This is the third of many articles on the Clinton Patch that will provide a closer look at the candidates running for municipal office this November.
In this series, the candidates for the office of first selectman were asked the same question: What are the top three issues/challenges you feel face the town of Clinton right now and what are your preliminary plans to address each issue?
Here is write-in Independent candidate Vincent Cimino's response:
My thanks to Patch for providing this forum so that readers may decide which candidate "get's it" and, in the end, gets their vote. I intend to be very clear and specific in my responses.
The top 3 issues that Clinton faces right now go hand in hand with each other.
First, the residents and businesses have been severely overtaxed, primarily for two reasons; wasteful spending and a steadily decreasing grand list. The tax burden on residents and businesses must be reduced. During the last budget hearings, we heard resident after resident say that they were being forced to move, in some cases after spending their entire life in Clinton. They just can't afford the taxes. Clinton has the highest mill rate in the area and that results in unreasonable taxes. The other two candidates voted for every budget increase but we did a great job of defeating those irresponsible budgets the last two years. Taxes must be lowered.
Next, absolutely no effort has been made by the current administration to attract new business or create an environment that promotes business growth. We do not have a comprehensive plan for the town and our land use boards and commissions continue to make senseless decisions. Right now, the Planning and Zoning Commission is suing the Zoning Board of Appeals because their decisions have contradicted each other.
Finally, my first priority as First Selectman will always be health and safety. The current administration has chosen to ignore the clear solution to the wastewater issue that has plagued Clinton for decades. Also, the current administration hasn't done anything to prevent Attorney Watts from creating an inherently dangerous situation by using the police emergency driveway for his proposed 10,000 sq. ft office building.
My plans to address these important issues would also go hand in hand. Joining the Regional Health District a few years ago resulted in our expense for that department going from approximately $75,000 to over $200,000 annually. At the town meeting when this change was proposed, I predicted this would happen. Like so many other important matters, there was very little publicity and, consequently, a pitifully small group of people attended. The change was pushed through. We no longer have an in-house sanitarian and staff. Now, that office is in Old Saybrook. Greater expense, less convenience. You will all remember the first action by the Regional Health District was to send out a threatening letter concerning mandatory septic system pump-outs. We filled the auditorium and let it be known that we would not tolerate such tactics.
Meanwhile, the best tool we had in developing a plan for our future was our Town Planner, Jay Northrup. Mr. Northrup was highly qualified and worked tirelessly with the Economic Development Commission, of which I was a member, P&Z, ZBA and other boards, commissions, departments and committees. Just as we were developing plans for downtown, the west end, the east end and the town as a whole, Mr. Northrup was let go, allegedly because the town couldn't afford a planner. I say the town can't afford not to have a planner. Some of our top commercial taxpayers have packed up and left. More will follow if we don't improve the business environment, lower our mill rate and create a comprehensive plan of development. A genuine effort must be made to make our town more attractive to business.
As First selectman, I will advocate withdrawal from the Regional Health District, which is our option at any time. We would then hire an in-house sanitarian and a part-time assistant. Our budget for the department would be $80,000. With the savings resulting from that change, we would rehire Mr. Northrup or, if he is no longer available, another professional Town Planner. I predict an overall savings of as much as $50,000 per year after taking these two steps. We would then have the necessary guidance and coordination that Mr. Northrup provided and an in-house sanitarian that will certainly provide greater service at less expense.
One reason, I believe, that the wastewater issue is still out there is that some people want it to stay out there. More than $500,000 was spent on a comprehensive study that identified the Sciongay property as clearly the best solution. Years ago, while Jim McCusker was still First Selectman, the decision was made to acquire the Sciongay property via eminent domain. When Fritz took office, he announced that DEP decided the Sciongay property was not suitable, but that wasn't true. The real problem seems to be that the Sciongay property sits across the lake from DTC chairman Larry Ouellette's home and Larry is determined to prevent the Sciongay property from ever being used for wastewater treatment. So, here we are years later, spending countless dollars evaluating hundreds of other properties when there is a clear, viable solution. Please take the time to go to town hall and ask to see the study. The solution will be clear. Implementing a limited wastewater plan revolving around the Sciongay property would allowed increased, controlled development, which the town sorely needs in order to remove some of the unnecessarily heavy tax burden from residents' shoulders. There is government funding available for senior housing, water treatment and open space, all of which could be utilized to offset the purchase price for the Sciongay property.
Who else might like the wastewater issue to remain out there unresolved? How about septic businesses? Do you suppose unaddressed septic issues might be beneficial to septic construction and cleaning companies? Let's see which candidates come down in favor of the Sciongay property solution and which do not.
I will continue to make residents aware of the bizarre attempts by Attorney Watts to gain approval to use the police driveway as his own. P&Z unanimously denied his application last year but he has submitted another application that didn't get a public hearing. I trust that P&Z will deny the application again but please attend that meeting if you can. We owe it our police department and our citizens to protect them from unnecessary danger.
Regarding the wasteful spending by the current administration, the current First Selectman, in accordance with the town charter, must repay the town for his unilateral, unapproved over expenditure on the Clinton Landing project. That figure currently sits at more than $220,000. As First Selectman, I will begin the process of recouping those funds for the town.
How many appraisals have been done on the Camp Hadar property? For what reason? Because Arthur Isaacson has forged a friendship with the owner and wants us to give his friend money? Who cares what Arthur Isaacson wants? All of those appraisals indicate a market value that is at least 50% less than the demanded price of $3.3 million. The town has no use for and can't afford Arthur Isaacson's friend's property. Yet, the Board of Selectmen just approved another $11,000 on feasibility studies for senior housing on the Camp Hadar property, which would be followed by $45,000 for "preliminary design" work. Camp Hadar is not a suitable location for senior housing. It's not convenient to shopping and town services. Its location up in the hills would present difficulties for emergency rescue vehicles as well as public transportation. As First Selectman, I will immediately put the idea of senior housing at Camp Hadar to town vote, along with a second option of senior housing on the Sciongay property, which is much closer to the town center and far more conducive to senior housing. By the way, have you ever seen any appraisals of the parcels of land that were "swapped' in the Watts deal? You won't either because none were ever done. Interesting, isn't it?
A lot of money is being spent on plans for an imaginary new high school building at a yet-to-be-determined site. The town has never voted that it wants a new high school building. As First Selectman, I will quickly put the new high school proposal to a town vote as well, along with a second option of phased-in remodeling of the current Morgan School.
The town has far too much money sitting in reserve, partially due to the fact that it borrowed more funds than it needed. Our new Finance Director uncovered more than a million dollars sitting in accounts that the town was paying interest on. Those funds must be used to reduce the cost of approved future projects or returned to the taxpayers. Board of Education surpluses must also be returned to the town. It's not their money; it's yours.
In Clinton, we have a town meeting form of government. As First Selectman, I'll make sure that important financial matters are well publicized and decisions are be made by the residents, not the Board of Selectmen. In the past, the selectmen have been allowed to make irresponsible decisions that only increased taxes. During the Fritz administration, taxes increased steadily every year. As First Selectman, my goal will be to lower taxes in general by 10% over two years. I will never forget that I work for you.