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First Selectman Candidates Have Their Say

In a well-attended forum, the three candidates for the office of first selectman gave their views on the state of the town, budgets, wastewater, schools, spending, taxes, mil rates and many other issues.

On November 3, the Clinton Taxpayer’s Association (CTA) hosted a forum for the first selectman candidates at town hall.  CTA president Pamela Fritz explained that each candidate would have an opportunity for an introductory speech, followed by a question and answer period by questions provided by the CTA, followed by questions from the audience.

“The focus will be on the issues,” added Fritz.

Questions from the audience were submitted in written form with name(s) required.

Rev. Chris Horvath from the First Church of Christ Congregational moderated the discussion.

The candidates include: incumbent First Selectman William “Willie” Fritz (D), Selectman Carol Walter (R) and write-in candidate Vincent Cimino.

Here are some highlights and summations from the forum:

Opening statements:

Cimino:  I am here for the same reason you are all here – I am concerned about the future of Clinton. We have a decades-long wastewater issue, severely overtaxing of residents, businesses leaving town and an education system that can do better.

Fritz:  In the past six years since becoming first selectman, I have brought in $5 million in grants to the town – something that was not seen in 20 years. There have been improvements – the marina is one of the best on the shoreline and the beach will be.  I support the Morgan School project and the Building Committee’s proposal. The most cost-efficient way is to build a new school. It needs to go to referendum so the people can decide. Clinton has gone from a ranking of #18 in small towns our size in Connecticut Magazine’s poll to #7.  I think I’ve done a pretty good job in the last six years.

Walter: I am finishing up my second year on the Board of Selectmen. I was born and raised in Branford and attended UConn. In 1978 I moved to Clinton after marrying Bill Walter. For 34 years I have raised two kids in town and operated two separate family businesses. We pay taxes in town. My mother and father-in-law (age 87) who were born and raised in Clinton are here. This is where are hearts are. My running mates, John Giannotti and Kim Simoncini, were both raised here. They have children in the school system and keep their businesses here.  Our taxes are too high to maintain businesses here and that’s the reason why I am running.

 

Question: What do you think is the most important issue in town and how would you address it?

Cimino: “The financial situation.”   Residents are severely over-taxed and businesses are leaving. No effort has been made to increase the corporate tax base and replace those businesses who left. We need to heavily market the town of Clinton.

Fritz: “The economy.”  Despite the economy the town is in good shape financially. We have a large undesignated fund balance and a great credit rating.  The Bostitch site is on the market and the state’s Economic Development Commission is working with them. The state’s jobs bill was passed and we are in the forefront to get some of that money to revitalize downtown.

Walter: “Tax burden.”  Clinton has a 24.92 mil rate, Old Saybrook’s is 14 and Westbrook’s is 17. We are paying way too much in taxes. For a town of 13,000 we pay $44 million in taxes.  I haven’t seen any changes in downtown. We need a downtown we can look at with pride.

 

Question: It has been said that the cost per student in Clinton is rising faster than inflation. What are your plans to address this?

Fritz:  I don’t think the information on this is accurate especially when compared to other towns. We have an enormous amount of special education costs that are state mandated. Our demographics are much different in comparison to other towns.

Walter: Costs for students in Clinton are at the top. Our per student costs are high, about $15,000 per student. We need to pursue grants that other school systems are getting. Madison just got a $30,000 grant to buy smart boards where that is a line item on our budget.

Cimino: I know that Superintendent Jack Cross and the teachers are doing the best they can but the budget is increasing when the student population is going down. We need to really scrutinize the BOE budget. The teacher’s union has been understanding in the past and needs to be in the future. We need to keep the BOE budget at a reasonable level.

 

Question: Do you support a new Morgan School?

Walter:  If someone said I’ll give you $50 million to build one, we’d all be thrilled. Of course we all want a new school. My problem is I’m not sure we are at the point to decide. I read the Gilbane report and I am not convinced of the facts and figures. I am undecided. If the best direction is a new Morgan, I am behind it, but there are a lot more factors involved. There is a difference between wants and needs.

