George takes first shot at politics

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Beacon Falls Republican First Selectman candidate Ken George is seeking to earn his first term in office. –LUKE MARSHALL

BEACON FALLS — Political newcomer Ken George is making his first race one for the top seat in town.

George, a 56-year-old Republican, is challenging incumbent Democrat First Selectman Christopher Bielik in the Nov. 7 election.

George said his lack of political experience is not a barrier to overcome, but something to be touted.

“I have absolutely no prior political experience. I was never a politician. I didn’t think I was going to be a politician. I just know that people need to get involved,” George said.

George is the director of fleet maintenance for Campion Ambulance Service in Waterbury. In the full-time position, George oversees a fleet of 52 vehicles and is responsible for budgeting and repairs.

George, who has worked for Campion since 1982, said he is also a liaison between the company and the state Department of Health, Department of Motor Vehicles, and Department of Transportation for all inspection-related issues, and liaison for all litigation Campion is involved in between the company and insurance companies.

The first selectman position is technically a part-time job, but previous first selectmen have treated it as full time. George said he hasn’t decided if he would step down from his position at Campion if he wins the election.

George has been involved in Beacon Hose Company No. 1 since 1980 and currently serves as the volunteer company’s assistant EMS director. He also worked as a part-time police officer in Beacon Falls for six years until resigning in 1990.

In January 1990, the Board of Selectman began looking into allegations that he falsified his time card by stating he was at a training he didn’t attend.

George said the allegations were not true and that he had informed his superiors he would be attending an event at the firehouse instead of the training. He said someone marked him as present at the training without his knowledge. George said he ultimately resigned because he felt he did not have the support of his superiors.

George, who is divorced with four children, said he has heard people question whether he is qualified to be first selectmen.

“Some people may say I’m not qualified. And they may very well be true in that statement. But the question is what are the qualifications,” George said. “I believe as first selectman we work for the people. I believe I am nothing more than a liaison for different agencies in getting the answers and projects completed that people would like to see done in the town of Beacon Falls.”

George, a Beacon Falls native, said he isn’t heading into this race with a set agenda, but he knows he wants to help his neighbors.

“I don’t know if there are priorities. I have no political agenda. I didn’t set out to be a politician,” George said. “It’s not like there is an agenda and I want to accomplish A, B and C. Beacon Falls is a very small town. I don’t know if politics should exist in the town. We should be people helping people.”

One of the areas that concerns George, though, is the lack of business growth downtown.

“I don’t know if the downtown exists anymore. There is really no support in town for our small businesses. Our small businesses are starving. There are not a lot of people looking to move into downtown,” George said.

George said he would look into the possibility of purchasing properties in downtown and reselling them to businesses.

“I really don’t know what a good answer is, but I know going the way we are going is not good. There is no growth. There is no reason to go to downtown,” George said.

George is also concerned about the recent revaluation that caused the town’s grand list to drop $25.1 million, necessitating an increase in the mill rate even before spending increases were factored in.

The mill rate increased 3 mills, which hit residents of Chatfield Farms, a 55 and older community, the hardest because their property values increased following the revaluation. That combined with an increase in the mill rate meant significant increases in their tax bills.

The town and administration came under heavy criticism from Chatfield Farms residents for the revaluation and the mill rate increase. In July, the town hired a second company to review the assessments of properties in Chatfield Farms, and the results were similar to the first revaluation.

George said he would consider holding a town meeting and possibly conducting another revaluation of the entire town. The most recent revaluation cost about $51,000.

“You have to get [Chatfield Farms residents] an answer. If that’s what the answer is, that’s fine,” George said.

George also said a decision needs to be made on the future of the town-owned property at 35 Wolfe Ave.

The town bought the property and home on it in 2008 with the intention of building a library and community center there. One of the champions of the project is George’s running mate, Republican Selectman Michael Krenesky.

The project never moved forward, and the house is falling into disrepair.

George said he doesn’t think the town should have bought the building or spent any money on it. He said he wants to get a consensus from residents on what the town should do with the property.

“There is no plan, there is no future. No matter what you do with that building, no matter what is decided, it’s bad money. You are never going to get the money back,” George said.

One of the issues the first selectman will face in the coming months is what will happen with the state budget and funding for towns. As of Tuesday, the legislature hadn’t adopted a state budget for the fiscal year that started in July.

One of the areas that is being debated in the budget is the Education Cost Sharing grant the state gives to municipalities to offset the cost of education. Beacon Falls and Prospect, the two towns that comprise the Region 16 school district, are facing potential cuts in their ECS grants.

No matter what happens at the state level, George said there will be an impact on the town.

“I think taxes are going up. If the state doesn’t come through with what they promised the towns, and the towns have already promised the school systems their money, the money has to come from somewhere. So don’t kid yourself, taxes are going to go up,” George said.

George said one of the issues is that Region 16 makes up a significant portion of local taxes. He said he would meet with the superintendent and Board of Education to discuss the cost of education.

“What is the cost per student we are paying and what is the value you are getting is the issue,” George said.

George said if the ECS grant is cut and the school board doesn’t cut its budget, the town may not be able to pay all the bills.

“Does it get to the point where the town doesn’t pay the education bills because you have to run the town? That may be. There may have to be drastic cuts,” George said.

George also wants to increase the number of police officers and public works employees in town.

George did not have an exact number of employees he wanted to add, but said he knew that people were tired of paying taxes without receiving a lot in return.

While increasing employees may increase the mill rate, residents would at least know what they are paying for, George said.

“It’s like going to a restaurant. If you are going to order an appetizer you know it is going to cost you money,” George said.

George said the town could help offset any future mill rate increases by using money in the reserve fund or bonding money to cover some expenses. But that would not be his first choice, George said.

“I’m not usually one to borrow money to pay off the bills. I believe you shouldn’t have the bills in the first place,” George said.

George said his main objective for running for office is to help people.

“I’m running for politics because I like to help people. I have helped people my whole life. I think we have kind of lost the fact we need to help people,” George said. “I don’t have all the answers. I can tell you that I feel that I am a choice. I am an option. If I didn’t run, who was going to run?”