KILLINGWORTH — Local Republicans running in next week’s municipal election said they are looking to create a more fiscally responsible government if they take office.
“Our budget is around $5 million [not including education spending] and if you’re not careful, that can be eaten away quite quickly,” Board of Selectmen candidate Eric Nunes said.
He said there also needs to be better dialogue between the community and local government in diversifying tax revenue, particularly with commercial development.
“A lot of people in town want their tax burden reduced but they don’t necessarily want business to come in,” he said. “There needs to be thorough dialogue on what it would look like if we were to bring in more business, commercial development. Could we somehow incorporate things that would be acceptable that would keep with the rural appeal of the town? If businesses aren’t coming in and contributing to the tax revenue, it’s going to fall to the homeowners.”
Newcomer Amy Roberts-Perry, who is running for first selectman, said attracting new businesses will be challenging.
“People in town don’t want our town to have massive businesses,” she said. “They get upset that we have a Dunkin’ Donuts and a Subway. It’s part of life, and we have to balance that and for them to understand that if you’re voting against businesses coming into town, you’re the ones, homeowners, that are going to be splitting the tax bill.”
Having run a home and office cleaning business for 37 years, Roberts-Perry said she has good business acumen.
“You try not to spend what you don’t need to spend,” she said. “I’m going to be hopefully coming up with ideas that haven’t been churned up, chewed up, and spit out that might help so we can find other ways of doing things, and maybe looking at the grants a little more closely that can help out.”
Michael Kovacs is also taking his first bid at elected office, running for a seat on the Board of Finance.
“I’ve been in the insurance industry for 23 years,” he said. “This is my first time running for any town office. My wife and I moved from Danbury in 2021 to Killingworth and we love it. It’s a beautiful rural area. The people are really friendly and willing to help.”
He said his background in insurance can help the town financially.
“I’m chief financial officer now, so I do budgets, review financial statements. I’ve been doing this for a long time,” he said. “I feel like I can make a big difference.”
Kovacs said the current Board of Finance is irresponsibly spending taxpayers’ money, particularly regarding high school renovation plans and other Regional School District 17 projects which include Haddam and Killingworth.
“This frivolous spending needs to stop,” he said. “We’re going to have this school renovation coming up. That to me is going to be wasteful spending. I’ve done financial planning for years and I believe there’s a way to go about saving money and doing this a more efficient way than raising mill rates and trying to raise the money by the taxpayers and pay for this school.”
If elected, Kovacs said he would immediately review the budget.
“I want to see where we can cut costs,” he said. “I want to go out and talk to the town … and look at the budget and see where there is frivolous spending, where there’s spending we can cut.”
With no Republicans from Killingworth currently on the Region 17 Board of Education, Derek Phelps is looking to make his mark as well.
“We know the Board of Education budget is the lion’s share of the driving force behind local/municipal property taxes,” he said. “In a lot of ways, the school system is sort of the center of community life for Killingworth. What we need to be looking to do is hold onto those things that are the essence of the community, while positioning ourselves for what we have in the foreseeable future, which is probably significant upward pressure of local property taxes while we try to figure out how to improve the physical part of the schools, most especially the high school.”
He added that the town needs to engage in more state outreach to secure investments in the schools.
Roberts-Perry also acknowledged that growing education costs are concerning.
“Right now we’re going to have a very interesting next two years with our school system being evaluated and having different opinions on how much change we need to do,” she said. “Whether it’s going to be $100 million or $200 million to replace, repair and bring into the 21st century the school system. Tying into that would be taxes and the elderly. … To have something that might pull the mill rate up 5 mills or more is scary. It makes it higher for people coming into town with children who aren’t on the highest scale of pay, and you have seniors on the other end. It’s going to be difficult to fill the schools if the mill rate goes sky high.”
Another spending concern, Kovacs said, is public works. The Department of Public Works is currently in need of a new snowplow driver, as one is planning to retire, he said, but the current pay rate for the job is $300 an hour.
“That’s high,” he said. “That’s double what they should be spending.”
He said town officials should have started looking for a new driver six months ago.
“They could have locked in a contract at a much significantly lower rate,” he said. “Those are the types of things that need to be thought about in planning. We need to have the roads plowed. If we need to spend it, we need to spend it, but we need to think about these things in advance.”
Roberts-Perry said if she’s elected first selectman, she will closely follow technological advances in treating groundwater contaminated by per- and polyfluorinated substances, or PFAS, around the firehouse, Town Hall and 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.
“It seems like every week there’s another technology coming out to take that forever chemical and not let it be a forever chemical anymore,” she said. “They’re finding ways to take it apart from the bottom up, which is helping. Unfortunately, it’s probably going to be a couple years out before it’s available for us.”
She also said an important aspect of town governance is involvement by the community.
“In talking with the residents, I am encouraged when I mention that 80 percent of the town runs itself, 20 percent we need volunteers to keep the rest of it humming along,” she said.
Nunes noted that voter and civic participation is low, and that it’s difficult getting individuals motivated to be part of town committees or commissions.
“Part of reaching out is door knocking and asking questions,” he said. “Getting a sense of if any of these individuals want to participate in the town. We’re totally reliant on volunteers. If Republicans take back control of the Board of Selectmen, it’s not just running the town, it’s how do we encourage civic participation? It takes pressure away from a shifting form of town government.”
Polls are open Nov. 7 from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Killingworth Elementary School, 340 Route 81.