NAUGATUCK — As candidates prepare to run for office in November’s municipal election, Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess urged his fellow Democrats on the ticket not to use the words Democrat or Republican when campaigning, but rather to talk about Naugatuck.
“We’re all pro-Naugatuck. We all want Naugatuck to be better. Let’s just stay on that nonpartisan track. People are a sick of partisan politics — in the nation, in the state and in the towns. They want progress. They want solutions,” said Hess, after accepting the Naugatuck Democratic Town Committee’s endorsement to run for a third straight term at a July 22 caucus.
Hess, who is unopposed unless a candidate petitions to get on the ballot to challenge him, said his administration has come a long way since first being elected in 2015 and there’s still a long way to go.
“Four years ago, we were in a much worse state than we are in today,” Hess said.
Hess pointed to a budget deficit, problems with the wastewater treatment plant, cuts in state funding and a lack of investment in the borough’s infrastructure as issues facing the borough when he first took office. Through a team effort, he continued, those issues were addressed.
Hess also pointed to the tax rate, which he described as the borough’s biggest problem. The tax rate has decreased slightly from 48.55 mills four years ago to 47.25 mills this fiscal year.
“I’m not saying that’s great, and we certainly have to get it a lot lower, and we will,” said Hess, adding that over that time the borough has invested in needed equipment and infrastructure improvements while keeping the tax rate stable through growth in the grand list.
Over the past four years, the borough’s net grand list has increased by over $100 million, an increase that received a boost when property values went up an average of 6.5 percent following a recent property revaluation.
To continue that growth, Hess is looking to larger projects to get former industrial sites back on the tax rolls, such as a plan to redevelop the former Uniroyal site off Elm Street into an intermodal transportation hub to ship goods dubbed the “Port of Naugatuck.”
“We’re taking all of the pieces and we’re remaking Naugatuck, and we’re going to get our tax base back and we’re going to continue to grow,” he said.
The Democratic slate features familiar and new names.
For the Board of Mayor and Burgesses, the committee endorsed incumbents Laurie Taf-Jackson, who is deputy mayor, Robert Burns, Carl Herb and Rocky Vitale. Visar Tasimi and W. Francis Dambowsky received the endorsement to run, as well.
There are nine burgess seats on the board and one party can hold up to six of them.
For the Board of Education, the committee endorsed incumbents Ethel Grant, Jason Celozzi and James Scully along with newcomers Michael Cook and Stephen Samela.
The school board has nine members, including the mayor. The most seats one party can hold is five, not counting the mayor.
The committee endorsed incumbent Tax Collector James Goggin and cross endorsed Town Clerk Michelle Dowling for re-election, and backed Gary Hughes to challenge for treasurer.
The committee endorsed incumbent Neil Mascola for Zoning Commission and Joe Pesce for Planning Commission. Floyd Traver, Michael Kuczenski, Michael Allison and Sally Cyr received endorsements for bailiff.
Naugatuck Democratic Town Committee Chairman M. Leonard Caine III said the ticket is diverse and there’s a coalescence among the candidates.
“We have the right people in place to do as the mayor says, move the town forward. And I’m confident that with the election of our candidates we will be moving the town forward for the betterment of everybody. It’s not a Democrat-Republican thing, it’s a Naugatuckian thing. Let’s move our town forward and join forces. We can accomplish that,” Caine said.