Four candidates running for Ridgefield’s Board of Finance

RIDGEFIELD — Two appointees to the town’s Board of Finance will face two challengers in the upcoming municipal election.

Republicans Robert Lavelle and Russ Porter are running against Democrats Mike Rettger and Andrew Okrongly as all candidates seek to bring greater fiscal responsibility to Ridgefield.

Hearst Connecticut Media had a chance to speak with each candidate regarding their stance on the most pressing issues facing voters.

Question: What is the top issue you plan to address if elected?

Lavelle: Financial oversight of the Water Pollution Control Authority upgrade to our wastewater facilities. The use of ARPA funds (to benefit) sewer users over septic users seems to be a point of contention among taxpayers. As well, bids are expiring, resulting in significant price increases, as we have seen.

Porter: I would like to improve the communication between the Board of Finance and the community outside of budget season. I'm also very focused on transparency, integrity and the balance of prudent, short-term spending and long-term investments against excessive property tax increases.

Rettger: The Board of Finance faces the challenge each year of matching the demands of residents for town services with everyone’s desire to see minimal, or even no, tax rate increase. One major emerging financial challenge will be finding room in the budget for the proposed public safety headquarters. My goal is to help realize this critical investment without causing a significant tax increase, which I think can be achieved.

Okrongly: A critical issue facing Ridgefield’s Board of Finance is the need to preserve one of our town’s most valuable assets, our school system, in a balanced and sustainable manner. As a parent of a young child and someone who intends to remain a long-term resident and taxpayer in Ridgefield, I have a very strong stake in achieving both of these objectives in collaboration with the Board of Education.

Question: What is your stance on allowing marijuana retailers to operate in town?

Lavelle: I am in agreement with (the) existing moratorium.

Porter: I'm not sure the direct tax revenue increase is worth the risk to town culture, but there should be ways to balance those objectives. While the Board of Finance does not have direct control over such items, novel approaches in concert with the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Board of Selectmen can allow us to serve both purposes.

Rettger: Personally I would prefer not to have a retail marijuana presence in Ridgefield, but ultimately this is a policy decision of the Board of Selectmen, Planning and Zoning and the town meeting. … The Board of Finance can and should participate in the decision-making process by contributing objective advice on the financial implications of proposed policy actions, unbiased by any personal feelings on the issue.

Okrongly: We should use (the one-year moratorium) to better understand the types of businesses that fall under the new state legislation, beyond retail, and examine the potential risks and benefits of each. Ultimately, I would encourage the Board of Selectmen and Planning and Zoning to focus on community input, potentially in the form of a town meeting or referendum, in making this policy decision.

Question: What projects or initiatives would you like to see fulfilled using the town's American Rescue Plan monies?

Lavelle: We have talked about building a downtown parking garage for several years. This would be a project ... that would benefit the entire town and lead to increased foot traffic and revenue for our struggling village stores.

Porter: I expect that about half of those funds will now be used to cover the cost overruns with the water treatment facilities, and we used another portion to help close a budget gap this year, driven in part by increased spending related to COVID. The remainder should be used in support of other capital projects that will benefit the entire town, such as the proposed police/fire headquarters.

Rettger: I would like to see the money used in two ways: supplemental revenue in the town budget, thereby providing a direct benefit to all taxpayers, (and) funding for special investment needs that might not otherwise get funded. The town has established an ad-hoc group to solicit input from residents on their suggestions for using ARPA funds. I look forward to hearing that input as this process moves ahead.

Okrongly: The U.S. Treasury has specific guidelines regarding eligible uses of the ARPA funds, and it is critical that we adhere to those requirements. Consistent with these guidelines, I believe we should focus on two specific criteria when evaluating potential ARPA uses: providing support to those hit hardest by the pandemic, and finding investments (that) deliver lasting benefits to residents without significant, ongoing operating expenses to be covered by future budgets.

Election Day is Nov. 2.