We reached out and asked candidates to respond to a set of questions. Updates from all candidates are welcome and will be published as Letters to the Editor. The questions posed to the candidates were:
- Tell us a little about yourself.
- Why are you running for the position?
- What do you see as the important issues facing your town and how would you address them in your role?
- What are the key things you love about this town and its people?
- Additional thoughts to leave voters with?
Douglas Lefko (R): I have lived in Connecticut for 15 years, the last 2 in Killingworth. After searching for our home for two years, my wife Laura and I settled here because we felt that the town had a strong sense of community and we loved the beautiful rural atmosphere. We have raised 3 boys together who are now grown and raising families of their own; between them they have given us seven terrific grandchildren. In our spare time we love to work on our home, gardens and take care of our 2 dogs, 2 cats, 2 miniature donkeys and 4 chickens. We both love to cook and enjoy the many great restaurants in Killingworth and on the shoreline.
For the last 15 years I have worked in the technology and collaboration business space in a leadership position, currently as the Northeast Regional Vice President for a national technology company. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in English and Organizational Business Management and a Masters Degree in Leadership with a minor in Adult Education.
I currently am a member of the Board of Finance and have enjoyed working with the other members of the board on the budget and issues that face Killingworth. I believe that the Board of Finance position transcends politics and party. In my view, the position has a responsibility to the taxpayers of the town to ensure that their tax dollars are spent wisely.
My first job out of college was for the Town of Huntington in New York and one of my roles was to focus on crafting the capital budget for the town which had a population of 200,000. I met with each department head to review expenditures and meet the approved budgeted number for each department. This was a great challenge as well as an incredible learning experience which I believe gives me a unique skill set on Board of Finance.
I want to continue to bring my experience in both the private and public sector to help the Town of Killingworth achieve its strategic fiscal plan and ensure that the town keeps spending at a rate that is sustainable while maintaining essential services.
One of the key issues for the Board of Finance is that it must address the fact that Town Hall has not been properly maintained for some time and needs to be renovated. Also, the Fire Department Building needs renovations and improvements. I have recently been appointed to the Economic Recovery Committee by the Board of Selectmen. In my research, I believe we can spend some of the funds that we are receiving in the American Rescue Plan which allows the funds to be used for “Capital investment in public facilities to meet pandemic operational needs” and also allows for the “purchase or remodeling of public buildings.” While these funds cannot be used to reduce taxes, the funds can be utilized for capitol expenses. These projects are essential to continue to provide crucial services to the Killingworth residents.
Killingworth is a small town with large sense of community. It is steeped in tradition and history. The beauty of the area and the open spaces are a huge plus. The people have been welcoming and inviting and I bump into someone new and interesting daily. This is a terrific community and a great place to live.
I think that it is the duty of the Board of Finance to ensure that we keep Killingworth’s spending in line and continue to ensure that the town is affordable for everyone.
Annie Stirna (D): I am Annie Stirna and I am running for reelection to the Board of Finance. I have lived in Killingworth for over 20 years. I am very active in volunteer efforts that are the lifeblood of this town. I am a Board member of the Killingworth Division of the Community Foundation of Middlesex County, Chairwoman of the Alternative Housing Committee, and I was recently appointed to the Economic Recovery Committee. I have been a Rotarian for many years and I work with refugee resettlement. I have a Bachelor of Science in Accounting, worked in a midsized public accounting firm for several years and then as Controller for Hunter’s Ambulance, Inland Book Company, and TPA Books owner of Atticus Bookstores and Chabaso Bakeries. I have been a self-employed accountant for over 20 years. I am a proud mom to two sons and a doting nana to a six year old grandson who is starting kindergarten in Rhode Island and four year old twins who live right here in town.
I have truly enjoyed these past four years working in a bipartisan manner for the good of the town. As a fiscal conservative I am extremely proud of keeping the mill rate stable and continuing to grow the general fund. A lean budget kept our town fiscally heathy while ensuring the town continued to operate at the highest level of efficiency even as we were challenged with a worldwide health crisis.
