Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Westfield Residents Association Hosts Meet the Candidates Night

Last night's Westfield Residents Association (WRA) Meet the Candidates Night drew quite a crowd, and most of those individuals were candidates for office in Middletown!

All three mayoral candidates and the three city treasurer candidates had a chance to introduce themselves, as did many candidates from both the Republican and Democratic parties. Interestingly, both parties (as well as the independent candidates) repeatedly mentioned the need for transparency and accountability in public office, yet no one specifically mentioned how that could happen differently given the fact that most of the candidates already hold public office in Middletown. Mayoral challenger Dan Drew pushed hard for the concept of economic growth by targeting specific growth industries (bio-tech and green industries), but he didn't explain how he could offer tax incentives to such businesses AND cut taxes while also fully funding the education budget that has been level funded for the last 4 years (don't forget that level funded actually means a budget cut due to contractual increases in salary or services that force cuts elsewhere).
The three mayoral candidates got into an argument over the purpose of the city's reserve fund. Democratic mayoral candidate Dan Drew explained his view of the Democratic-controlled City Council using reserve funds rather than raising taxes: "I would say that we've been in trouble. How would it have been to have been taxed an additional $11.2 million? We are overtaxing if we're saving more than one month's operating expenses." Mayor Giuliano responded,
The concept that a healthy fund balance is overtaxing...the only people who used to advocate that are somewhat to the right of Russ Limbaugh. You need two months reserve to maintain your bond rating. To improve the rating, you need to grow your reserve balance and it needs to be sustained growth, not a yo-yo. Don't forget that you need to pay bonds back with interest, and right now, Middletown's debt service is $15 million per year - that's 10% of the budget, and you could cut 3 mils right there if you didn't have to service that debt.
Christine Bourne, the independent candidate for mayor and current City Treasurer, stated that Middletown has "barely one month's operating expenses in reserve." She also commented that if Middletown wants to be able to offer loans to attract more businesses to our town, we need to have a healthier reserve account to accomplish that.

Much time was also spent discussing the Senior Center, and whether or not Block Grant funds should have been allocated to support this project. Christine Bourne argued that Middletown citizens should have been able to vote on whether or not to spend the money on the Senior Center as the City's Charter requires voter approval for projects over $750,000. That the Council split the project cost into two and then voted to approve funding for 1/2 the project simply denied Middletown residents project approval they should have had. Dan Drew defended his vote against using Block Funds for the Senior Center, "I think we could have funded the center later on AND given $90,000 worth of funding to other organizations right now. That way we could have done both things - funded the Senior Center in another way AND helped out those organizations that really needed it instead of just putting $90,000 away in a bank account for a year."

Clearly the candidates were ready to debate far into the evening, and time ran out before it got too ugly. It was an informative night, but the limited time made it hard for any one candidate to really answer a question.

Public Service Announcement:

Election Day is November 8, 2011. Please take the time to review the different candidates' positions, and then just vote when Election Day comes. Change in Middletown doesn't come because a candidate does or doesn't get voted into office: change happens because individuals take a moment to get involved, and they exercise their free right to self-determination. Many people in other parts of the world would die for what we have, so don't squander a precious gift, and don't be casual about it! Decide what's important to you, and then support a candidate that will embrace your philosophy. Your vote does matter, and you do have a responsibility to your fellow citizens to participate in the process.
See you at the polls!


Anonymous said...

This is a great debate summary. Thank you for putting both candidate's claims into perspective, and not simply parroting their campaign platitudes.

Anonymous said...

How is it I have lived in the Westfield section of Middletown for 25 years, and have yet to be notified in advance that their is a Westfield Area meeting? I read about them after the fact in the Middletown Eye, Patch, and Press, but never know in advance.

Anonymous said...

Best moment was when Tom Serra tried to answer for Dan Drew- priceless and so telling of the real scheme being set up if he is elected mayor- WOW-

Catherine Johnson said...

The gathering last night is something I wish we did more frequently not just for vote gathering, but for idea shopping. It is great to have citizens get together and think about what we'd like Middletown to be. But because we have such a rigid format for processing the city's business, many ideas like those about economic development (both from citizens and candidates) cannot be debated, even in the regular monthly economic development meetings. The meetings are set up so there is never debate and never discussion. The format protects the committee members from change.

I woke up thinking about the idea of attracting new businesses to Middletown, as suggested in last night's meeting. One resident asked, how would you actually do this? And the same candidate said we had city staff and a local organization who could do this. I would disagree. We need a professional, full-time, educated and experienced economic development director who can do something like this. We have to be willing to commit to a goal and follow it up with dollars if we want to see it happen. We need more voices, in city hall, representing what is best for the city, not just complying with one person’s default position. Only dead fish go with the flow.

Second, it was suggested that one way you attract a company is with tax abatements and other incentives. Economist Donovan Rypkema has studied how companies decide to relocate and found that tax abatements and other packages can easily be superceded by a neighboring town's incentive package. The only thing that can distinguish one town from another is what it offers as a place physically: is it interesting visually? What makes it unique? Can we see the continuum through the generations, or does it erase everything too inconvenient to repair?

I see someone else is running for P&Z interested in growing business. I am sorry to say, he won't be able to fulfill this interest on that board. He might make a great contribution to the economic development committee, but there are no citizens on that committee, only councilmen.

If the citizens and candidates who spoke last night really did want to bring new energy to our city and attract larger businesses, I would encourage them to not only participate in the already established regular meetings, but to start something new that permits more meetings like last night, with the general public, to happen so ideas can be exchanged. Maybe you can move the city forward in a small way first. Maybe you can make something happen without being in office to do it. I think you would get a great response and support because we have been missing such an initiative for a long time.

Anonymous said...

After last night's performance by Drew, you would have to be nuts to vote for him. He has zero qualifications, zero experience and is only parroting what someone else is teling him to say. Great job, Seb!

Greg Amy said...

"...and have yet to be notified in advance that their is a Westfield Area meeting?"

Join the Westfield Residents' Association, http://wramiddletown.org/

It's not expensive) and you'll get a regular newsletter with timely notifications.

Greg Amy
Miner Street

Anonymous said...

"Notifacation". The reason why you werent notified about a "Westfield" meeting is because it was in Middletown ! Long before your 25yrs of living in that section of Middletown, people in your area refuse to recognize Westfield is a part of MIDDLETOWN !!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Did Mr.Tom Serra speak for, or on behalf of, Mr. Drew?

I think it is about time that Middletown voters dump these councilmen who have been there for way too long. If the public only knew...

Anonymous said...

Yep, he spoke for Drew and then he got really awkward.. Not good at all.

Yikes! Dan was juggling all night.

Anonymous said...

Where did Dan live in Westfield? He bragged about that in his opening line. Did he really live there?