease, but also to supplement police and other necessary services.

The Police Department is also looking for more space. Dunn says they also need a new emergency radio system. He noted that the current equipment is becoming obsolete and that state police have a program the town could join. As for the police station, Dunn says there are a lot of issues with the current site. That includes no dedicated locker room for female officers and a lack of storage space. Dunn says it would be beneficial to have an emergency operations center, with a generator.

Butow says he has met with the Police Chief about what the needs of the Department would be in a new facility. He says he would do all he could to help them out, noting that if there is going to be more high density housing, there will need to be more police.

A couple of perennial concerns for residents are potholes and road repair. Butow says it’s a capital expense and should not be bonded. He says the town’s credit card should not be used for this type of expense. Dunn agreed, saying the town should be paying cash for more items. He’s put a policy in place where if it’s under $50,000 and the town can’t pay cash, the money should not be spent. But Dunn cautioned that moving off bonding can’t happen overnight or taxes will increase exponentially.

Butow rebutted that there’s a way to pay down debt without raising taxes. He says debt went up 26% this year. Dunn came back saying that debt payments went up by that much, not the debt load. He added that his administration can’t take borrowing back that was made 10 years ago.

In a sort of lightning round, the candidates agreed that the term of First Selectman should be 4 years. They personally oppose tolls. Dunn though clarified that the town shouldn’t take a position since they don’t get a vote in the matter. On the Still River Greenway, Dunn wants to see it expanded and enhanced. Butow does not believe more money should be poured into the facility.

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Dave Rinelli

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