Important issues of the upcoming term will be the Economic Recovery Funds. Bipartisan representation of the Board of Finance is important to the oversight of this committee. Also, I feel it is important to address the repair and possible replacement of the aging Town Hall and Fire Stations. We should stay the course on maintaining our roads, recreational facilities, and continue to fund at the highest level our social service organizations such as HKYFS, HK Recreation, Parmelee Farm, and the Library for the good of our townsfolk.
I love the rural nature and open space of our town. I love that neighbors help neighbors and when we have no power for days we can always count on each other for what we need. I especially appreciate all of the volunteer organizations-KWO, Helping Hands, HK Backpack Program, Killingworth Land Trust, Lion’s Club-who work for the good of all townspeople.
I feel my financial background in both public and private accounting and four years of experience on the Board of Finance make me uniquely qualified for this position. I hope you will honor me with your vote for reelection on November 2.
Dave Miller (CP): U.S. Air Force-Vietnam era; graduated from Geneva College after military service; retired Captain of the KVFD; taught high school English then entered the business world of Fortune 500 companies performing various sales & marketing functions (Coca-Cola, Planters Peanuts, Peter Paul); Founded and sold a Graphic Arts supply business (10 Yrs); currently a school bus driver at HK (Region 17).
I am running to promote fiscal responsibility thereby stabilizing tax rates in the town.
Important issues facing our town: Too high taxation covering property, schools & salaries in the town hall. These need to be cut at the expense of the few who are benefiting.
Killingworth is a beautiful rural residential living space with an admirable spirit of volunteerism in all sectors of town life.
Vote Conservative and save your hard earned dollars.
Todd Blewett (R): My wife, Eileen, and I first moved to town in 1997 because we fell in love with the rural setting and the “old fashioned” family values we found here. We raised 4 incredible children and put them through the HK school system K-12. Now adults, we find our kids scattered around the country and globe, but still well grounded in their values. Eileen and I love living in Killingworth and the friends we have made through the years.
Professionally, I have 30 years of successful Sales and Sale Management experience in the pharma/biotech sector. I studied Chemistry at the University of Connecticut and worked as a Chemist for a couple years following school.
There are two drivers for my decision to run. When my kids were young, I was active as a coach and Scout leader, but now I am looking for new ways to give back to the town. I am inspired by Eileen who gives so much of her time to town and school board activities, as well as so many incredible friends in the KVFD and KAA.
In recent months, I have listened in on many Board of Finance meetings and one observation I made is that some long serving members of the Board actively discussed budget and spending issues without actually investigating these first hand. One example was purchasing some new equipment for the fire department. The Board debated this without actually going to the fire department to understand the impact of the outdated equipment. I can promise I will spend the town’s money like it is my own, and personally look into expenditures to understand the cost and impact of spending verses not spending the money.
The town is approaching a critical juncture in our financial health. Delayed planning has left us with a badly neglected town hall in desperate need of repair, and a fire department building that also needs to be updated. We can no longer kick the can down the road on these issues. It is time for informed, well intentioned debate to find a plan to meets the needs of the town at a reasonable price point.
The town faces several capital needs that have been for ignored for years that now need to be addressed. Along with this, there is the on-going issue of PFAS in well water that will have an unknow financial impact to the town as well as those residents. It is time for some common sense planning.
Killingworth is a wonderful town to live in. Everyone is friendly and accepting of others. We have a wide range of outlooks and opinions, but we need to remember that after the impassioned debate is over these are friends, and we all want what is best for the town.
Tara Amatrudo (D): I am a lifelong Connecticut resident and have lived in Killingworth since 2013. My partner and I have 6 year old twins in 1st grade at KES. A teacher at heart, I have been in education for my entire career – 10 years as a special education teacher and 9 years as a school administrator. I have spent my last six years as a high school principal with a strong commitment to serving my school communities. I earned both my BA and MA in Special Education from Southern CT State University. I earned my 6th Year Professional Diploma in Educational Leadership from the University of Connecticut in 2012. In my personal time I enjoy going on backyard adventures with my children, reading in the sunshine, and tending to my chickens and other pets. I also like exercise, cooking, and home improvement projects.
