Candidates court business community

Democrat N. Warren ‘Pete’ Hess, right, addresses the crowd Oct. 16 as Republican Tamath Rossi looks on during the Naugatuck Chamber of Commerce’s Mayoral Debate Luncheon at The Crystal Room. Rossi and Hess are vying to become Naugatuck’s next mayor in November. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

Democrat N. Warren ‘Pete’ Hess, right, addresses the crowd Oct. 16 as Republican Tamath Rossi looks on during the Naugatuck Chamber of Commerce’s Mayoral Debate Luncheon at The Crystal Room. Rossi and Hess are vying to become Naugatuck’s next mayor in November. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

NAUGATUCK — The two mayoral candidates made their pitches to the borough’s business community Oct. 16 as to why each is the best person to lead Naugatuck.

Republican Tamath Rossi and Democrat N. Warren “Pete” Hess sought to distinguish themselves from one another during a debate sponsored by the Naugatuck Chamber of Commerce at The Crystal Room in front of about 75 people.

Hess, an attorney and downtown business owner, said the borough needs a long-term plan of “smart growth” to turn things around in Naugatuck.

“If we want to fix this town we’re going to need at least a 20-year period to climb out of the hole; a 20-year period of sustained growth. We need a path. We need a direction,” Hess said.

Rossi, who used to own a paralegal business as well as a retail business in Naugatuck, said the borough needs more than a visionary. She said Naugatuck needs a leader with knowledge of how the borough runs — experience she said she has gained over the past 12 years as deputy mayor.

“We need someone who is going to be multi-faceted. We don’t need just a visionary. We need someone who is willing to manage our $115 million corporation and to do it wisely and to do it better,” Rossi said.

Hess said his plan for long-term sustained economic growth in Naugatuck stretches beyond the development of parcels A, B and C downtown. His vision includes developing the former Uniroyal property and a new industrial park. Eventually, Hess’ plan calls for building a bridge over the Naugatuck River in the area of Cross Street to connect New Haven Road to Andrew Mountain. Doing so, he said, will open up land to develop on Andrew Mountain.

Hess said Naugatuck has to grow in order to increase tax revenue, which in turn will stabilize and lower the mill rate, showing the business community that the borough is “on the rise.”

“Naugatuck needs to grow or it will continue in a downward spiral,” Hess said. The only way to grow is to convince the business community that we are on the rise.”

Rossi said Naugatuck needs “intelligent responsible growth.” She said business growth in the borough must first focus on filling vacancies and working together with established businesses.

“There’s a lot of businesses that are falling through the cracks,” Rossi said.

Rossi proposed establishing a business advisory council to create better communication between businesses and the borough, and to build confidence and sense of ownership among the business community.

“We can’t market ourselves if we don’t have the confidence internally and the excitement and the belief and the buy-in from the businesses that have been tried and true,” Rossi said.

Rossi agreed that the borough needs to look at every opportunity to build a new industrial park, but described Hess’ plan for a bridge to Andrew Mountain “old news,” saying the state Department of Transportation recommended the project five years ago.

Rossi said more than economic growth is needed to stabilize the borough’s financial state. She said work must be done to centralize processes within borough government.

“We need to manage our $115 million corporation and we need to make sure we’re using taxpayer dollars to the best of our ability,” she said.

Hess said there is no vacant land available in Naugatuck. He also sees potential spots for a new industrial park on Prospect Street and the former Uniroyal property. Hess also said the borough can move some of the fields at Breen Field on Hotchkiss Street to open up what he described as prime property for development.

“If we don’t have any land no one is going to come to Naugatuck,” Hess said.

Hess went on the offensive and fired back at Rossi’s plan for the former Army National Guard Armory building, which the state is conveying to the borough, on Rubber Avenue.

Rossi wants to turn the armory into a multipurpose community center. Her proposal includes relocating the Park Department to the building and selling the land where the department is on Rubber Avenue.

Hess agreed the borough should acquire the property, but said Rossi’s plan has many holes in it, including a deed restriction that prevents the sale of the Park Department property.

Rossi said she has toured the armory property with department heads and everything she has proposed for the site can be done there. She added negotiations are currently ongoing regarding any restrictions on the properties.

Hess said the borough has to turn around the perception and the reality of taxes in Naugatuck. He said he has the expertise to ensure the projects downtown come to fruition and to carry out his long-term plan for smart growth.

“I believe that I have the experience, the know-how to get it done,” he said.

Rossi said she has been heavily involved civically and with businesses in the borough. She said she’s achieved a lot during her time as deputy mayor, and that experience is what Naugatuck needs.

“The stakes are high for Naugatuck right now,” she said. “They’re critical and we need a leader.”