KILLINGWORTH – It was standing room only Wednesday night at the Killingworth Fire Department, as the three nominees for first selectman addressed key issues facing the town — particularly chemicals found in local waters, affordability and road safety.
Moderator Elise Lowe, of the League of Women Voters of East Shore, kicked off the forum by asking candidates to describe the biggest challenges for Killingworth going forward.
“Making sure people are able to live in town is critical,” Democrat Eric Couture said. “I don’t see a reason to increase the mill rate right off the bat.”
If elected, he said he’d work to get grants from the state to address capital improvements for town roads and schools, making sure to do so in a “thoughtful and prospective manner.”
Part of affordability, he added, is providing affordable housing without disrupting the town’s rural character.
“We love our rural character,” he said. “When I think of affordable housing, I think of the small starter homes that a little family can live in or a family can downsize to.”
He said the town needs to look at technologies to help them build small homes that fit within Killingworth’s water and conservation plan.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but we can definitely address affordability in this town,” he said.
Killingworth Conservative Party candidate John Samperi, who also served as a councilman at-large and fire commissioner in West Haven, touted his record of keeping the tax rate down.
“It’s not like I need on the job training,” he said. “I’ve served in many capacities before. On day one, we’re up and running. Nothing gets by me as far as money, over expenditures or under expenditures. You will get everything I promised and every penny you spend, you will see it when you drive along those roads.”
Samperi said an important factor of affordability is housing, pointing out that local children are going to need a place to live after they grow up.
“Eventually, you have to start to look at where will this next generation live?” he said.
Republican Amy Perry said the mill rate has been steady and the town has a “very good capital 10-year plan.”
“We’ve been planning for things,” she said. “We should be able to maintain what we have. Things are going to come off that we’ve been paying for, and we’re going to have more bonding that we’re going to need to do. I don’t perceive a tragic increase, but it also depends on what you vote on to have us do.”
Regarding a possible high school renovation or construction of a new building, Perry said such a project could affect affordability in town.
“I’m concerned that to take it down and rebuild it, that will be an awfully expensive project,” she said, adding that she hopes engineers can save part of the building and cut expenses. i
With aging infrastructure, particularly at the high school, Couture said the next first selectman will need to work with the regional school district to ensure the cost of renovating or replacing the building is affordable for taxpayers.
Another major concern for all three candidates was the discovery of per- and polyfluorinated substances, or PFAS, in the waters around the firehouse, Town Hall and the elementary school.
PFAS, a group of 4,700 chemicals found in cookware, firefighting foam and food packaging, have been linked to high blood pressure, changes in liver enzymes, increased risk of certain types of cancer, and low infant birth rates, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Samperi said the town needs to rethink how it’s addressing PFAS.
“Filter systems, people never take care of them,” he said, suggesting a water reserve be installed in town instead of neighboring towns like Clinton.
Couture said cleaning PFAS is going to be difficult.
“Filtering, it is difficult,” he said. “But it can be done.”
He noted that other towns have systems designed to treat PFAS contamination and that Killingworth should consult with experts as well. He said working with state officials would be necessary to bring funding in to address the issues.
Perry said that Beechwood, a 55+ living community, already has filters in place to take care of PFAS, but with large bodies of water like the aqueduct, testing needs to continue. As engineering improves, she said, a solution will be found.
“There are all kinds of companies across the country and the world who have been working on this,” she said. “It’s the technology that’s going to save us.”
Traffic safety and road conditions were addressed during the forum, as well.
“We are one of the safest communities in Connecticut, but there’s always work to be done on that front,” Couture said.
He said Killingworth should examine how other towns have handled road safety conditions, particularly regarding speeding.
“We see in Chester on [Route] 148, they have a speed sign that tells you how fast you’re going,” he said. “We need to look at bringing that in. We can work with the Department of Transportation to introduce traffic calming measures, making sure people have to slow down, take their time and drive slowly. It’s going to require a lot of changes and require time, but it’s something that we need to take a long-term view at, because it’s not going to change overnight.”
Perry said the town needs to reinvigorate the traffic safety commission that was recently put in place but then disbanded.
“We need to have a little more of the citizenry maintain that and keep the speeds down,” she said.
Samperi offered a different suggestion.
“We have one police officer who covers an awful lot of turf,” he said. “Let’s start to consider possibly some local sheriffs to pick up that load and patrol those roads and not depend on that one police officer.”
At the end of the forum, all three candidates expressed their method of leading the town.
“What do people get for their money?” asked Samperi. “Every penny you spend under my administration and my eyes, you will see it.”
“It’s important to make sure we have someone who can bring experience and knowledge of how our systems work and say here are the people behind me I’ve talked to and understand their issues,” Couture said. “I want to represent all of you. That’s what’s important. All of you. We can do great things, but we need to recognize we’re all part of it.”
“I’m looking forward to working with the community, to be the conduit to figure out what the townspeople are looking for, and supervise and maintain,” Perry said.