KILLINGWORTH — With Election Day looming, local Democrats outlined how they’d handle key issues in town, particularly contamination in Killingworth’s groundwater, housing affordability and high-priced school building projects.
Eric Couture, who has served on the Board of Education for four years and is running for first selectman, said affordability is a major concern.
“We have a Fair Rent Commission that was established this year in part with members from Beechwood, our permanent mobile home community here in town, to address their concerns,” he said.
Couture said people want to downsize as they get older, and young adults don’t have anywhere to move to in town either, which is creating a stagnant growth environment. Regional School District 17’s strategic capital plan will also have a huge impact on affordability in town, he added.
“Our high school is 50 years old,” he said. “The oldest part of the elementary school is 70; the youngest part is 34. Those capital projects are going to be coming in and that ties into affordability, because how do you spend that money in a sustainable manner that doesn’t wreak havoc on the towns?”
Joel D’Angelo, who has been on the Board of Education for 12 years and is now running for selectman, said the town, along with Haddam, took out a bond for the new Haddam-Killingworth Middle School about 20 years ago, which will be paid off soon.
“As it expires, we can get another one and keep our mill rate very stable,” he said.
School board candidate Jennifer Voegtli said if the new schools project is to be realized, communication is key for community support.
“Communication is always a big issue,” she said. “With the four schools we have in the district needing major work, and major reconstruction or repair … the schools’ master plan is going to be a huge issue.”
With projects still in the planning phase, she said, residents must be informed about proposed changes.
“There’s a lot of stuff that’s going to be proposed, it’s going to be really important to educate the public about what’s most important for the kids,” she said.
Nelson Rivera, who is running for reelection on the Board of Education, said devising a master capital plan for the school buildings will be exciting.
“I don’t know where that will land and take us,” he said. “Part of that is the community conversations we’re having. We have to take a look at our buildings and determine what we need to do with them. Should we renovate? Should we build? There’s a lot of financial cost to that.”
He said the voters need to know there will be a good return on their investment.
“I want to make sure the decisions that we make are smart, make sense for the towns, and serve our kids,” he said. “That’s the big lift for the next two to three years. We need to do something with our buildings. We need to make sure we get a good proposal to referendum that makes sense to the people in town … whether it’s build as new or renovate.”
Board of Finance incumbent Marcel Couture, father of Eric Couture, said it’ll be up to the school board to finalize a plan it thinks it can sell to the community. But he noted there are other infrastructure issues to address beyond the schools.
“The town has been kicking around a new building for the fire department and some kind of addition or change,” he said. “Then the Town Hall, it’s probably past time to start upgrading that.”
If reelected, he said his focus on the Board of Finance will be to improve the town’s bond rating, which took a hit about six years ago.
“I believe there are things we can do, set procedures in place,” he aid. “Bonding is an arcane topic. Not a lot of people understand how it works, and we need to understand how it works and do what we can do to get a better rating and save taxpayers money.”
William Kosturko, a newcomer running for the Board of Finance, has decades of banking experience dealing with debt issues.
“It always helped the rating and reduced the cost to have a guarantee for a bond issue,” he said. “It is an important aspect of the town. It’s something we need to be mindful of. In terms of what the Board of Finance is focusing on is keeping the level of services as high as possible and keeping the expenses of those services as efficient and as low as possible.”
In addition to affordable living and building projects, per- and polyfluorinated substances found in water around the firehouse, Town Hall and elementary school continue to be a hot topic.
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.
D’Angelo admitted he doesn’t yet know what cleaning up the PFAS contamination will entail, but said his doctorate degree in biology may be useful in finding a solution.
Another ongoing concern is road safety.
“We are one of the safest communities in the state, but that’s a moving target,” Eric Couture said. “If people don’t feel safe and you proclaim yourself as one of the safest, it’s kind of hollow.”
Most of the speeding issues, he said, are along routes 80, 81 and 148, and will require collaborative efforts with the state Department of Transportation to resolve.
“We only have one state trooper,” he said. “We don’t have a police force in town, so we have to work with the state to address safety issues.”
Polls open Nov. 7 from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Killingworth Elementary School, 340 Route 81.