EAST LYME — Five candidates are competing for three seats on the Board of Finance in the November 5 election. The board has a total of six members, who serve staggered four-year terms.
None of the five candidates are incumbents on the finance board, although all have served on other town boards previously, and one candidate — Peter DeRosa — served two years on the finance board, ending in 2017.
In interviews with CT Examiner, the candidates discussed their qualifications and priorities if elected. Every candidate noted that all of Connecticut is facing uncertainty about likely reductions to state funding in the years to come.
Democratic candidate Ann Cicchiello currently serves as vice chair of the Inland Wetlands Commission and has worked for 25 years as an attorney in civil litigation, workers’ compensation cases, representing municipalities in foreclosure action, and drafting contracts for large corporations.
She said she would bring to the board her experience in “solving contested legal problems, my ability to see both sides of an issue, and to be able to take and assimilate a great amount of material, condense it down, and then to be able to negotiate through that and come to a decision.”
She said that the town should look for more ways to regionalize services, as it does already with water service and animal control with Waterford.
She also noted that the finance board recently approved the purchase of a used vehicle, rather than a new one, to deliver mail for the Board of Education — a savings of $7,000. Cicchiello said that this is an example of the kind of savings that the finance board should identify.
She also said that one of the largest expenditures the town will likely make in the next finance board term is for renovations to the Honeywell building to house the police department and other emergency services, for which voters approved $5 million in a February referendum.
“I think it needs to be built to code and for functionality. The taxpayers agreed to functionality, and I think we need to have it stay within that budget and to those parameters.”
On the wetland agency, she said had also learned how to work as part of a board.
“I am very detailed. I am the person who will go through all the minutiae and really understand the issue. Because of that I’m more apt to ask the difficult questions that somebody else might overlook. I think that’s an important part of being on a board, and I also think it’s important to listen to what the people and other board members have to say.”
Democratic candidate Peter DeRosa seeks to return to the Board of Finance for his first-full term. He previously was appointed to fill a vacancy for two years on the board until 2017, when he was defeated in his first bid for a full term.
DeRosa works as a counselor serving patients with psychiatric and substance abuse disorders. Although he said that he was winding down his career, he previously worked as a manager for counseling services. In that time, he served as chair of the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce’s healthcare committee and as a member of the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Government’s human services committee.
From his time as a manager and on these boards, he said, “I know how budgets work, and I was able to apply that in the past on the Board of Finance. I think one of my skills is to pull different groups and facets together and see various sides of the issues, and be able to weigh the pros and cons and make decisions for what’s in the best interest of the town.”
While campaigning and talking with residents, DeRosa said he’s heard residents “want to maintain quality of life, maintain excellence of our schools, and not have too much development — we want to keep that in mind while making decisions.”
Given cuts to state aid, DeRosa said East Lyme will need to seek new ways to regionalize services with other towns. He said that some residents may be wary of regionalizing, but that many would come to support it when they’ve seen the savings.
Republican candidate Lawrence Fitzgerald currently serves as secretary of the town Planning Commission, vice president of the Public Library Board of Trustees, and vice chair of the Republican Town Committee.
He works as an adjunct psychology professor, having taught classes at Sacred University and Fairfield University, and prior to that he was an executive and pharmaceutical scientist, which included working for Pfizer.
Fitzgerald said he is a Bridgeport native and the first in his family to go to college, which has made him place a high value on education.
“I’m hardworking, honest, deeply care about community, deeply experienced in terms of strategic manage and finance, and have been successful in the private sector and I want to apply those skills to help a community that I love so much.”
Fitzgerald said his professional background has given him experience in managing budgets and developing productive relationships with different stakeholders and departments to manage costs.
“I’ve managed multi-million dollar budgets, scrutinized them and made tough decisions about where to spend money, asked if this was the right decision as to where we want to invest. But business is not government, and so the challenge I see is that we have to take a balanced approach to the management of our finances in East Lyme.”
He said that that balancing means weighing the interests of the schools — which attract people to move to the town — with the tax burden placed on residents, especially those with fixed incomes.
Fitzgerald added that saving costs requires attention to detail and keeping track of contracts, starting with a competitive bid process and continuing through the time that the service is provided.
“You have to stay close to the contractor to ensure they’re delivering what they say they will. I learned that from the private sector. You can’t just sign it and walk away.”
Republican candidate Matthew Kane works as a state trooper and is currently studying for a masters in public administration. He previously served a full term on the town’s Zoning Commission.
He said he could next bring his experience and understanding of town planning from the zoning board to the Board of Finance. Kane said that many towns and cities overspend and incorrectly allocate funds. The finance board’s role should be to strive for a level budget, he said, while maintaining infrastructure and residents’ quality of life.
“If we had to cut a certain budget,” Kane said, “how that would impact the quality of life for residents would be the number one question on my mind.”
He said education and public safety would be among his top priorities in funding while the town seeks to adapt to reductions in state aid.
He said that the renovations to the recently purchased Honeywell office building will be some of the town’s most significant upcoming spending, but that the renovations at the town’s elementary schools over the past year should serve the town for years to come.
During his time on the Zoning Commission, Kane was registered as a Democrat but has since switched his affiliation to Republican. He said he’s always voted by his conscience rather than on any party lines, and that board members should check their partisanship at the door before they begin their work.
“When I have to work with any team what I try to do is see somebody else’s point of view. I try to listen before I talk,” he said. “I think one thing I can do is to really try to see where someone else is coming from. We might be shooting for the same goal and just trying to get there from different ways.”
Democratic candidate Richard Steel worked for 35 years in research and development in the pharmaceutical industry, primarily for Pfizer. He said this gave him experience analyzing large sets of numbers and solving complex problems.
Steel served on the school board for three years — he was appointed to fill a vacancy, sought and won re-election in his own right — and later stepped down from the role when he took on work that required commuting daily to Massachusetts.
Drawing from his research work, Steel said, “My experience was that for each success there were probably 99 failures. My approach is to try to remain optimistic and to look for innovative solutions to challenging problems because the fiscal constraints that, not just East Lyme, but pretty much every municipality is dealing with will require different solutions from what we’ve done in the past. We need to find new ways to move forward.”
Steel said he was concerned about town leadership’s decision to purchase and renovate the former Honeywell office building into a new public safety complex, for which voters approved $5 million in a February referendum. He said that he had doubts the project could come in under budget and said the finance board was not given enough information before the vote.
“It seems that the Board of Finance was backed into a corner and told we need to do this right now… but a great deal of the renovation costs were not relayed and so consequently the town voted on a referendum to provide monies for this complex without knowing the full details of what we were voting on,” he said. The Honeywell project also concerned him because it meant taking a property off the tax rolls.
Steel said he’d like to see the Board of Finance more actively partnering with other boards and getting involved in economic development, searching for grants, and building partnership with businesses.