By Meghan Peterson, Ph.D.
Editor’s Note: Part 2 will cover the Selectmen Candidates, Kate Anderson (Republican), Mark Lundgren (Petitioning); Sean Moriarty (Democrat) featured at the Forum. The forum can be viewed in its entirety on Valley Shore Community TV, Channel 19 and at www.vsctv.com.
On Oct. 2, a Haddam Board of Selectmen Candidate Forum was held, hosted by the Brainerd Memorial Library. Tom Piezzo, Director of the BML and Kent Jarrell, a Library Trustee and former journalist. Piezzo welcomed the First Selectman candidates, Brenda Buzzi (Democrat) and Bob McGarry (Republican).
Buzzi and McGarry first described their biographies and ties to Haddam. Buzzi explained that she is an HKHS graduate and part of a 4th generation family in town; ran a large daycare and owned a pre-school in Higganum. She said that she has “ample leadership experience” and is currently serving on the Board of Education. Buzzi said that she will “listen to all residents;” “put people before politics;” “listen to your concerns and be your voice.”
McGarry observed that many of the people serving on the town boards and commissions are volunteer. He noted that organizations such as the library, park and recreation would “cease to exist” without volunteers. McGarry described obtaining a degree in civil engineering at the Coast Guard Academy; his 20-years active duty in the Coast Guard, having graduated to rank of commander; and that “first job out of the Academy involved supervising 40 people on a ship deck force.”
Below are a sampling of the questions the moderators asked Buzzi and McGarry:
What is your position on Haddam’s use of long term bonds to pay for infrastructure and other projects? Are we increasing our debt burden to keep mil rate at its current level or are we just kicking the can down the road for future taxpayers to pay? McGarry cited a recent piece by Haddam Bulletin author Alan Aronow, and expressed agreement with his concerns that “even though interest rates are low, bonding/borrowing costs money.” McGarry continued, “As a rule, I do not like taking long-term loans out.” McGarry said that there are times, however, when “long-term debt is appropriate.” He pointed out the example of buying a house and getting a mortgage. It is a “fact of life that some things are extremely hard to save enough for.” McGarry says that with capital projects topping at $1.3M, $1.8M, and that while “he does not like to use it, it is appropriate to do it” at specific times. Buzzi said that “there definitely is a place for bonding” during times of “financial woes” and that there is a place for “fixing and repairing roads and the way to do that is to bond.” She added that she is “not sure about bonding vehicles or buying them all at one time.”
What are the most important projects for Haddam? Road repairs, moving the Public Works garage, senior citizen services, better cell service – how do you prioritize these? Buzzi said “those are very important. I think infrastructure is first and foremost. Seniors definitely need some attention.” She mentioned the idea of having the Senior Center open five days a week. Likewise, McGarry stated that “infrastructure is a major concern,” pointing to a town-commissioned road study identifying many of the roads are in “extremely bad conditions.” He said that in terms of other infrastructure projects, there is an “opportunity to put in a septic system in Higganum center;” and the Town garage “to me is another infrastructure improvement,” as it is “actually unsafe.” McGarry added that “seniors need our support” and would like to “see what services can expand.”
Remaining questions included What should Haddam do with the old elementary school? Could Haddam benefit from regionalization/sharing public services? Should we have a full time town manager in Haddam? Buzzi and McGarry indicated they are hopeful for the upcoming community gatherings to discuss ideas and visions for future use of Haddam Elementary School (HES). McGarry stated that he looked at regionalization with “some degree of skepticism,” and that he is “very skeptical of regional authority,” as the town could “start to lose control over tax dollars” and that it must be done “wisely.” Buzzi stated that she believes “100% that you can save a lot of money” by working with other towns to buy sand and soil together, for example, in the case of Public Works. McGarry said that he understands the reasons for thinking of a city manager, because when a first selectman just starts “figuring out the job, you have to run” in light of the two-year term. At the same time, he said that he is skeptical due to the available talent pool for a qualified manager. Buzzi stated “unequivocally no” to the idea of a town manager and that Haddam is “too small of a town to pay a large salary to pay a person to run the town for us.” She added that she would like to see a change in the town charter to 5 selectmen and 1 first selectman on the BOS.
Finally, Buzzi and McGarry responded to the question of Name one weakness and one strength in our community. Buzzi said that “one strong weakness is that” our town is “very divided” and that the “nonsense on FB” needs to stop “and stop being mean to each other.” For the strength, Buzzi says that “we have a beautiful town” and we need to “use our resources more.” McGarry said that he “would like to see the divisiveness go down” and that it is most important “we have to learn to work together.” He added that the strength in Haddam is “the good people we have.” At “Haddam River Days, the Haddam Neck Fair, we do come together. We’re blessed with the CT River,” and Haddam “has a lot to offer.”