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Special Election Debate Offers Discussion By Selectman Candidates Kozlark, Heiser, DiPreta

The three candidates for the April 27 special election gathered to discuss town issues.

Nearing the end of an ordeal that began in mid-December of last year, Ridgefield residents gathered Saturday morning for a little democracy in action.

The three candidates in the special election to decide whether Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark remains in her position until November debated at Veterans Park Elementary School for the first and only time before the town votes on April 27.

The debate, sponsored by the League of Women voters, featured the unaffiliated-running Republican Kozlark, the Republican Town Committee-nominated Marty Heiser and the Independent-nominated Tony DiPreta.

After former Selectwoman Joan Plock resigned from the position late last year, Heiser and Kozlark both came forward to interview with the remaining board, which opted for Kozlark – the RTC felt slighted by the decision and called for the special election by gathering a petition.

The two Republicans spent much of the morning in stride, demonstrating similar views regarding specific issues in town. DiPreta often had a slightly different view from his opponents.

One subject that was bound to differentiate the candidates was that of next year’s school budget, which Heiser recently voted as a member of the Board of Finance to cut by about $850 thousand, or 1.81 percent, against both the Board of Education’s and the Board of Selectmen’s recommendations of 2.9 percent and 2.49 percent respectively.

Heiser stood by the finance board’s vote.

“It was a painful and difficult vote,” Heiser said. “It can be done, but I’m not saying it’s going to be easy.”

He recommended the Board of Education make these cuts to teachers’ salaries and benefits and look into further cuts in energy costs and health insurance.

Kozlark, on the other hand, defended the Board of Education and its budget.

“The Board of Education had worked very hard to keep their budget down,” Kozlark said. “The cuts made by the Board of Finance are detrimental to the school system and to the town – $850 thousand was just way too much.”

DiPreta felt the schools could be run more like a business, he said, and that the Board of Education should be more aggressive in cutting costs on products for the schools. He also mentioned his stance against the possible purchase of a cell tower, to which the town would contribute $350 thousand, money that could be used by the schools, he said.

Both Heiser and Kozlark stood in favor of the cell tower to be built in Ridgebury pending further authorization.

A question that started the debate regarding past decisions by the Board of Selectmen gave some trouble to Kozlark, who indicated she was “comfortable and pleased” with the decisions made by the board in the last two years.

Heiser, who had a few more minutes to come up with an answer, mentioned the legal issues with former firefighter Nick Gaeta as a “reprehensible” action by the Board of Selectmen. He also mentioned the struggling economy and the board’s tendency to “be all things to all people” rather than being more selective in choosing projects.

DiPreta focused on the treatment of senior citizens and veterans as a subject he would have voted differently from the board in the last few years.

Among the subjects on which both Heiser and Kozlark agreed were their support of upcoming additions to the library, their conservative support for closing an elementary school if or when enrollment drops and their support of bringing gas lines to the schools to save money on utilities.

DiPreta, on these same subjects, felt the library additions were brought forward at the wrong time economically, was opposed to closing a school and felt there would be other ways to save besides bring a gas line to the school.

The audience behaved the whole time as per LWV rules except for one comment that brought a few murmurs.

During his closing remarks, Heiser mentioned that there was only one Republican on the Board of Selectmen. There are in fact two in Kozlark and Selectman Andrew Bodner, but the RTC has indicated in written statements their lack of support for Kozlark as a Republican candidate.

The election will take place April 27 for the entire town to vote, and debate moderator Jean Rabinow urged those in attendance – only about 100 people – to spread the word.

