Money talks at candidate panel discussion

NAUGATUCK—Borough finances dominated the discussion during a forum for candidates seeking municipal office.

“At this time … no one can afford an increase in taxes,” said Catherine Ernsky, a Republican candidate for burgess.

Naugatuck’s Taxpayers in Revolt hosted the forum April 20, which brought together 14 of the 21 school board and burgess candidates.

Exactly how to ensure residents don’t face a local tax increase was up for debate when the burgess candidates were asked how they felt about making budget cuts.

Some favored cuts, while others pointed to making government more efficient to obtain savings.

Republican Tamath Rossi, who’s currently Deputy Mayor, said the borough needs to cut spending, but must do so with a plan in place and without harming public safety and education.

“The key is not only to cut spending and hold the line. But, to make sure we have a plan,” Rossi said.

However, some candidates felt cuts aren’t an option because there’s nowhere left to slice.

“There’s really no place to cut in Naugatuck’s budget,” said Anthony Campbell, a Democrat seeking re-election.

Campbell said every borough department is below proper staffing levels already.

Republican Michael Bronko, a former mayor seeking a seat on the Board of Burgesses, said if the need is there he’s willing to look at cuts. But, he said, it’s difficult to cut from departments working on “shoestrings.”

“To just cut for the sake of cutting is foolish,” said Robert Burns, a Democrat seeking re-election.

How much say residents have in the budget also proved to be a matter for differing opinions among the candidates, when they were asked whether they would support an automatic budget referendum.

“I never have and I never will support a referendum,” Campbell said.

Patrick Scully, a Democrat seeking re-election, said he’s in favor of a referendum, just not an automatic one, which he called “stupid and ludicrous.”

Those who didn’t support an automatic referendum felt the current system in which voters have to petition to force a referendum is sufficient and could be examined to streamline the process.

“I feel that their (taxpayers) interests are being served,” Rossi said.

The issue did draw support from a couple of candidates.

Republican Matthew Katra said he’s in favor of at least one automatic referendum. But, after that, he would want to see the petition process put into place.

Burns felt two referendums would be fine. One is not enough, he said, and three is too many.

Implementing an automatic budget referendum is one of the issues being explored by the Charter Revision Commission.

Democrat Mike Ciacciarella, who sits on the commission, said the issue is a complex one.

“It’s not as simple as just coming up with a number,” Ciacciarella said.

With all the budget talk, one of the best ways to ease the local burden is economic development. Renaissance Place could provide a substantial local boost, but the project has slowed considerably due to the economic climate of the past few years.

The candidates were asked whether they felt the project is still a viable plan.

Nearly every candidate said they support the plan, and felt parts of it are still viable. But, the consensus was that the plans need to be looked at again to see if they need to be modified.

“The world has changed,” said Republican Ron San Angelo, a former mayor seeking a burgess seat. “The plans need to be readjusted.”

Scully was the only candidate present to speak negatively about the project, saying he never liked the contract the borough signed with Alex Conroy of the Conroy Development Company.

“I think he sold a bill of goods to the taxpayers,” Scully said.

When school board candidates took the stage, the financial theme of the evening continued. Rather than focusing on budget cuts and referendums, among the questions posed to the candidates were how they would regain the borough’s trust after running a deficit in the 2009-2010 fiscal year, and whether they felt the board needed an independent finance committee.

“I think trust really starts from the bottom,” Democrat Deanna Krzykowski said.

All five candidates on hand felt transparency and open communications with the public and the Board of Mayor and Burgesses was the way to rebuild trust.

“We can’t be afraid to talk to the burgesses,” Democrat James Jordan said.

The candidates weren’t all in agreement that the school board needs a separate finance board though.

Jordan and Democrat Debra Brackett expressed concerns that such a committee would just add another layer of bureaucracy to the board.

Krzykowski, along with Republicans Dorothy Neth-Kunin and Glenn Connan felt the idea has merit.

“The more things we can do to increase trust the better. This to me seems like a no-brainer,” Connan said.