Cimino:  It matters little whether I want a new Morgan – what matters is if the residents want it. I’d like to see a phased-in renovation. Some features of the school such as the double gymnasium and the auditorium should remain. If we build new, it will be 2018 before a student would walk through the door.

Fritz:  I’ve been clear on my position – I support a new school. I have sat in on every building committee meeting for the past two years. The committee has done their due diligence. The renovation costs are prohibitive. I’ve spent a lot of time in that building and it’s embarrassing. I hope the town gets the opportunity to vote on it.

 

Question: Do you support spending $2 million to renovate the old police station?

Cimino:  I’d like to see it as a community center for things such as concerts and art shows with a concession stand to serve the outside and inside. The costs can be considerably less.

Fritz: We inherited this building when the new police station was built and it is a historical building. The initial plan to move the senior meals center there (they serve 100 meals a day out of town hall) and for the consolidation of office space, social services, seniors, etc. was approved by the Board of Selectmen. I think the seniors and the other services go hand-in-hand for the space.

Walter: I am vehemently opposed to spending $2 million on this building. You could building a new building two times the size and spend half the amount. Then it goes on the town’s books. We will need to heat it, cool it, carpet it, mow it, etc. It is a big waste of the taxpayer’s dollars.

 

Question: The town has a wastewater issue. How do you plan to solve it and do you support a wastewater treatment plant?

Fritz:  I have always supported a wastewater system. When I took office, the town was looking at a central plant or central discharge into a large body of water. Then things changed and towns were allowed to have a subsurface discharge in several locations. Every property that needs this solution is on the list including the many manufactured homes in town. We are going forward – the WPCC (Water Pollution Control Commission) is meeting two times a month. We are making good progress.

Walter: It’s 33 years later and there’s still nothing but talk. We have spent a fortune on engineers and testing and more testing and at this moment we do not have a concrete plan.  Willie fired the entire WPCC panel, many of whom had spent 10 years on it and they all had to start at zero four years ago. Why has it taken 20 years and countless thousands of dollars?

Cimino:  There has been too much time and too much money wasted on this issue. We need to take the Sciongay/Schrempp property by imminent domain. We do not know if the five properties the WPCC are studying will work. Let’s move forward with a plan.

 

Question: The candidates were asked to rank (1 being the worst 10 being the best) how the town performed in its preparation and handling of Hurricane Irene.

Walter:  overall, a “6”

Cimino: I grade it a “9”

Fritz: CL&P told us we were the best along the shoreline

 

Question: The group sponsoring this debate, the CTA, supports a zero percent tax increase for the upcoming budget. Do you think you can achieve this and do you support it?

Fritz:  I want any increase to be as low as possible – that is always a goal. I can’t promise a zero increase. We don’t want to cut services to residents and students. Our costs are going up just like at home. We have reduced staff through attrition in the towns and the schools.

Walter: It is my goal to have a zero tax rise. It is a huge undertaking and it’s the reason I’m sitting here. We have to rectify the situation. We are over-taxed. We have to find a way to make this work  - it is what the people want. The reason we had three referendums last year is because the people said we don’t want this budget.

Cimino: After we defeated the budget last year, the Board of Finance had a meeting and asked residents for their ideas. I came forward with a flat budget. We have a $1.2 million surplus. In addition, 600 people came out to vote and indebted the town by $9.4 million in the bonding referendum. The CTA should circulate a petition and demand another referendum and not an ‘all or nothing’ one.

 

Question: Are you in favor of a town manager form of government where there is a professional town manager hired who can be guided by the Board of Selectmen?

Cimino: I am opposed to this. It wouldn’t work for a town the size of Clinton. This is what we are doing right now – looking at hiring the right person who would provide for the growth, prosperity and safety of the town and its residents.

Fritz:  The difference is choice.  Right now, you have a choice with the candidates for first selectman. With a town manager, you don’t. To me the position is a high-priced mayor. It cost one town $300,000 to sever the ties with their town manager. In two years, you can say goodbye to the first selectman. I believe the town meeting form of government works if people come out and participate.

Walter: I am in favor of a town manager. To go through this election process every two years doesn’t work – you don’t need someone looking to be re-elected every two years. The Board of Selectmen still exists, but the town manager is someone who is educated in the management of a town. There’s no on-the-job training for them. It would provide a flow of the 10-year plans. It is one person who implements the desires of the taxpayers.

