Election 2017: Board of Finance candidates answer questions

Five candidates are seeking three Board of Finance seats in two separate races.

Four candidates are vying for two full four-year finance terms: Republican incumbents Marty Heiser and Michael Raduazzo, Democratic incumbent Sean Connelly, and Democrat Amy Macartney Freidenrich. Voters can choose two and two of the four will be elected.

Freidenrich is also going head-to-head with Republic Richard Moccia to fill out a two-year vacancy — one of the two will get the seat. If Freidenrich wins both a four-year and a two-year seat, she would have to resign one and that place would then be filled by a vote of finance board members, but the replacement would have to be another Democrat.

The Press asked all the candidates two questions, to be answered in writing within word limits. Answers appear in the order they were received.

1) What’s your view of the current levels of taxation and town and school spending? In what areas do you think spending by the town and schools should be reduced or increased? (200 words)

AMY MACARTNEY FREIDENRICH (D): The town’s current mill rate yields the funds necessary to meet the town’s expenses while preserving a fund balance that protects Ridgefield’s AAA rating, validated recently by Moody’s decision to hold Ridgefield’s rating while placing 26 other towns under review.

The Town’s expenses are consistent year-over-year with only moderate increases.  This speaks to our ability to keep town spending low while not impacting services for seniors, and all residents.

I went to Branchville and ERMS. My mother taught at VP, where our daughter also attended. I know the value that excellence in education brings to families and our property values. Ridgefield must continue to fund our schools to meet the needs of our children.  Where there are unfunded mandates, Ridgefield must push back.

As a small business owner I did a line-item review of Ridgefield’s budget. It’s well constructed. There is, however, money being left on the table.  We can realize savings/increase efficiency by centralizing purchasing for schools and the town, currently not done. In light of the state’s budget crisis, every expense needs to be vetted.

Finally, let’s invest in economic development. I want to encourage more small businesses to choose Ridgefield thereby creating jobs and increasing revenue.

Richard Moccia (R): Levels of taxation and spending are at the crux of the decisions make by the BOF.  In  discussion with veterans on the BOF, Marty Heiser and Mike Raduazzo, they impressed on me that they tried to balance the needs of the town, while trying to trying to hold tax increases to a minimum.  No easy task.  If we look at the upcoming budget season, given the uncertainty of the state budget it will be a daunting task for the Board.   Therefore before talking about decreasing or increasing budgets,  I believe we should look at Zero based budgeting, which basically states to all departments, you start at zero and justify every expense.  It will require a culture change, but if we want to continue to keep Ridgefield  prosperous, we need to move from the old ways..  That is why I proposed that the BOE and BOF should meet more often during the budget process and during the year, to allow both boards to have an understanding of the problems that each face, and offer possible solutions.   As we move forward, it will require Communication, Co-operation, Consideration and the final C word, Compromise.

MARTY HEISER (R): Having been on the BOF for 24 years, with three different First Selectmen and six School Superintendents, I have seen the needs of the school system and the ability of the town to pay rise and fall.

 When schools were overcrowded the taxpayers of the town stepped up and passed a $150,000,000.—“Bundle” that addressed those needs.  Every homeowner in Ridgefield saw their taxes go up. Now, with decreasing enrollment it is fair for our fellow citizens to expect that the BOE seeks to find savings within their budget to give the taxpayers a break.

It is the role of the BOF to balance some of these pressing needs.

As I look at all the town departments I focus on personnel as the best area to find savings. With the BOE they are teaching approximately 550 fewer students than they were a number of years ago yet their headcount has increased by 94 people. I think there are savings to be had.

We all love this town. All three of my children were blessed to go through the Ridgefield School System from kindergarten to graduation from RHS. We can keep our schools world class and our town affordable.

MICHAEL RADUAZZO (R): As a current member of the Board of Finance for the past two years, and a member of the Board of Education for the four years prior to that, I have work tirelessly to deliver responsible budgets to the town. This has come at the cost of making some very difficult cuts to ensure we delivered an overall budget to the taxpayers that is fiscally responsible. These decisions do not come lightly to me and I do my homework by closely reading through each budget packet, asking probing questions of each board and polling the electorate to ensure I get a sense for what people want and are willing to pay for with their taxes.