While I have always appreciated the small-town essence of this community, I have grown to truly care about and rely on my neighbors and all the of the individuals who keep this town running. It’s important to me to give back to this community that gives so much to me and my family. Service has always been an important value to me, and the opportunity to work alongside my neighbors to ensure the fiscal sustainability of our beautiful town is a responsibility that I would be honored to hold. Specific to this role, I believe I have a level of understanding of complex budget processes that will allow me jump right in to the work that needs to be done.
As our community begins to recover from the COVID pandemic, I know many residents will be concerned about our economic recovery and how it will impact them. We will need to work to ensure responsible use of our Economic Recovery Funds, which should be overseen by a bipartisan committee that is able to listen to and represent the needs of our townsfolk. While I would seek to continue to fund our social service organizations such as HKYFS, HK Recreation, Parmelee Farm, and the Library that our town has grown to heavily rely upon, I would do so in a manner that would allow us to hold steady on the maintenance of roads and recreational facilities and address the critical repair needs at the Town Hall and Fire Stations. As a taxpayer with the many financial pulls that come with having a young family, having a stable mill rate has been important to our financial wellbeing, and I would seek to maintain that rate into the future.
My partner and I were attracted to Killingworth’s small-town sensibility and environmental beauty, and we continue to enjoy and appreciate the tranquility of the the land we are so lucky to inhabit. Having accesses to undisturbed nature has brought wonder and joy to our lives daily since coming to town. Even more importantly to us is the connections we have made with our neighbors – whether chatting in the coffee line, sharing some fresh eggs, or borrowing a needed tool, I love the sense of knowing the folks around me. With my children now entering KES, I am excited for all of the new connections we are destined to make.
I feel that my experience as a high school principal gives me important expertise in managing a public budget that requires the highest degree of sustainability and fiscal responsibility as we manage multiple short and long-term priorities. Above and beyond all else, I have demonstrated a commitment to listening and understanding all my community members’ needs and to ensuring the transparency of all budget decisions. With your vote on November 2nd, I would be honored to do the same for you.
Harvey Derosa (CP): I chose Killingworth for my home along with my family over 20 years ago. It was the right decision. It was my intention and plan to retire. My clients of over 40 years chose differently, I remain active in the financial and real estate management and consulting industry.
I am a graduate of the University of New Haven degreed in both business and finance.
I live in town with my wife Vickie, a nurse, ready to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. Our two daughters are professionals. One is an educator, the other is an attorney. My children followed my lead in providing services that can guide people in positive directions with the excitement of an inherited work ethic.
I have been asked and agreed to be a candidate for a seat on the finance board for a number of reasons. We are amidst many new changes in federal and state methods of governance. These challenges will soon precipitate to increased costs at each level.
Ultimately, increased costs will reach the level of local governments and put a major strain on municipal attempts at equitable financial management.
All of us run our households on a budget, sometimes, not always, there is some money left over that we can save, reallocate or spend.
Killingworth finances are on an annual proposed budget for the town including the education department. The items in each department’s proposed budget are in no way fixed, each department’s budget can vary.
In extreme cases weather, snow storms or catastrophes can cause the need for a budget amendment, but what happens if proposed budget items are not stressed? What happens to the excess funding within the budget?
Are managers who are able to operate under budget returning excess funding to be reallocated or added to the town’s reserves? Probably not.
Are department administrators acknowledged for cost control, advanced labor and equipment utilization? Probably not.
The effects of increased financial management techniques can and will provide benefits. Each municipal department, educational system, town employees and taxpayers can reap the benefits of operational cost awareness and savings reassignment without the need to default to just raising taxes.
Voting has consequences. It has been proven over and again.
With your help and your vote I look forward to being able to serve the residents of Killingworth and offer proven ideas and approaches to how our town is financed. My commitment to our residents is sincere.
Sara O’Brien (R): Originally from Western Pennsylvania, I moved to Killingworth after graduating from Quinnipiac Law School in 2017. I practiced as a litigator for approximately two years before transitioning to an in-house counsel position with UnitedHealthcare’s privacy legal team. My husband, Dan O’Brien (a Killingworth native and volunteer firefighter), and I enjoy working on home improvement projects, gardening, and making maple syrup with our friends at the Welter Farm. I also have a passion for cooking, especially experimenting with new ingredients and recipes. Growing up in a small farming community, I learned self-sufficiency, creativity, and the value of a community. While I have only been a resident of Killingworth for four years, the peaceful, welcoming nature of this town has made it feel like home.
