BEACON FALLS — Democratic Selectman Christopher Bielik is looking to step into the town’s top political seat this year.
Bielik, 52, is challenging incumbent Republican First Selectman Gerard Smith and will lead the Democratic ticket into the Nov. 5 election.
Bielik, 52, said he decided to run for first selectman after a successful term as a selectman.
“Given the feedback I’ve gotten, and the fact that I’m enjoying it much more than I thought I would, it seemed like taking it to the next step was something that held a great deal of appeal to me,” Bielik said.
Bielik said the largest issue facing the town these days is the amount of taxes that homeowners have to pay.
“Consistently, as I’ve been going around town, the single biggest issue on everybody’s minds is taxes. It always is. The fact 85 percent, within a point or two, of the tax revenue that’s generated in this town comes on the back of homeowners. And that ratio, to me, is unacceptable,” Bielik said.
Bielik said the solution to the problem lies in the economic development of the town.
“We have two assets I think we can use. One is Main Street,” Bielik said. “I think that the streetscape provides a good first step towards what that sort of Main Street downtown look can be.”
Bielik said he would like to see boutique type shops and shops that offer services, which will draw people in who are walking along the river walkway.
“Then they’ll tell their friends and more people will come and make this place a spot that people and their families want to try to come to,” Bielik said.
Bielik said the development just along Main Street would not be able to sustain the town’s tax base, however.
“In the longer term, and something that will have an even greater impact on the grand list, would be greater development down in the industrial park,” Bielik said. “[We need to be] trying to attract more and prosperous businesses into this town so that we can do more things that this town needs to get done and not have to keep putting out our hands to raise taxes, raise the mill rate, get the people to shell out more every time we turn around.”
Bielik said one way to attract businesses to the town would be to work with the state to add additional on and off ramps for Route 8, which would make the town’s industrial park more accessible.
Bielik, who served in the U.S. Navy for 22 years before retiring with the rank of commander in November 2004, has lived in Beacon Falls for nine years.
“There’s one thing that attracted my family to Beacon Falls above everything else and that is that it’s a small town. Even though it’s got some room for growth it’s never going to get really, really big. Some of the open space land we have in town is essentially undevelopable. While that may be a detriment on the ability to attract a large amount of business I don’t necessarily view that as a negative. I think that if we use the assets we have in town smartly we can create a balance between a better community and a small, but thriving, business community, and make that blend be a comfortable place for people to live,” Bielik said
Bielik is in his first term on the Board of Selectmen. He previously served on the Conservation Commission and as chair of the Board of Finance. He said he became involved in politics to continue serving his community.
“I still consider myself to be a military guy even though I’m retired. I think that way. That kind of translates to public service just the same. Whether you’re wearing a uniform and serving your country or whether you’re in the office on Maple Avenue and helping to run the town, you’re still giving back,” Bielik said.
The town is facing two large projects on the horizon — the $16 million upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant and fixing many of the roads in town — that will need to be addressed in the near future. Bielik said the best way to begin to tackle these two problems is to seek outside funding.
“The first thing we have to do is be extremely aggressive in seeking alternative sources of funding for all of these projects. We know there are additional sources of funding from the state and possibly from the federal government as well,” Bielik said. “We have to make sure that no stone is left unturned going for those sources so that as much of the cost of the upgrades that are going to be required for that plant can be borne by somebody else. But that’s not the be all and the end all because that’s never going to pay 100 percent of the bill.”
Bielik said he would like to begin looking into either privatizing the plant or coming to some kind of agreement where the costs and profits are shared by the town and a private company.
Whether the plant goes private or remains a public asset, Bielik said, users will most likely be charged a sewer usage fee.
Bielik said he has walked every road in the town campaigning and is “appalled” by the condition of some of the roads.
“The fact that we’ve spent two years basically ignoring that problem, to me, is personally frustrating and is something that I will absolutely put near the top of my own agenda if I get a result on Nov. 5 that I’m looking for,” Bielik said.
Bielik said he plans to search for grants through programs such as the Small Town Economic Assistance Program. He pointed out that Newtown just received a grant from the state to help rebuild Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“So the money is there, the money is available, if you know where to look and if you’re aggressive about finding it. We’ve got to do a better job of that, and that’s one of the things that I will do and hopefully bring some of these really decrepit roads that we’ve got back under control,” Bielik said.
Bielik’s running mate is Peter Betkoski, 52, the Democratic Town Committee chairman. Bielik said one of the reasons he chose to run for first selectman was because of the Democratic Party’s platform for every candidate on its ticket.
“If you could sum it up into one word it would be a platform of commitment. Because, from the very start, our entire ticket has been totally committed to not just the campaign season here but everything that election and beyond entails,” Bielik said.