...more to come

Glenn Coffin November 05, 2011 at 11:45 PM
Doctor with all due respect, what about those who worked in the days leading up to the storm and DURING the storm for no pay at all? Should they be embarrassed as well?
K Jones November 06, 2011 at 01:27 AM
Idiocracy, that's fitting ! Maybe you aren't paying attention but she didn't "give those guys a 6 out of 10". Hope your husband is a better listener, since our taxes pay his salary. Strange that you would even think for a second that she was speaking of "those guys". Paranoid or political propaganda?
Starfish November 06, 2011 at 10:45 AM
Gee Carol, maybe you should have been inland after the snowstorm of last week to appreciate what Willie and the town staffs did for Clinton residents after Irene. Even though in a town comparable to Clinton, there were no efforts made to keep residents up to date of recovery efforts, nor what services were available to those without power or water. In the past week, I haven't seen one police officer patroling or even at busy intersections where traffic lights were out. Let alone a sighting of public works, or town officials. Down wires across roads that had NO roadblocks or warnings posted for drivers. I do remember seeing Willie, Peter Neff, Major Santry, CFD and their staffs all over Clinton from the moment after Irene hit and for days afterwards. Not a 9...surely not an insulting and downright silly 6....but..an easy 10!!!!
townie November 06, 2011 at 12:59 PM
Starfish I did not experience any town employee presence in my neighborhood after Irene, and yes there was plenty of damage here. Without power, I did not receive any of Willy's messages until after power was restored...a bit too late. I did not receive a flyer from the selectman indicating where to go for water, gas, showers, meals, etc.. I did not hear messages from patrolling police cruisers or see signs posted at intersections with information, until late in the week. Perhaps he could have utilized the sign at the church across from Pierson school. Had the dump been open, that would have been a common place for people to get information too. I am not saying that Willy did a bad job at all, just that he did not reach everyone and these are simply suggestions for anyone to utilize. Fortunately, we were well prepared and capable of taking care of ourselves, and I think the post Irene topic has been beaten to death here, so lets move on. I would like to see our town updated like those surrounding us. Madison, Guilford, Old Saybrook, Deep River, Essex, Chester are welcoming and many are showing signs of improvements with lighting, sidewalks, etc.. They have pedestrian friendly access and appeal. Clinton has so much to offer and should be a showplace enticing people to frequent our disappearing shops and restaurants. I am sad to see Emerald Isle gone, Piccadelli Station gone, Unilever exiting etc.. Kudos to whoever created the Pretty Committee to improve on our town.
Phil November 06, 2011 at 01:38 PM
Reading the comments, I can tell who won't be the next first selectwoman
Carol D Walter November 06, 2011 at 01:59 PM
Thank you Townie for understanding the reasons behind my assessment. To those of you posting here that work for the town you have my honest and heartfelt apologies. I'm sorry you misunderstood my concerns. My opinion was strictly limited as to how our first selectman handled the storm and I still believe there was room for improvement. Willie should have had minimum staffing at the town hall to keep it open. All of the selectmen should not have been purposely excluded from the planning and recovery process. The transfer station should have been open from day one and the hours communicated properly. Signs (handwritten if necessary) should have been posted in front of town hall and the transfer station informing residents of storm recovery efforts and resources avaliable since our phones weren't working. This is not the first situation where communication has been a problem and I anticipated that problem prior to the storm. This is what I based my opinion on and I hope you'll see it was by no means meant to undermine or offend our hard working public servants. Please do not take this as an insult to your departments or allow this issue to become political because it may cause you to lose sight of the issues going forward. We need to stay focused on what lies ahead for Clinton.
Stu Pitt November 06, 2011 at 02:07 PM
I believe carol was the only candidate who actually offered up and supported a pension plan for the volunteer fire department.
Phil November 06, 2011 at 02:30 PM
I like how people are changing their facebook pictures to a 6
Bradford J. Sullivan November 06, 2011 at 02:35 PM
