Danbury Republican Mark Boughton has been Mayor for 18 years and is seeking a 10th term. He is being challenged by Democratic former City Council President Chris Setaro. The pair ran against each other in 2001, and Setaro lost by a few hundred votes.
On the issue of pedestrian safety and vehicle violations along Main Street, Boughton notes that’s the City has obtained a $4 million grant from the state for sidewalk and intersection improvements. He says that will include flashing lights. The old granite will be reused, saving some money. Boughton says the plan calls for starting on the green, because the city owns that, and then get permission from the state for work along Main Street, Route 53. He added that traffic enforcement will continue. He wants to work with business owners about using some of the garages to free up parking spaces.
One of the things Setaro has heard most often though is a concern over the City’s infrastructure. He says the overdevelopment happened because there was no solid plan. He wants to focus on certain roads, which need to be rebuilt because of neglect. He wants to implement a traffic study to make vehicles flow more smoothly from one side of Danbury to the other. Setaro says anything that can be done to alleviate traffic should be a top priority because it will improve the quality of life for many people.
Danbury officials are still in negotiations with the Congregational Church to buy the building and property. The transfer is for $1. The church has seen a decline in population, and the thought is that the iconic building needed to be protected from developers. Boughton says this will give the City an 800-seat recital hall. He added that there is a benefactor who has agreed to make all of the necessary capital improvements, including a new boiler and sound system. It will still be used as a church on Sundays. The name will be changed to the Meeting House.
Setaro believes the Congregation Church is historically significant and can understand why it should be preserved. He would look for state or federal grant money to offset the maintenance cost. As for the Tuxedo Junction building, he thinks it’s an asset for the City. Setaro would like to see both of those venues used for live entertainment downtown. He thinks that could lead to restaurateurs and entrepreneurs coming back to CityCenter. Setaro noted that one of the ways to make the City more attractive for people to stay in Danbury is to have nightlife downtown.
There is an overflow homeless shelter in the basement of the church. The agreement will allow that to continue, as long as they can staff it. Boughton says the City can’t take over every service that a religious or nonprofit group can no longer afford to run.
Setaro says services to help the homeless population currently are provided by a number of different entities in different locations. While he says it’s good that there is a lot of help available, it should be in a central location. Setaro wants to find a suitable location on the bus route. He believes that will not only serve that population well, but be good for visitors to the downtown area.
Several surrounding municipalities have been making improvements to town parks along Candlewood Lake. Boughton says the City just replaced the ticket booth, which wasn’t air conditioned. The bathrooms and the snack bar have been updated and electricity has been run to the lifeguard shack. Some exercise equipment is being installed as well. Another dog park is planned near the New Fairfield border. Boughton says he’s just waiting for sign off from the state before announcing the official location.
Recreation is constantly an ‘ask’ from residents, particularly young people. All of the tennis courts have recently been redone. Boughton says they’ve also been lined for pickleball, a sport popular among older people. He has a spot in mind for basketball courts on Maple Avenue, behind the police station. The half an acre site will have two courts, with parking.
Setaro says one of the things talked about by parents when he goes door to door is expanding recreation opportunities for youths. He wants more access to decision makers on fields and maintenance to make more opportunities available. Setaro wants to work collaboratively with leagues and parents to provide those services.
As for making city services more available to residents, Setaro doesn’t agree with the change in hours for City Hall. Staff members are available later on certain nights, but are off on Fridays. He says that doesn’t send a good signal to businesses interested in investing in Danbury. But Setaro says the collective bargaining agreements would have to be reopened in order to change it back. He doesn’t know if that’s possible, but wants to provide a high level of services to residents within current time constraints.
When it comes to infrastructure needs in the City Boughton says it’s time to focus on the fire service. He believes a new headquarters would suit the department well. The volunteer department is working on a consolidation plan, which could include them moving into the current career headquarters on New Street. Boughton says there’s a need for more maintenance space. Currently they have to work outside the bay, which is weather dependent.
Setaro believes the consolidation of volunteer fire houses is a good idea. He says they area able to provide a high level of public safety, supplementing the career fire department.
On questions of his commitment to the City, since he’s run for Governor 3 times, Boughton says he doesn’t plan to run for statewide office ever again. Boughton noted though that there are some ideas that have worked for Danbury that he’d like to share with the rest of the state.
One of the first things to tackle in office would be planning for the municipal budget. Setaro says he would meet with the Finance Director and the Tax Collector to get a picture of if taxes are collected at a 100-percent rate. His next step would be a cabinet meeting with all of the department heads to discuss the needs of the community. He wants to be sensitive to people’s ability to pay, while trying to balance that with providing good services.
There is a growing student enrollment in Danbury. Boughton clarified that his 2020 Task Force doesn’t refer to the year 2002, next year, but is called Vision 2020--as in clear vision.