Election 2019: Marconi, Moccia debate taxes, trucks, and town’s future
Trucks, traffic, tolls, taxes, growth and the elusive goal of preserving Ridgefield’s small town feel — and its beloved Main Street — were the focus of back-and-forth discussion as the first selectman candidates played a fairly friendly game of one-on-one.
“Main Street,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said when asked his fondest memory of growing up in town. “I grew up riding my bike in the Memorial Day parade — there were hundreds of bikes, riding up and down, all decorated,” he said.
Challenger Dick Moccia, a former mayor of Norwalk, said that while he hadn’t grown up in Ridgefield, he had a long appreciation of the town.
“I remember coming up here with Romeo Petroni and going to the Italian dinners here,” Moccia said.
Moccia questioned the 20-year incumbent’s portrayal of the town as a place succeeding in its battle to remain essentially the same in the face of continuing growth and development .
“What I’d like to do is keep that small town atmosphere,” Moccia said. “I can’t match Rudy — a lifelong resident. My views are different than his. He doesn’t see us losing that charm.”
Marconi said the town’s biggest growth spurt was decades ago.
“A lot change in the ’60s. We went from seven, eight thousand to 20,000,“ Marconi said.
The town’s population is now about 25,000.
“We’ve slowed up. There’s no question we’ve slowed up,” Marconi said of the growth.
“I think we still have a great community. We have a beautiful downtown,” he said. “With smart growth and managed growth, we can keep it that way for many years.”
The debate at Ballard Green Housing for the Elderly complex Tuesday night, Oct. 15, drew an audience of about 30 or 40 people — a mix that included some seniors, candidates and political activists from both parties, and interested voters.
Under a fairly free-wheeling format, moderators Ed Tyrrell and Sharon Dornfeld allowed considerable back-and-forth between the candidates after initial audience questions were directed at one or the other.
Taxes and economics came up.
“Our grand list hasn’t grown enough,” said Moccia. Ridgefield is not among the few “towns in the state that have regained house values after the great — not great, severe — recession,” Moccia said.
Marconi agreed the tax base needed to be broadened.
“There’s growth and there’s development,” Marconi said. “Growth has to be managed.”
He said that when the town bought the Schlumberger property, it sold the five acres on the other side of South Street for tax-producing development. The self-storage and memory care facilities there “will be generating over $500,000 a year in taxes for the town,” he said.
Traffic and trucks
Moccia reiterated his complaint that Marconi should do more to reduce the flow of traffic — especially big trucks — through town.
Strategically placed enforcement — even by local police — could make driving through Ridgefield less attractive to truckers.
“Other towns have done it. You can do it,” he said.
“... I’m talking about through trucks … I’m talking trucks coming in on 35,” Moccia said.
Moccia said when enforcement is undertaken “they find a lot of offenses.”
Marconi said police enforcement shouldn’t be used to target particular types of traffic — commuters, or through trucks.
“You can’t be selective who you pull over,” Marconi said. “You either pull over everyone, or no one.”
Some trucks have deliveries in town, or the area, he said.
Truckers who are just passing through want to make the best time they can — time is money to them — and in general they’d do better on major state highways, Marconi said.
“If they stay on 684 and 84, that’s when they’re going to make time,” he said.
“If they’re not doing it now, if we get tolls there, they certainly will be,” said Moccia, taking the opportunity to tease Marconi on his long-standing support for tolls as a means of financing needed state road improvements.
Marconi said much of the worst traffic through Ridgefield was drivers trying to avoid a traffic snarl at the junction of Routes 84 and 684 — a problem made worse by way-finding phone apps that make people bolder about venturing off major highways. The backup there is something he and leaders of other towns have sought to get both New York and Connecticut to address.
“North Salem agrees, South Salem agrees, Danbury agrees: People are getting off, using apps, to avoid that,” Marconi said of the 84-684 problem.
It’s a problem on Routes 7 and 35, and also on smaller roads in northern Ridgefield, Marconi said.
“George Washington Highway is backed up on a Friday night from FedEx to Ridgebury Road,” he said.
“We need to put state money into 684 and 84,” Marconi said.