Republican Bill Tinsley is seeking a second term as Brookfield First Selectman. Democrat Steve Dunn is looking to unseat him.
Dunn worked on Wall Street for the last 30 years, primarily with JP Morgan Chase as the group executive for the Western Hemisphere for the Security Services Division. He managed about $140 million budget and about $2 trillion dollars in assets for clients.
Dunn said he decided to run when the A Brookfield Party was created because he says the organization is endorsing all Republicans. He says that creates a false sense of minority representation on Boards and Commissions. He ran two years ago for the Board of Finance, and did not secure a win. He says all six seats on the Board of Finance are held by Republicans.
When discussing the A Brookfield Party and minority party representation on boards and commissions, Tinsley pointed out Democratic Board of Education candidate Michael Zacchea. Tinsley said he was giving the middle finger all night long, something Zacchea denied. Tinsley also pointed to an email exchange with Zacchea. Tinsley wrote about the schools in his monthly newsletter in September and received an email back that he said contained "great vocabulary, but not the kind of response you'd want to see from someone who wants to be a Board of Ed member".
Tinsley says controlling property taxes while maintaining the high quality of life is something he is proud of accomplishing. He says it was done through responsible economic growth and aggressive cost reduction programs without cutting services. He says this was the first year in a long time that there was no property tax increase in Brookfield. He says that was also due in part to finding grant money to help with some projects. He says there will likely be more of the same in the next few years. When he looks ahead, he says there is a likelihood of another year of no property tax increases. He says it could even be tweaked down a bit.
Dunn says no one wants a tax increase. But he says the more important question is whether the services being offered are the services residents need, at a level that meets their needs for a reasonable price. He says well thought out, zero-base budgets would be delivered if he's elected. Instead of starting with last budget year's numbers, he would start at zero and then find out what is needed for each program. Dunn says it's very hard to have budgets that don't increase because of the traditional way that they're crafted. He was also critical of borrowing for day to day operations. Dunn says taxpayers will be paying for years that way.
Tinsley says there have been some visible signs of improving the town's quality of life in the last couple of years. The parks were rehabilitated, construction of the the Still River Greenway is well under way and the Meadowbrook Manor neighborhood flood mitigation plan is being carried out. He says the Greenway project should be completed by May. He says the bridge will be placed over the river before shutting down for the winter.
Dunn was critical of the facilities at Cadigan Park not being maintained to the point where he says they had to be torn down. He says improvements are needed at most schools in Brookfield. Dunn says some students are still being taught in portables that were put up over 20 years ago, envisioned to only last five years. He says all of the classrooms at Huckleberry Hill Elementary are electrically heated, the most expensive form of heat. He wants to go to taxpayers with a reasonable and fiscally conservative plan to maintain the schools.
Tinsley says about $3.3 million worth of long overdue capital projects for the schools are planned. After the election, he expects a predominately new Board of Education. The Board of Ed has been bogged down in recent years with a number of issues. That includes an alleged $1.2 million in budget overspending and several thousand dollars in questionable spending by the former School Finance Director. Tinsley says taking a look at elementary facility needs will be front and center. He expects in the next 12 to 18 months that a facilities plan will be presented to voters about what needs to be done in grades K-5.
Dunn says he would support the Board of Education in their funding requests if elected. He gave the example of the Board of Ed asking the Board of FInance for an additional $400,000, which was turned down. The Town Clerk and Town Attorney approved a petition being circulated by parents calling for a referendum. But he says the Town Attorney then said it wasn't being approved, and he claims that Tinsley informed the organizers shortly before the deadline that the petition was illegal.
When it come to the schools overspending their budget a couple of years ago, Dunn says it didn't get caught until the Brookfield Town Auditor passed away. He says every few years, a new auditor should be hired. Dunn says the Board of Finance is supposed to go out to bid every five years, but that wasn't done.
Tinsley countered that Brookfield has had five auditors in the past 12 years.
The candidates have a different opinion on where to point the budget for the $1.2 million in overspending. Tinsley says it was former Finance Director Art Colley and then Superintendent of Schools Anthony Bivonah. Dunn says it was a Board of Finance repsonsibility to see what was going on.
When it comes to cost reduction in government, Tinsley says the town has been on a multi-phase plan to bring down health insurance costs. The first phase was to move away from a fully insured plan to a self insured plan. The next step is implementing a wellness program, and making Brookfield part of a larger group. Brookfield has about 550 employees on the health insurance plan. Brookfield only has a $60 million budget. Over the course of the first two years in office, he's been able to lower the cost of health insurance by $2 million. He hopes to reduce that by a couple more million dollars while not reducing benefits. He says it's a matter of being smart on how programs are managed. Tinsley says a Wellness Program will be a big piece of that.
Tinsley says infrastructure and approvals take a long time, but the Four Corners sewer and water services are in and the state has signed off on improvements along Route 202. He expects to see some older buildings to come down this winter. The Brookfield Village project, the first big mixed-use project, should start next spring. He says there will be retail space on the first floor and apartment living on the middle and top floors.
Dunn says the development of the Four Corners area has gone off the tracks. He says the town has worked hard over the past decade to develop a plan of development, talking about a new vibrant town center area. He says despite the plan, there is only multi-family housing going up. He wants to see restaurants and shops being developed in the area. About three months ago, he says the Zoning Commission asked to put a moratorium in place on multi-family housing. Dunn questioned why Tinsley didn't support that.
Tinsley says Brookfield has been very active with the Candlewood Lake Authority to ensure the water quality in the lake. A pilot program has been launched in Brookfield to keep invasive aquatic species out of the lake. In the long term, Tinsley says they have to come up with a way to get control over potential for blue green algae. Tinsley says the Lake is important for the region, the economy, and recreational opportunity to residents.
There are a few issues when it comes to Candlewood Lake that Dunn would like to tackle. One is how to make sure the invasive Zebra Mussel doesn't find its way into Candlewood. He says other problems are Milfoil, run-off from people's properties. He says these long term problems need to be addressed. He says the sterile grass carp is a good start, if they work. At the state boat launch , boats are checked for Zebra Mussels , and he wants all boaters to checks for them. He wants FirstLight Power to maintain its gentleman's agreement to fund their share of the Candlewood Lake Authority.
Tinsley says Brookfield's roads are in pretty decent shape. He says the town has a good repaving plan that's executed every year. There is a plan to spend about $1.6 million a year in repaving the approximate 100 miles of roads in Brookfield. But the harder the winter, the more potholes to fill. Tinsley says last year was difficult, but compared to area towns, he says Brookfield did fairly well.
Road maintenance was bonded four years ago because budgets kept getting rejected. Dunn says road repair should be a line item in the budget every year. He wants a 8, 10 or 12 year cycle to repair roads so that the town doesn't have to borrow to repave.
There were some contentious moments during the closing statements of the debate. Tinsley held up a campaign mailer issued by Dunn. It focuses on allegations that Tinsley stole from a Vermont liquor store where he worked in 2013. Tinsley pleaded no contest to the misdemeanors. Tinsley called the mailer a libelous attack that spoke loudly about his opponent's campaign integrity. Dunn said that just because the truth is ugly doesn't mean it should be ignored.