BEACON FALLS — Gerard Smith is running for first selectman because he thinks he can make a positive change in Beacon Falls.
Smith, the Republican candidate for first selectman, is the former chair of the Board of Finance and Planning and Zoning Commission, and a former selectman. He felt his experience allows him to understand both the financial and managerial aspects of town government.
“I feel I am very well prepared to lead the town,” Smith said.
Smith said his government would be transparent and he would govern without emotion or favoritism to bring people together for the betterment of the town. And, he said he’ll take a proactive and not reactive approach to making plans.
Smith, who has lived in town for 25 years, is the managing director for transaction services at Grubb and Ellis Co., a commercial real estate broker. He previously spent 20 years in the mortgage banking industry, he said.
Throughout his campaign, Smith’s critics have pointed to his resignation from the finance board during this year’s budget preparations.
Smith said he left the board because of work obligations. He said he timed his departure to be after a bonding package and before putting together the budget so as not to disrupt the flow of business.
“I view it as a non-issue,” he said.
When he previously served as selectman, Smith said he put in 40 hours a week on town business.
“I am fully well aware of the time and commitment that’s required to run (the town), but I believe as a manager, if you can effectively manage your managers, the town will run as it’s designed to run,” Smith said.
If elected, Smith said he plans to take inventory of the town’s assets, including roads and capital equipment and come up with a comprehensive plan to replace outdated equipment and repave failing roads.
“I think that’s why your $10 million referendum got defeated, because there is not a plan … $10 million was a number that was, I believe, picked out of the sky,” Smith said about a recent referendum to repair town roads.
The town needs to do a better job explaining to voters why town vehicles have to be replaced and what will happen if big expenditures are pushed off from year to year, Smith said.
“We can plan out three years, five years. We don’t do that now. We put a budget together in February for June,” Smith said.
Smith said his experience working on the Board of Finance will help him in preparing the next budget.
“If there’s anything that’s questionable whether we can or cannot do it, it won’t be done,” Smith said.
When it comes to attracting businesses to Beacon Falls, Smith said he is ready to revamp the Economic Development Commission.
Smith said he’d like to get some new business owners on the commission and wants to work in a more aggressive manor to showcase the industrial park and the town. As a business broker, Smith said he understands the needs and desires of businesses.
“I understand the economy is tough, but there is still activity out there,” Smith said.
One of the larger projects the town is currently undergoing is the streetscape project downtown.
Smith said the project, which broke ground in July, will be beautiful but will not help attract businesses because the project will reduce downtown parking.
Smith also criticized the way the project was funded.
The town’s share of the project is $205,120. Smith said money from the sale of the Grange was supposed to be divided between the streetscape and the proposed media center. Instead, the $50,000 from the sale all went to the streetscape. He also said the project is still $15,000 short.
“I believe it’s a case of poor planning, starting a project that wasn’t fully funded, and putting $205,000 on Main Street that could have been put somewhere else,” Smith said.
Smith pointed to the town’s purchase of the Wolfe Avenue property as another example of a failure to plan everything through.
“We bought a building with no vision and no plan. Everybody thought they were buying a $400,000 building, not realizing that it was going to cost $3 to $4 million. Where was this money going to come from?” Smith said.
At this point, he said, razing the building would be fiscally irresponsible and the town can’t afford the new media center planned for the property. He said the building on the property could be used for other functions, such as municipal offices or storage, without having to do many renovations other than mold abatement and adding fire doors.
“We’ll be able to do a lot of things once we have cash flow,” Smith said.
Smith said he could still meet the needs of the town without spending money on projects like the streetscape and media center. He felt the library functions well in Town Hall and people would rather have lower taxes than a nice community center.
“We could keep that capital closer to the vest, keep that money inside the budget. We wouldn’t be raising taxes, which would definitely meet the needs of the public,” Smith said.
To help keep expenditures down, Smith said he would also look to use organizations like The Lions Club and Rotary International to complete projects that can be done with volunteer work rather than paying contractors.
“That’s what they like to do, to give back to the community,” Smith said.
If elected, Smith said he would also encourage residents to come to town meetings and participate during public comment.
“When the conversations get a little tough, instead of shutting down and not opening up, I will have public comment at the beginning and the end of all meetings,” Smith said.
For more information about the Republican slate for Beacon Falls, go to http://www.beaconfallsgop.org/ .