With April 27’s special election less than a week away, the three candidates looking for a six-month position on the Board of Selectmen are ramping up their campaigns and looking to secure their individual platforms.
Signs for current Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark, Board of Finance member Marty Heiser and Independent Party member Tony DiPreta line the streets of Ridgefield.
Wednesday night at the library, Heiser and DiPreta spoke at an informal event organized by the Rotary Club of Ridgefield about some of the issues they hope to address if elected to the position – Kozlark did not attend the forum due to a miscommunication, according to both her and Rotary Club member Alex Karasanidi.
Heiser introduced themselves to the small crowd in the Dayton Room before answering a few questions from Karasinidi and a some from the audience.
Both Heiser and DiPreta spoke about running Ridgefield more like a business to save the taxpayers money and to make town government more sustainable.
“Job number one is, we need to have a business-friendly environment,” Heiser said. “The branding of Ridgefield is one of the most important things we can do.”
DiPreta mentioned bringing more people into town to start and shop at stores.
“What I would do here is find out what people need,” DiPreta said. “Bring shoppers in from other towns – advertise it.”
DiPreta also spoke about creating a balance in government between “everything in Ridgefield” to make sure taxes aren’t raised for individual groups of people.
To the same question posed by Dom D’Addario, Heiser said sitting on the Board of Finance has given him a “thick skin.”
“In Ridgefield, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts,” Heiser said. “We’ve got a great school system and one of the lowest crime rates in the state – but I would absolutely want to keep Ridgefield affordable for the people in Ridgefield.”
The biggest problem in Ridgefield, Heiser said, is “navigating through the tough economy we’re in.”
DiPreta agreed, saying also that drug and alcohol abuse among teenagers is an under-discussed issue.
A recent decision by the Selectmen’s current board came under fire by Heiser in particular: The town is switching insurance brokers from HD Segur (the MIRMA mess) to a local company, Carnall Insurance, which was not the lowest bidder among three companies vying for the account.
“It was a terrible decision,” Heiser said. “Yes, they’re local, but it doesn’t mean you go with the more expensive carrier – it’s not a private-sector mindset, and that type of attitude costs the taxpayers.”
Both Heiser and DiPreta spoke about their positions against surcharges at the schools, both in general and for the pay-to-play program implemented for high school athletics.
“It’s not a good idea,” DiPreta said of charging families for athletics. “It’s not fair for kids who can’t afford it.”
“If a school decides to have sports programs, the school should be in it all the way,” Heiser said. “Where does it end? Do we start charging when someone needs the fire department, or if someone uses the roads?”
One particular issue that divided the two was the idea to close an elementary school at some point to save the town money.
Heiser said, “We need to be prepared and ready to close a school once we reach the (enrollment) number 2000.”
DiPreta stood against closing a school and offered to look at other alternatives in the budget.
The small showing represented a town on spring break, but next week’s election will mark a return to business as usual for Ridgefield.