First selectmen hopefuls square off
By Annie Gentile - ReminderNews
Stafford - posted Mon., Oct. 28, 2013
Four candidates for Stafford first selectman squared off in an Oct. 17 debate at the Stafford Community Center. Republican incumbent Richard Shuck took on Democratic challenger Leonard “Butch” Clark, Open Party candidate Ed “Bosco” Fowler, and unaffiliated candidate Georgia Michalec in a two-hour debate that focused heavily on stabilizing taxes and attracting new businesses to town. The latter topic was especially timely in light of the announcement the same day that longtime textile manufacturer, the Warren Company, will be closing its doors.
Each of the candidates was in agreement on the need to increase and diversify the tax base, but each emphasized different approaches. Clark favored the location and creation of a business park in town that would attract high-tech businesses offering living-wage jobs, as well as encouraging the re-development of brownfields and empty buildings and development of the area between Routes 190 and 319. Clark also said he has been in discussions with key personnel at Asnuntuck Community College in Enfield about the possibility of establishing a satellite campus at the former Witt Intermediate School.
Shuck said the cost implications for developing an industrial park would be high. Instead, he said he favored extending gas and electric utilities to already existing streets on and around Route 190 up to Johnson Memorial Hospital. “Our life blood is the 190 corridor,” said Shuck. “We don’t want to create more roads. That’s sprawl.” Shuck advocated for working with the town’s planning and zoning commission and seeking out federal tax credits to provide utilities and encourage new business in that area.
“People are talking about one thing—taxes, and it’s not just the high mill rate,” said Fowler. He said the tax problem is due to a lack of businesses locating in Stafford, and the question is who will be able to bring them into town. “We have to cut deals. [Businesses] aren’t coming to Stafford with a mill rate this high,” he said.
Fowler lamented that neighboring towns are getting a lot of Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grants that could help attract businesses, while Stafford is not. For this reason, he said he advocates a charter revision that would allow for hiring a town manager, who could also serve as a grant writer, as an investment in the community. “We’re not getting this money because we’re not applying for it,” said Fowler.
For her part, Michalec said she is also concerned about the lack of economic assistance grants being awarded to Stafford, adding that bringing in someone with experience in grant writing would end up paying for itself. “We can’t stop with a business park,” said Michalec. In her view, the town also needs an Economic Development Commission that will aggressively sell the local workforce. She also pitched the idea of supporting and enhancing existing local businesses by developing a “shop local” discount card program and finding ways to help make Stafford a destination town for the arts.
Shuck later rebutted Fowler’s claim that the town was not applying for STEAP grants.