I agree that Carol said nothing negative about any first responders or the DPW at the debate. Her response essentially took issue at her exclusion from pre-planning meetings, which I believe is appropriate according to the town's civil preparedness director. The update meeting was on Tuesday, August 30th. I was at that meeting. Carol and the rest of us in attendance were explicitly told by Willie Fritz, Tasos Clados, Pete Neff, Bob Voss and Todd Lawrie what and why certain actions were taken. It was explained in detail to us that part of the training in the response to a natural disaster is to restore "normalcy" to your community as quickly as possible, i.e., soccer fields opened for activities.
Stu Pitt November 06, 2011 at 02:43 PM
I hope the voters and the readers who may not participate on this site are intelligent enough not to listen to all thus ranting. She gave a sux to the administration of the event, not the people involved. Willy did not fully utilize all the tools he had by not including more people leading up to this event.
Stu Pitt November 06, 2011 at 02:48 PM
@ phil, willy should be the only one changing his photo to a six. Carol fully sports all the towns volunteers. She was instrumental in getting the FD to the town hall to discuss a pension, which she fully supports. Anyone else doing it is only pandering to political agendas. Perhaps I should change mine to our current mill rate?
Phil November 06, 2011 at 04:10 PM
Do the firefighters have a tax abatement?
Starfish November 06, 2011 at 04:11 PM
Shouda..coulda...woulda...after the fact of course.
looking4answers November 06, 2011 at 04:42 PM
please simply address the issues and stop the mud slinging. I am reading posts for information on the best candidate who will improve our town. is that person running?
Dylan Walter November 06, 2011 at 05:02 PM
Do you know the definition of pandering? Vin's rating was clearly that...
Dylan Walter November 06, 2011 at 05:13 PM
If she had had more time on the clock there would have been better reasoning behind the answer, unfortunately, that wasn't the case and now she looks bad. The basis of her answer was not about the crew, it was about how the dump was not made available to people had already undertaken their own cleanup, like some did, but unfortunately there was not enough time to make that point. I know it sounded bad, but had you been at the debate you would have know that the criticism was solely pointed at the administration, not the department of public works, i.e. how the town hall was closed on Monday following Irene rather than answering residents calls and concerns. This is why forming opinions based off of hearsay is a dangerous game. Furthermore, it's difficult to read people's minds to find out why they took it personally, I can't comment on that. Keep in mind she was also pro-pension for the volunteers in the fire department, and the only one who mentioned anything of the sort, but that gets overlooked by her response to a question based solely on opinion. I know, I know, she is my mother, but no one is looking more forward to this election being over than me, and no one in our family would ever be critical of any volunteers, especially with how accident prone I was growing up, I've taken many more rides in ambulances than I care to admit, at all hours, and received nothing but care and compassion from everyone involved, we're forever grateful
Dylan Walter November 06, 2011 at 05:15 PM
the signs showed up on Wednesday, a full 4 days after the storm hit.
Phil November 06, 2011 at 06:29 PM
You know a campaign is in trouble when the kids start defending their parents
Stu Pitt November 06, 2011 at 08:22 PM
@ phil, the only one who sounds like a kid is you. try making an informative post, you may gain some credibility
Jonathan Sanders November 06, 2011 at 10:15 PM
Ha! That is a funny post coming from a guy using the "name" Stu Pitt.
ALR November 06, 2011 at 10:25 PM
Looking4answers...the article you are commenting on has debate responses although they are the "short " version. Perhaps visiting the republican or democratic headquarters would be helpful. I found the debate a very good indicator of where each candidate stood. While I support Willie Fritz, I was pleasantly surprised at how well informed Mr. Chimino was.
ALR November 06, 2011 at 10:26 PM
*Cimino
Phil November 07, 2011 at 02:23 AM
ha ha ha
c gramm November 07, 2011 at 11:44 AM
I'm unaffiliated with a party in town but do attend some meetings. Its easy to sit back and listen to comments. Pension for the fire department? Not gonna happen any time soon from what i was hearing. A supporter of the Fire Department?????? What about the comment to take away the Firefighters tax abatement to pay for a firetruck made by Mrs Walter???? The men & women of the Fire Department VOLUNTEER hundreds of hours to keep you safe. They respond to thousands of Emergency calls every year, teach CPR and first aid, Fire Prevention, They leave their families day and night without a thought. The only thing they get is a tax abatement. You are not handing them money. You are giving them a tax break. For most it comes out to be less than 10cents an hour. What a deal the town is getting. I just cant believe all the negative coming from what should have been an informational event. Everyone is looking for a life vest here. I did not have to be asked or invited to join in the efforts of this town during the hurricane. ANYONE could have put out signs NOT limited to your 1st selectman. Anyone could have help at the town hall, Made signs. You cant wait till the end to want to help. NO one person is that important that they should have a personal invitation. As far as a child defending a parent, That is commendable. That shows how this is affecting adult children. Can you imagine what this dose to younger ones too?