I cannot speak for how we have gotten to the current levels prior to six years ago but what I can answer for are six years of budgets that have gone through intense scrutiny. As Ridgefield heads into our next budget season we will be faced with a lot of uncertainty from the State with regard to the loss of funding and a potential transfer of teacher pension obligations. If elected to another four years on the BOF I can guarantee I will continue to ensure we deliver budgets that are responsible and representative of the needs of all taxpayers.

SEAN CONNELLY (D): Schools are an important driver of Ridgefield’s value for all residents. Families move here for the high quality education. High quality schools support property values for all property owners. Schools are also the biggest driver of town spending. We must be sure to take all perspectives into account when considering school spending and strike the right balance between investment in our schools and our overall town finances. I believe overall spending levels of the BOE are appropriate to prepare our children for the future.  It is important to note that Ridgefield continues to spend less per student than other local districts even as we have very positive outcomes in student achievement. That said, we must also carefully scrutinize our education investments to ensure the money we spend is funding the programs and experiences that will have the greatest impact on learning and student well-being.   

  1. Why should voters choose you for the finance board? (150 words)  

AMY MACARTNEY FREIDENRICH (D): There are only five members on the Board of Finance to advocate for all 25,000 residents.  I want to be one of them.  I believe BOF members must not only have good judgment, but be profoundly connected to the town. This cannot be done overnight, from an office in NYC, or once a month at Town Hall.  

I grew up in town and now own a thriving business, Ross Bread, in Ridgefield. I have a lot of face-time with neighbors (83,000 transactions last year): business people, parents and toddlers, seniors, and RHS students who work for me after school. I hear everyone’s concerns.

I am the only candidate who is this in touch with our community.

By setting budgets, eliminating waste, keeping costs down and creating efficiencies, I took Ross from Good to Great. This is what I will do for all residents of Ridgefield on the Board of Finance.

RICHARD MOCCIA (R): My experience is as follows. I have held elected and appointed positions in my career. Including Councilman, Fire and Police Commissioner, four term Mayor of Norwalk, where I sat on the Board of Finance as a voting member, as well as ex officio member of the BOE.  I  served on national committees with US Conference of Mayors. I know budgets, and the processes to review and vote on them.  There is no substitute for experience and that experience has taught me this. That in addition to having some answers, it is equally important to know the right questions to ask. I hope to secure your vote. But equally important is to please vote.

MARTY HEISER (R): Voters should choose me for the BOF because I have the experience and knowledge of the Town budgets and an ability to look ahead. Having lived through economic ups and downs, I have a good feel of the financial pulse of the residents of Ridgefield.

I listen to people and I always look for ways to improve the town without increasing taxes. The Playhouse, Lounsbury Farms, New Library, Spray Bay, Tiger Hollow and Founders Hall, are examples of public/private partnerships that have benefited the town without adversely effecting taxes.

  I’m not beholden to any particular group and have no trouble saying no. I recognize that the Ridgefield School System reflects our values and is the economic foundation to our town; attracting new citizens and supporting real estate values.

My cell # 203-438-2003.

Keeping Ridgefield affordable and world class is my motivation. I am asking for your vote on Nov. 7.

MICHAEL RADUAZZO (R): As previously stated I have served on both the Board of Education and the Board of Finance over the past six years which means I have a deep understanding of what is in each budget. In addition to that I have over 30 years of experience in finance and accounting having worked for several multinational companies including Pfizer, Diageo, PwC and currently AIG as Director of Compliance and Controls. Here in Ridgefield, I am deeply embedded in the community as a current Scout leader for Troop 431, member of St Mary’s Men’s Ministry and have previously served on the Ridgefield Prevention Council and Ridgefield Education Foundation which has provided me the opportunity to maintain insight into the pulse of the town. If elected I can promise you I will work hard to ensure we continue to pass fiscally responsible budgets. Please come out and let your voice be heard on November 7.

SEAN CONNELLY (D): I am a passionate advocate for Ridgefield have supported our town in my 11 years here through coaching hundreds of our kids in soccer, Boy Scout Den leader and on the Board of Finance. My goal for the Board of Finance is to ensure we have the right balance of savings and investments to continue to be a great place to live, raise a family, and retire. We must invest appropriately where needed, such as schools, roads, recreation, fire and police while keeping our tax burden under control. Protecting taxes is only one side of the equation and may inhibit our ability to maintain our town, and ultimately, our property values. Yet we must scrutinize where our money is spent to ensure it has the greatest impact.  I will balance data driven analytics with broad-based input to ensure we make informed decisions that serve the interests of our entire town.