BEACON FALLS — After a career in the U.S. Navy, First Selectman Christopher Bielik found another avenue to serve the public — local politics.
“Whether you’re wearing a uniform or sitting behind a desk or something like that, if it’s something that you kind of have in your blood, it doesn’t really go away,” Bielik said.
Bielik, a 58-year-old Democrat, is seeking his fourth straight term as first selectman.
“I can see where the town has been and where I think we’d like it to go, and I think I’ve been able to help chart a good bit of that path, but there’s still plenty of work left to do,” Bielik said.
Bielik served 22 years in the Navy. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy with a bachelor’s degree in resource management and later earned a graduate degree in public administration from the Naval Postgraduate School.
Bielik retired from the Navy in 2004 with the rank of commander. His last assignment was as the commanding officer for a naval air reserve center in Minnesota.
“Running a Navy base is a little bit like running a small town,” said Bielik, adding the issues are similar, including maintaining infrastructure and negotiating contracts.
After the Navy, Bielik worked in the training department at Sikorsky until 2008 when he retired. With the education and experience he gained in the Navy, Bielik said getting involved in local politics was a logical progression.
Bielik served on the Conservation Commission in 2009, before filling a vacancy on the Board of Finance. In 2011, he was elected as a selectmen. He won his first term as first selectman in 2013, and has held the seat since.
Bielik is facing challenges from petitioning candidates Gerard Smith, a former first selectman, and David Rybinski, a member of the Region 16 Board of Education. Smith and Rybinski are running unaffiliated.
First selectman candidates could win a seat on the Board of Selectmen as a selectman, depending on how the votes shake out on Election Day. When asked whether he would serve as a selectman if he doesn’t win the first selectman seat, Bielik said he believes the people vote for the government they want.
“If they want me to serve in some capacity, then it’s my honor to do so,” he said.
If re-elected for first selectman, Bielik said his primary focus will be continuing economic development efforts and making infrastructure improvements.
In 2017, the town hired Connecticut Economic Resource Center (CERC), a nonprofit corporation and public-private partnership that provides research, marketing and economic development services. CERC provides a part-time economic development consultant to work with the town. With CERC’s assistance, the town developed a tax incentive ordinance that offers tax abatements for businesses that invest in a new commercial building or improvements to an existing one.
“Anything like that that spurs an opportunity to not only bring new stuff in but to expand on the stuff we have already; those kinds of tools are invaluable to have,” said Bielik, who added he wants to build on programs like the tax incentive ordinance.
The town is facing millions of dollars’ worth of road improvements, officials have said. The town has done some road projects over the past several years and also plans to use a $500,000 grant and about $184,000 of unspent money from bonds issued in 2016 to fix Beacon Valley Road in the spring.
Officials are working on a 10-year capital plan that includes road work and hired a company to scan town streets to determine their condition to prioritize which ones to repair first.
Bielik feels the town is on the right track with laying out a 10-year plan to address roads in town. It’s a plan that will likely require bonding money to accomplish.
Bielik said will take some combination of short-term borrowing, then refinancing the money long-term as a bond to get lower rates. He feels borrowing money on a long-term basis is a good investment due to low interest rates. He said he would work with the Board of Finance to lay out a plan, which he feels should then go to a vote at a referendum.
The tax rate has stayed flat the last two years at 35.9 mills following a 3-mill increase in the 2017-18 fiscal year. The increase in 2017-18 was mostly attributed to a 5.12% decrease in the town’s grand list following a property revaluation.
The town budget is separate from the budget for Region 16, which oversees public schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect. School spending has increased just about $200,000 since the 2015-16 fiscal year, and Beacon Falls’ net education cost went down about $150,000 this fiscal year.
Bielik said officials were able to keep the tax rate steady without sacrificing necessary capital items, like town vehicles and equipment, or quality of life services in town.
“That is a message I’m proud to stand by,” he said.
Bielik attributed the flat tax rates to working together with the Board of Finance and in concert with Region 16. Every year presents its own budget challenges, he said, and the key is maintaining that collaboration.
“The bottom line is we all understand the needs of the town and we all work together to meet those needs,” he said.