By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer
NAUGATUCK — The race in the 70th House District will be a contested one for the first time in more than 10 years.
Republican state Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, 44, of Naugatuck, is seeking her sixth term representing the district, which covers most of Naugatuck. She was first elected to the House in a special election in 2009.
Rebimbas, who is married and has two daughters, said she is running for the same reason she sought the seat 11 years ago.
“…To serve and give back to the community that I grew up in, live in, have a business in and currently raising a family in,” Rebimbas said.
Rebimbas is facing a challenge for the first time since 2009. Democrat Stephen Samela, 33, of Naugatuck, is challenging the longtime incumbent in the Nov. 3 election.
Samela, who is married and a member of the Board of Finance, said he knew he wanted to be involved in the community where he and his wife settled down. He feels that the 70th House District has been overlooked by the state when it comes to aid with economic development and schools.
“There’s that disconnect between the Valley and Naugatuck and Hartford,” Samela said. “I think that we need someone to go up there to represent us, to work with the state government and work within the system, so that Hartford doesn’t have to be our enemy.”
Rebimbas has a bachelor’s degree in political science and education from Fairfield University. She graduated from the S.J. Quinney College of Law and is an attorney with an office in Naugatuck.
Rebimbas said creating jobs and making Connecticut more business-friendly are her top priorities.
“Now for Naugatuck to that effect, we should be making sure that the businesses that we currently have are able to be served in the way that they could obviously not only be maintained here but hopefully continue to grow in their services,” Rebimbas said.
Rebimbas said developable land in the borough along the Naugatuck River needs to be marketed for smart and sustainable mixed-use developments of housing, retail and commercial.
“It really should be a mix use of housing, retail, services, and that’s how we can create jobs here in Naugatuck,” she said.
Borough officials have been working toward developing the vacant parking lot, which borders the Naugatuck River, next to the Naugatuck Event Center downtown into a proposed transit-oriented development.
Samela received a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in applied behavioral analysis and autism at The Sage Colleges in New York. He is a board certified behavior analyst at Connecticut Behavioral Health in Cheshire.
Samela said lowering Naugatuck’s high tax rate is a priority for him. He feels he can do it in Hartford by securing investments from the state to improve the Waterbury branch of the Metro-North Railroad and help develop vacant properties in Naugatuck.
“In Naugatuck, we need to grow our way out of it because the little cuts and things that people on the finance board or burgesses propose, that’s not going to help ease the tax burden on us in a significant way, but we can grow our way out of it,” Samela said.
Samela said a statewide tax rate on cars based on the average tax rates could also help to reduce taxes in the borough. He said this would increase tax rates in towns with lower mill rates, while lowering taxes in municipalities with higher rates. He said the state could redistribute funds to municipalities that would lose tax revenue.
“We (Naugatuck) would be getting what we would normally be getting in car taxes except it’s not all coming out of our pockets,” he said. “We’re able to share statewide resources.”
The Waterbury rail line runs about 27 miles from Waterbury to Bridgeport through the Naugatuck Valley. A multi-million-dollar project to upgrade the Waterbury branch, including signalization, positive train control, and sidings that allow for two-way train service, is expected to be complete next year.
Local officials have been pushing the state for more rail cars to provide more frequent and reliable service on the rail line, which they feel is key to economic development in the Valley.
Rebimbas, who co-chairs the legislature’s Waterbury Rail Line Caucus, said creating jobs and attracting people to Naugatuck is tied to improving transportation and additional service on the Waterbury line.
“We’re fortunate that right now the work is underway currently to make that happen,” Rebimbas said.
She said more frequent rail service on the Waterbury branch will also help alleviate some congestion on the state’s highways.
If elected, Samela said he will be bipartisan and represent Naugatuck, not the Democratic Party.
“I don’t have any grand political ambitions. I really just want to go there (Hartford) and work with whoever I need to work with and get something done here to make our lives better, make our environment cleaner, make our taxes lower and improve our schools,” Samela said.
If reelected, Rebimbas said she is here to stay and advocate for the voters.
“This is not something I’m looking to do for as a step up for something else. I’m vested in Naugatuck,” Rebimbas said. “I have families and friends in Naugatuck and I intend to make sure that Naugatuck goes in the right path.”