To the Editor:
Monday night, First Selectman Bill Gerber delivered the State of the Town address, outlining his priorities for the next four years in office. While acknowledging the importance of long-term planning, questions around the cost of these initiatives and the need for fiscal prudence must be addressed. Mr. Gerber’s speech lacked any acknowledgement of an intention to keep spending low, thus avoiding a tax hike for Fairfielders. In fact, his address seemed to indicate the opposite, bracing us for an increase in spending and the necessary tax increases to cover it.
Mr. Gerber’s identified priority areas, including commercial and residential development, sewer systems, flood mitigation, traffic, and schools, are certainly important, but we question the extent to which they will be addressed and at what cost. First Selectman Gerber highlighted multiple impending financial challenges the town will face as we exit the covid era and see a dissipation of federal ARPA funds, while interest rates on borrowing remain high. These fiscal headwinds require the need for spending restraint, fiscal responsibility, and efforts to keep taxes low – essential elements to maintaining the affordability that makes Fairfield an attractive community.
Of particular concern is the focus on nonstop spending, exemplified by the need to invest tens of millions of dollars on the sewer system over the next decade, Gerber’s controversial and unvetted Complete Streets program, pushed through the RTM in the last months of the election cycle, and recent budget overruns, including the additional $16 million cost overrun to fund HVAC in just three schools and latest additional expenses required to correct the FEMA issues at Penfield caused by the corruption scandal under the Tetreau Administration. And that’s not including the projected 5.4% increase in the BoE budget.
The absence of a clear plan to curb spending and prioritize projects raises questions about the proposed solutions, hinting at the strong likelihood of the need for more bonding and subsequent tax increases to pay for this spending. Fairfield RTM Republicans urge Mr. Gerber to take a more strategic approach that involves cutting back on spending and prioritizing essential projects.
The State of the Town acknowledged worthy programs and initiatives, such as the Arts Commission and fighting UI, which we agree are important. However, concerns were raised regarding the continued proclamation that Racism is a Public Health Crisis. We feel Mr. Gerber is falling short here, and we continue to argue strongly for a more inclusive resolution condemning all forms of hate, as proposed last year when this very item was debated on the floor of the RTM.
Why are we not putting forward a more inclusive proclamation, something along the lines of ‘A Resolution Promoting Equality Tolerance & Anti-Discrimination in the Town of Fairfield,’ condemning all racism, antisemitism, discrimination, and bigotry wherever and whenever it occurs? At a time when multiple public health crises have become urgent matters locally and nationally, including mental illness, the fentanyl and opioid epidemics, and loneliness affecting seniors, not to mention the horrifying rise in anti-Semitism throughout our country, we need to do more to recognize everyone in crisis. Fairfield is a community that cares, let’s demonstrate the openness of our wide community umbrella.
Citizens expect their elected officials, including the First Selectman, to work towards solutions that prioritize fiscal responsibility, strategic planning, and inclusivity. As members of the Representative Town Meeting (RTM), we commit to representing the people of this town, engaging in open debates, and making decisions that best serve the interests of Fairfield.
While the new Administration is only beginning, we encourage the First Selectman to consider these concerns and strive for a balanced approach that ensures Fairfield remains an affordable, inclusive, and thriving community.
Jeff Steele, Minority Leader, Fairfield RTM
Ken Astarita, Deputy Minority Leader, Fairfield RTM