Lindy Merrill November 07, 2011 at 02:37 PM
Carol is the obvious choice for voters who do not want to see their mill rate continue to rise, their tax bill continue to increase and government spending continue without taxpayer approval. As a lifetime Clinton resident I believe that the leadership of team Walter will bring a sensible, responsible solutions to the town of Clinton. Carol, Kim and John are all committed to the improvement of our great town. They have family and businesses in Clinton. Team Walter will give us the leadership that Clinton needs. They will listen to the townspeople and not their own agendas. I urge you to vote for Team Walter who will address and correct the current issues facing our town. We simply cannot afford to continue with Willie and his administration who do not think that Clinton can collect enough in taxes and who should foot the bill for overruns at will. It's our money and WE should tell the administration how WE want it spent in OUR town. My vote is for Team Walter.
Meg November 07, 2011 at 05:00 PM
I was at the debate last week and commented to my friend sitting next that no one thanked the Department of Public Work when asked about the town rating in regard to Irene. Yes, the Fire Department was thanked and the Police Department too. The Department of Public Works and Pete Neff were never mentioned as I'm sure was an oversight. Let's stick to issues and leave personal assults out of the discussions. I applaud all the candidates who have put themselves (and their families) on the line for a better Clinton.
Phil Sengle November 07, 2011 at 05:28 PM
At the CTA debate, a question was asked how each candidate rated the town’s Hurricane Irene planning and response. Carol Walter’s response has been twisted by Willie supporters for partisan advantage. When she said a “6”, she was clearly referring to town hall leadership, not first responders, (Police, Fire & Public Works Employees). She was not allowed to finish her answer as you will see. The first link is her actual debate response. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QR8V4Di6XvA The below link gives the completion of that answer so that an honest evaluation of her position can be determined. Hear her words, not what others with “a dog in the fight” have to say. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGPSvoxzJfk The distortion of her position did not stop here. On Facebook and other places, smears have been placed that Carol is opposed to continuing the tax abatement for Fire fighters. This is completely untrue as she supported continuation of this program at the debate. She was also the first to support a modest pension program for long term firemen and said so at the debate. Why then would she oppose the long standing property tax exemption? Willie supporters – please stop the lies.
Peter Sullivan November 08, 2011 at 12:18 AM
There was a rumor floating around that Carol Walter did not support the tax abatement program for Volunteer Fire Fighters. A question was asked at the debate about each candiate's position on continuing the program. Carol stated that she was in favor of continuing the program. However, the minutes from the December 30, 2009 Board of Selectmen meeting states that, during a discussion of the tax abatement program, "Walter suggested discontinuing this program and put the money towards the purchase of a new fire engine". The minutes go on to state that "Fritz replied that this is a benefit designed to encourage members of the CVFD to join and be active. Voss also stated that Clinton is one of the few departments in the state that does not offer a pension". When Chief Voss brought up the fact that there is no pension for the Fire Department, Carol didn't seem to use that oppportunity to voice her support to start such a program.
VIN CIMINO November 08, 2011 at 01:01 PM
Almost the entire CTA debate can be seen at the CTA website. Just go to GOCTA.ORG and click FORUMS. That should be helpful in deciding to write in my name for first selectman. It will be my honor to serve the Town of Clinton. Good luck to all the candidates.
Glenn Coffin November 08, 2011 at 01:57 PM
To some, this is a non-issue because it was "two years ago" It doesn't matter whether this was two years ago or two weeks ago. I guess that 6 out of 10 was the real number wasn't it?

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