MONTVILLE – Democratic mayoral candidate Lenny Bunnell promised to be more transparent than his opponent, maintain communication with the public, and use his budgeting experience while advocating for more retail development to keep taxes under control.
Mayor Ronald McDaniel, a Democrat, decided to step down from the post after his current term ends, meaning Montville’s town government will have a new top executive for the first time in 12 years.
Bunnell is running against fellow town councilor and Republican Tom McNally to replace McDaniel.
Bunnell, 72, retired from Montville police in 2018 after a 42-year career, and is now an account manager for Securitas Security Services at Pfizer in Groton. He’s currently serving his second term on the Montville Town Council.
Bunnell told CT Examiner he’s been dedicated to Montville his entire adult life. He spent 20 years as a department head for the Montville Police Department, where he oversaw its $2 million operating budget, and said he knows how to budget.
“I want to stay on top of these projects, whether it be Parks and Rec, or Public Works, or Board of Ed. Any projects that are going on, I want to be more aware of how they’re developing. And if they’re delayed, I want to see what I can do to move them along,” he said. “I’ve seen delays, and it costs us money.”
In Montville’s town government system, the mayor is the administrative head of the town but doesn’t have a vote on the Town Council. Along with handling daily operations and hiring, Bunnell said he sees the role of mayor as communicating with town residents about day-to-day issues, from garbage pickup to road conditions.
He praised McDaniel’s ability to handle himself publicly amid stressful moments that come with being mayor.
“He does a remarkable job of speaking and communicating. I think I’m going to wish I had his abilities,” Bunnell said. “He’s a fair person, I think I have a lot to learn from him.”
He said his decades on the police force have provided him experience with hearing from the public. Bunnell has also seen changes to Montville in that time. When he started with the police department in 1977, Bunnell said there were only three or four traffic lights between Waterford and Norwich.
“Now we’ve got over 20, and that describes the changes. The volume of traffic has changed, the buildup on [Route] 32 alone, and then the buildup on [Route] 85. I’ve seen a lot of changes,” Bunnell said. “I can deal with change.”
One major change for Montville was the creation of an independent police department this year, something Bunnell said he’s been working on for 30 years. He said McDaniel did a good job selecting the first police chief of Montville’s newly independent police force, Wilfred Blanchette.
In his time with the Montville police, Bunnell said they had more than 30 resident troopers, sometimes for no more than a week. If they were lucky, they’d have the same trooper for a couple of years. Having one chief who works for the town is going to add needed consistency, he said, for the public and officers.
In a resident trooper town, which Montville was before creating the new department, the mayor acts as the police chief. And with police experience, Bunnell said he plans to be involved with Blanchette on a daily basis.
“I want to keep updated on what’s been going on, what happened the night before, keeping an eye on the budget with the chief. Any changes or issues that might arise where they need some help, I want to be a part of that,” Bunnell said. “I think I’m in a good position to help.”
Bunnell said other positive developments in Montville in recent years are the approval of a new fishing pier and boat launch on Dock Road, and a bipartisan effort on the council to bond the road improvement costs.
“Yeah it costs, but everything costs,” Bunnell said. “I think the road improvements that we continue to do, that we already did, are a major accomplishment.”
Bunnell also touched on the “slow, steady” growth along Route 85, noting that attracting more development is key to getting the town’s property taxes under control.
“I plan on making sure that our Planning and Zoning Department has all the tools necessary to attract economic development, and that will help us control the taxes, bring some businesses, and bring some jobs,” he said. “That may sound like rhetoric, but that’s my goal.”
Generally, Bunnell said, Montville needs more business development.
“That’s where we get the maximum bang for our buck, when you get some box stores or any kind of commercial development where there’s property available,” he said. “We need to reap more of the trickle down effects from the traffic the casino brings into town.”
He said the town can support more traffic from retail stores, and credited former longtime Town Planner Marcia Vlaun with building up Route 85 and the Montville Commons. The town needs to continue that progress, he said, adding that he has “every bit of faith” in current Town Planner Liz Burdick’s ability to do that.
While more development can raise the grand list and lower taxes, Bunnell said hard choices must also be made on town spending.
He said budget problems arise when the council tries to please everyone at the expense of taxpayers, who he said saw an average increase of $200 on their household property tax bills this year.
When Democrats held the majority during the first two years he was on the council, Bunnell said they lowered the tax rate by 0.13 mills in 2020 and another 0.63 mills in 2021.
The mill rate decreased again by 5.04 mills in 2022 under the Republican-led council, before increasing 1.07 mills this year. Bunnell said a Democrat-controlled council could have done better.
“In order for that to be done, I have to have the support of my team,” Bunnell said. “The Democrats need to control the Town Council. And between them and myself, we can get a grip on the spending that has been going on the past three years.”