Since moving to Killingworth, I have been involved with several organizations at the state and local level. As a member of the Connecticut Bar Association, I have served on the Young Lawyers Section Executive Committee for four years and currently hold the position of Treasurer within the organization. Here in town, I served for two years on the Killingworth Land Conversation Trust Board of Directors, and currently I am an active member of the Killingworth Republican Town Committee and of the Killingworth Women’s Organization. I have also been appointed by the Board of Selectmen to serve on the Economic Recovery Committee.
I am excited and eager to hold a position on the Board of Finance. As a member, I will keep my focus on the people of this town by maintaining open lines of communication to understand the needs and desires of constituents. Killingworth is funded by the tax dollars of its hardworking residents, and I believe everyone deserves to be proud of and benefit from the allocation of those funds. I believe that every one of us has made the choice to make this town our home, and that our local government should be supporting that choice with every decision it makes. As an elected member of the Board of Finance, I will continue to encourage and support the good works of this town (both paid and volunteer) and to serve the best interests of all towns people.
Our town is currently on the road to recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic, through which we have learned a lot as individuals and as a community. This is our chance to change. We need to balance the need of providing quality services to our town, while ensuring responsible spending habits, whether internal or contracted, paid or volunteer. Having seen transfer stations in other towns, ours is certainly one of the most user friendly and accessible; however, our model could be revised to better support town users and limit overall costs. Additionally, our town continues to face issues of public health and safety, which will need funding to support reconciliation, including addressing those residential wells affected by PFAS and the increase in local criminal activity.
This town is truly a community. In my experience as a resident of this town, regardless of beliefs, political affiliation, personal/professional background, we all share a common goal: to make this town a better place. Everyone I have met in this town has a passion, whether it be for providing a place for others to gather for an event or meal, offering assistance to those in need, preserving the history and conservation of land, or educating our youth. This diverse set of interests, skills, and opinions is what encourages our continued growth and inherent strength as a community.
Party affiliation should not be a line in the sand. This election isn’t about party; it’s about protecting our freedoms, supporting our residents, and ensuring everyone’s safety. Regardless of your affiliation, regardless of who you vote for, please be sure to come out and vote on November 2nd. Your voice and opinion counts, and it begins at the polls.
Ray Szumilas (CP): I bought a piece of property in Killingworth in 1998 with my wife at the time. We general contracted the building of the house. Using my various skills in the trades we were able to move in in 2000 with a good percentage of equity. I learned a great deal of how to deal with contractors and the town.
We had two sons, Aleksander and Oliver, who have lived in Killingworth their whole lives. I am a five year member of the vestry at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Killingworth. I am a former USPTA certified instructor. I keep active and volunteered in Little League when my sons played baseball.
I am now the sole property owner and wish to be able to keep my home as long as it’s affordable to live in Killingworth.
To that end I want to get involved with the board of finance. While I am not a CPA or tax lawyer I fully understand how the taxes affect my quality of life. I can bring a more pragmatic approach to spending other people’s money that, in the past, has seemed to not have been a consideration at all times. For example, the push to buy the Venuti property, that would have brought virtually no return on the money spent.
I believe public funds should be treated with the same caution as personal finances and there should always be a check on unnecessary spending.
The main reason for Killingworth’s high property taxes is the lack of tax base. The majority of taxes come from residential property leaving each home owner to question what they get in return. Killingworth has no paid police or fire department. We have no refuse collection. So, it always brings up the question of what we get for our high taxes. I understand that the school budget is about 83% of the budget. There is very little to cut in the way of the town budget. However, allowing the tax base to increase with some commercial investment would help alleviate the burden to homeowners. And, as always, keeping an eye on the money the taxpayer has entrusted to the local government is the top priority. I am not for adding large manufacturing or commercial sites.
I enjoy living in Killingworth because I like the quietness of the town. Killingworth has always been family oriented, making it a stable place to live.
I hope to bring my belief that public monies should be treated the same as my personal finances – that any money spent must be always at the advantage of the “owner” – the Killingworth taxpayer.