Elizabeth Sabilia, candidate for First Selectman of Waterford

Sabilia Emphasizes Tax Base, Infrastructure, Fire Services in Run for First Selectman

in Elections/Waterford

WATERFORD — If elected first selectman, Democratic candidate Beth Sabilia said her top priorities will be diversifying the town’s tax base, improving the town’s infrastructure and streamlining fire services.

“I’ve been out knocking on doors and asking people what are your concerns and I hear ‘taxes, infrastructure, security, public safety issues,’” said Sabilia, in an interview at her office on September 24 with CT Examiner.

“We have the big 800-pound gorilla, meaning Millstone, which is under the 10-year agreement,” she said. “Bear in mind that merchant nuclear plants are historically getting out of the business, they’re being retired early. It’s all going to come down to dollars and cents.”

Sabilia grew up in Waterford as a self-described “Oswatchgee kid.” She graduated from Waterford High School in 1987, earned a B.A. from University of Massachusetts Boston in 1992 and her J.D. from Suffolk University Law School in 1997. She moved in New London for about 13 years and returned to Waterford about 10 years ago. She is married and has two children ages 13 and 14 and two stepchildren ages 24 and 27.

In Waterford, Sabilia has served twice on the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) and the Board of Finance. She is a former mayor of New London and was a member of the city’s Board of Education and the Housing Authority.

Sabilia emphasized that Waterford needs to plan for economic diversity in order to stabilize its tax base should Millstone be shuttered.

“We have the big 800-pound gorilla, meaning Millstone, which is under the 10-year agreement,” she said. “Bear in mind that merchant nuclear plants are historically getting out of the business, they’re being retired early. It’s all going to come down to dollars and cents.”

She was in favor of using the Millstone as a bridge to renewables but said she was concerned the town hadn’t formulated a solid strategy.

“There are things that can be done if you use creative ideas. For instance, the Crystal Mall area has zoning that is available to perhaps repurpose the building in some way that someone would find attractive. What is being done in other communities, for instance, is building a component of residential and mixed use housing,” she said.

“I’m not sure we have long enough at Millstone to make that bridge, so we need to start planning now — it’s a third of our tax base,” she said.

Diversifying the tax base is critical because the town continues to rely on “nuclear and bricks-and-mortar retail,” she said.

“There are things that can be done if you use creative ideas. For instance, the Crystal Mall area has zoning that is available to perhaps repurpose the building in some way that someone would find attractive. What is being done in other communities, for instance, is building a component of residential and mixed use housing,” she said.

With the tremendous growth at Electric Boat, Sabilia said most of the industry’s supply chain is located in the western part of the state but could be brought here.

“It makes no sense to me in terms of our transportation woes, and the fact that we’ve got Norwich Tech, Grasso Tech, the Workforce Investment Board — we’ve got all of the right pieces here. It’s just a matter of making it an attractive community to locate and aggressively looking out for the supply chains, for those engineering firms that supply contracts,” she said.

In light of the big changes she said are needed, Sabilia advocated for “beefing up our planning staff” and potentially hiring a director of economic development. “It’s an investment,” she said.

Sabilia also said the town’s roads were in rough shape and needed repairs.

“Our roads are crumbling. Without bike paths and roads that are in good condition, it’s not an attractive place for investment. We need to make repairs,” she said.

Public safety is a top priority, specifically the town’s fire services, and requires leadership from the first selectman, said Sabilia.

“But one of the significant issues we face is there has been an absolute and utter silence out of the executive branch about how it wants to see the fire services run.”

“Right now, fire services are disorganized,” she said. “Ten years ago, the Charter Commission abolished Board of Fire Commissioners, invested the authority with a chief executive officer — a director of fire services to oversee our volunteer and paid professional staff. We’ve never had a unified command, a unified system.”

As a member of the Public Protection and Safety Standing Committee of the RTM, Sabilia said it took 18 months for the group to write a new ordinance to say there is one Waterford Fire Department overseen by the director of fire services. The town currently contracts with five private fire companies and Waterford Ambulance but the director of fire services has the ability to set standards and standard operating procedures, she said.

“There’s been tremendous backlash — people say we’re trying to take their fire departments away, which we can’t do, they’re private companies. People say we’re trying to make the director accountable to no one — of course he’s accountable to the Board of selectmen and the Chief Executive Officer,” she said. “But one of the significant issues we face is there has been an absolute and utter silence out of the executive branch about how it wants to see the fire services run.”

Sabilia said that neither her opponent, Selectman Rob Brule, nor First Selectman Daniel Steward has appeared at a single Public Protection and Safety meeting and the lack of leadership has negatively impacted the community.

“They’ve never said what the problem is and what needs to be done. Instead, it’s all been through one or two members of the RTM that saw that there was an issue and referred it to Public Protection and Safety,” she said. “Not a single comment has come out of the executive branch about what should be done. That lack of leadership has led to tremendous distrust, the communication has completely broken down.”

Sabilia encouraged voters to take a realistic view of Waterford’s diversity and to find ways to include voices from every group and social strata.

“Our school system has 15 different languages. One quarter of kids are on free and reduced lunch. One third are Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed (ALICE),” she said. “So, when you start looking at those economic markers and cultural markers and you look around the power structures, for the beliefs and the concept of what Waterford is, it starts to look a little hollow.”

In order to create a more sustainable community, the entire community needs to buy in, she said.

“I think Waterford needs to turn the corner by opening discussions about our future, continuing to pretend that Waterford hasn’t changed and won’t be changing in the future does a disservice to our residents and puts us in jeopardy”

“Otherwise we’re going to continue to deny workforce housing, we’re going to continue to deny taking proactive steps to take care of our environment, we’re going to deny that our roads and infrastructure need work, we’re going to deny the fact that in 10 years we may not have Millstone — more than likely we will not,” she said. “People are entitled to know what the economic realities are.”

Regarding affordable housing, of which Waterford has about three percent, Sabilia said leaders need to engage in “what affordable housing means to people.”

“Being able to live in the town where you were raised and contribute as a young professional or as an aging person with a lot of wisdom and a lot of things to give is incredibly important for the community to be vital,” she said.

“I think Waterford needs to turn the corner by opening discussions about our future, continuing to pretend that Waterford hasn’t changed and won’t be changing in the future does a disservice to our residents and puts us in jeopardy,” she said. “Getting those discussions moving is paramount, ensuring that we have a livable community for working people making $25 per hour and for people aging in place.”