NAUGATUCK — The campaign for the mayor’s office is all about bringing change to Naugatuck for the borough’s youngest burgess.
“I decided to run because a lot of people were talking about the town needs change,” said Republican Alex Olbrys, who is in his first term as burgess.
Olbrys, 23, is one of three Republicans seeking to lead the ticket into the November election. Seth Bronko earned the Republican Town Committee’s endorsement. Olbrys and Deputy Mayor Tamath Rossi petitioned to force a primary. The three will vie for the top spot on the Republican ticket in a Sept. 16 primary.
The winner of the Republican primary will run against Democrat N. Warren “Pete” Hess, a Naugatuck attorney, for the mayor’s seat in November.
Olbrys said he decided to run for mayor after seeing what other young mayors were doing around the state.
“I looked at what Erin Stewart was able to do in New Britain and what Ryan Bingham was able to do in Torrington, and I said, ‘You know, you’re never too young to make a good change,’” Olbrys said.
Olbrys, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history from Southern Connecticut State University and works as a customer service manager at Walmart, said he knows what the average person is going through.
“I’ve got student loans I’m paying, a car payment, insurance, and my mother runs a single-parent household right now. I see the struggles she goes through. So, I see what the taxpayers are going through,” Olbrys said.
Olbrys said his experience as a customer service manager will also serve him well as mayor.
“Being a manager at Walmart I have learned how to build a team and lead the team to do what needs to get do, which is what a mayor needs to do,” Olbrys said.
When asked how he would approach the budget, Olbrys pointed to the borough’s wastewater treatment plant. The plant is run by Veolia Water, which has a contract with the borough until 2022.
“One of the first things I would look to do is to take the sewage plant out of the budget, and either make it its own separate entity or go to another regional authority. Naugatuck is one of three towns that does not have a sewage use fee. So, if you take that number out of the budget you reduce the mill rate by two to three mills, but the residents are going to get a sewage tax,” Olbrys said.
By charging sewer usage fees, he said, the borough would put the costs on those who use the sewage system.
Olbrys said he would recommend selling the plant to a regional authority because of the upcoming multi-million dollar upgrades that are mandated. He added the borough could use the money from the sale of the plant to offset its bonds, and lower the mill rate.
Olbrys said the borough needs to find different ways to market itself, and do it more often, in order to spur economic development.
“We are between New Haven and Hartford. We have the Naugatuck State Forest, which more people are hiking in, biking in or kayaking in the [Naugatuck] River. So, you have all the pieces there to make Naugatuck boom, it’s just really marketing it the right way,” Olbrys said.
Olbrys also wants to offer tax incentives to companies to have them come to the borough. He pointed out that New Britain was able to secure CostCo Wholesale, a wholesale retailor, by offering tax incentives.
“Even if they are only paying half of what they should pay, they are paying half more than we were getting in the first place,” Olbrys said.
Redevelopment of the borough’s downtown has been in flux since the contract ran out on the Renaissance Project in 2012. Officials are currently working with developers to revive downtown, including Parcel C, the vacant lot at the corner of Maple and Water streets. However, a shovel has yet to break ground.
Olbrys agrees with the current plan for mixed-use development downtown. However, he believes the General DataComm building on Rubber Avenue should remain a warehouse space.
Seymour-based developer Joseph Migani had proposed turning the building into apartments and studios for artists, and was given a development option by the borough to pursue that project. Earlier this year the borough chose not to extend the option.
“We tried the artist space and it really is a warehouse building. If you could market that to a company like a large retailor to have them use that as a huge retail space you can employ a lot of people. Then those people go out downtown and they are eating at the shops, and now the downtown becomes more marketable for somebody to put little retail booths in because you have a huge employer in the town,” Olbrys said.
Olbrys, who graduated from Naugatuck High School five years ago, said that education in the borough gets a bad rap because it is an Alliance District, a designation for the 30 lowest performing districts in the state. Olbrys said he would like to see Naugatuck partner with local colleges and universities to run programs with students.
“We have a lot of brownfield sites in the borough, so to do some kind of environmental studies programs on those sites in partnership with those universities I think would be really cool. The students would get out of the school, they’d see what kind of environmental work could be done, and they would see it in their own town. It’s not something they are reading in a textbook or seeing in a faraway picture,” Olbrys said.
Olbrys feels cleaning up the borough is a vital step to improving the image of Naugatuck.
“We have to focus on making everything look good because that’s another key component. If you go into a town and it just doesn’t look nice you are not going to want to move there or move your business there,” Olbrys said. “One of the ways to address it is to do a lot of volunteer efforts, like volunteer trash cleanup days, volunteer street cleanups.”
As Republicans prepare to head to the polls, Olbrys said his message to voters is that running a borough takes a community, and he will stick to his 11 points he laid out in his campaign, which include education, taxes and business.
“If I’m elected mayor that’s what I’m going to focus on, taking everybody’s ideas from the community and moving the community forward. My 11 points didn’t just come from me, they came from a lot of conversation with people at Walmart, people at commissions,” Olbrys said.
For more information on Olbrys’ campaign, visit www.alexolbrysformayor.com.