By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer
BEACON FALLS — First Selectman Gerard Smith is looking to earn his second straight term — and third overall — in the town’s highest political seat.
Smith, 60, said he is running for re-election to finish projects he started over the last two years and to continue to serve residents.
“It’s continuing to rebuild the infrastructure, primarily our road paving program,” said Smith, who is married with two boys and three grandchildren. “We’re in the midst of still continuing and moving forward continuing with the upgrades of the waste water facility.”
Smith, who is unaffiliated, won the seat as a petitioning candidate in 2019. He previously served as first selectman from 2011 to 2013 under the Republican Party. This year, Smith formed the Beacon Falls First party and is leading the party’s ticket, which has aligned with Republicans in town.
Smith is facing a challenge from Democrat Peter Betkoski, a former selectman. With only one selectman candidate on the ballot this year, the loser of the first selectman race will automatically win the second selectman seat, if he wants it.
Smith said he would probably still serve on the Board of Selectmen, if he lost the race.
Smith, who is a construction manager for Stone Harbour Construction and an independent insurance agent, also previously served as selectman for one term, and as chairman for the Board of Finance and the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Infrastructure improvements have been a focal point for the town over the past two years. In 2020, voters approved bonding up to $6 million — $5 million for the road repairs and $1 million for upgrades to the waste water treatment plant.
Two large projects — reopening a closed section of Burton Road and the reconstruction of Beacon Valley Road — are moving ahead.
Smith said the bond package was absolutely the right move for the town.
“With the current (interest) rates that are available today, it was the only way without putting the burden directly on the taxpayers to get the roads done. (Interest) rates are historically as low as they’ve ever been and I don’t see them going any lower,” said Smith, who noted the town has also received $4.8 million in grants for infrastructure work.
When it comes to economic development, Smith said he plans to continue working with the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments to bring business into town.
Through NVCOG, Smith said the town has hired Town Planner Keith Rosenfeld and Savannah-Nicole Villalba, a regional municipal planner, who both will work closely with the NVCOG’s newly formed regional economic development commission. Smith said they will help search out and attract businesses to Beacon Falls and have a greater reach through the COG.
Smith said commercial development is key to growing the town’s grand list.
Smith said there is a local large business planning to expand its footprint into Beacon Falls, but he declined to name the company or give any specifics. He said the project likely wouldn’t be approved for one to two years.
“If approved, it will significantly improve and increase the grand list,” Smith said. Housing development can also increase the grand list. The issue has been a hot topic of late with the pending proposal from Hopp Brook Developers to build 109 homes on land off Oakwood Drive near the Bethany border. The proposal sets aside 30% of the homes for people who earn 80% or 60% of the median income in the surrounding area.
Smith said proposed housing developments should be taken on a case-by-case basis.
“All development can be beneficial if done properly and with thought toward the community it’s looking to develop in,” Smith said.
If re-elected, Smith said one of his top priorities will be to keep his administration in place to continue with what has been accomplished over the past two years.
“I can’t give enough credit to them and I look to give them the tools that they need to continue,” Smith said.
Smith said his other top priorities focus on public safety. He said he wants to hire more police officers in town and ensure that Beacon Hose Co. No. 1 has the resources it needs. He said plans to do this by giving the police department more funding for personnel and providing the fire department with safe and up-to-date equipment.
As Election Day draws closer, Smith said he’s been honored to serve as first selectman.
“I hope that they (residents) value the improvements that I brought to town, the openness of the office, my availability, and my willingness to listen and to move all of the projects forward in a financially sound matter,” Smith said.