Mary April 11, 2011 at 10:58 AM
During the debate, Mr. Heiser commented that he did not support pet projects that only benefited a few. Yet, he is in favor of using $350k taxpayer dollars to put up a cell tower because he wants cell service around the high school. Is this about what we "need" Mr. Heiser or what we "want"? Cell service is a convenience and if you or anyone else wants cell service at the high school check with your carrier to see how you can boost your own service....say "Cell NO!" to using $350k of taxpayer dollars for a cell tower...consider giving it to the BOE for education instead of cell service!
Mary Coleman April 11, 2011 at 02:03 PM
My son was injured slightly in a ballgame at RHS this weekend. He did not require an ambulance but when he tried to call home to tell us he needed to go to the hospital for stitches, we were unable to hear him as the cell service was so poor. This is only one small instance where a new cell tower in that part of town would have been a benefit to a Ridgefield citizen.
LAXmen April 11, 2011 at 02:23 PM
What about installing an emergency land line phone at tiger hollow and the baseball fields. It would be even safer than cell phones. What if a student on a team gets hurt on the field and all their cell phones are in the locker room? The land line would always be there and available. The incremental costs of adding one more land line phone to the high school must be practically nothing. Certainly much less expensive than $350,000.
Mary April 11, 2011 at 02:38 PM
I agree with the need for service at the field for emergency purposes. Land lines, 911 boxes or even a DAS system which is like a mini cell tower antenae that would give service to the fields are other viable options that have not been considered. They are less costly and would not require an ugly cell tower on the beautiful ridgeline in the north end of town... in a residential neighborhood where young children play.
Chris Glidden April 11, 2011 at 02:43 PM
A landline is certainly the easiest/cheapest way to solve this problem. However, there still are ways to bring cell service to Tiger Hollow without erecting a cell tower. There are a variety of cell boosters onthe market (Alcatel-Lucent Small Cell for one) that can be connected to broadband internet connections. This could bring cell service where it is needed also at much less than 350K.
enough_already April 11, 2011 at 03:20 PM
Only in Ridgefield could a simple problem, like having a phone at Tiger Hollow, turn into a $350,000 "solution". Haven't we had enough of this already? My God, who comes up with these ideas? Put in a land-line phone and stop making the residents pay for every little whim of a handful of uninventive whiners.
John McNicholas April 11, 2011 at 10:32 PM
I attended the debate and found it interesting that only one candidate could respond to all questions in cohesive and logical answers--- Marty Heiser. Ms. Koslark- a proponent of education- failed dramatically in her answers begining with question #1 to which she had no answer that made any sense. I rated the responses and gave it Heiser-8 Kozlark 0 DiPretta-0. Three responses were not a clear winner so I gave Heiser 1 1/2 additional and Kozalrk 1 1/2. Susan Coco also earned a big 10 with her outburst towards the end of the debate. Perhaps she should consider running.
Michael Gibney April 11, 2011 at 10:55 PM
Please note there is now (as of 6:50 p.m.) a video attached shot by Alfonso Robinson of the Hat City Blog that includes the debate in its entirety. Thank you.
brett malone April 12, 2011 at 12:29 AM
I believe the 350k Is and investment. The town would get rent back as revenue for quite some time. Also there might be some land set aside for more free space. 350k Is a lot but should provide a return for years. To come.
John Symon April 12, 2011 at 03:57 AM
Mary Didn't Ms. kozlark vote for the cell tower as a member of the BoS? I thought she supported it as a capital item.... Do I have that wrong? I agree, I don't think it is necessary at this time, FYI.
Steven Coury April 12, 2011 at 10:55 PM
I am a lifelong resident of the town of Ridgefield and I attended the Ridgefield Public Schools from Kindergarten at Farmingville through Ridgefield High School. I remember Branchville closing then reopening. I remember Barlow closing then reopening. Then all of a sudden, a bundle of new schools, renovations, additions, and rec centers popped-up and the town's debt ballooned. I love those amenities, but I wish we could apply those debt service payments to something else now. I soon will have 4 kids of my own in the Ridgefield Public Schools, and no one supports the schools and the town more than I do--that's why I'm supporting Marty Heiser. My vision of Ridgefield is much different than that of the democratic party and the other candidates for the Board of Selectmen, and frankly, what I currently see is a government that has become fat, dumb, and lazy with leadership that is adept at doing less with more, and not very good at doing the basic things that elected officials are supposed to do. I believe that for every dollar you spend you better get more than a dollar in results, that you can't spend more than you have, that you can't necessarily solve problems or make things better by spending money, and that you can't break the backs of the taxpayer and make the town even less affordable to citizens and businesses. It's about common sense and a new way of government.
Alex Karsanidi April 13, 2011 at 12:16 AM
I missed the debate due to an illness, but from everything I have heard and read points to an overwhelmingly successful presentation and discussion by Marty Heiser compared to the other candidates. I realize it will still come down to voter turnout for either side, but it's obvious the Democrats and PTA/Education lobby will continue to overlook the financial difficulties Ridgefield is faced with. I think it's time we accept the reality that we need somone experienced like Marty Heiser who can deal with fiscal responsibility with more than just words and promises.
Marc Fleuette April 13, 2011 at 02:01 AM
I too missed the debate. But as far as I can tell, there is still only one realistic candidate with a strong background in public service and a deep knowledge of the town's finances and major issues: Marty Heiser. We're in a very difficult spot in Ridgefield, Connecticut, and the USA. Everyone is going to have to pitch-in until we get spending under control at every level.
Tom Watson April 13, 2011 at 02:20 AM
Tom Watson I am dissapointed that so few people attended the debate. Those who did are better informed regarding the issues that face our town and the ability of the candidates to articulate thier positions. Marty Heiser is clealy the most experienced and informed regarding the issues we face. He articulated his postions clealy and concisely.The budget as approved by the BOS represents an increase over prior years spending and a tax increase at a time when our town, state and nation are in a recession. We must insist on elected officials who have the experience and strengh of character to make tough decisons now. Mary Heiser is a business owner and BOF member. He and his wif Caroline have raised their childrne here and love this town. A vote for Mary is a vote for quality schools and town services that are affordable for all residents. . Just ask yourseelf how many families in Ridefield are receiving higher wages to cover higher prices and higher taxes? Marty cares and will act accordingly.
onfence April 13, 2011 at 02:43 AM
I'm reading these things about how Marty is going to save us from the overspending. But doesnt he want to give 350K to cell tower and 5 million to library? I don't see how he will lower my taxes if he is in favor of spending as much as the dems.
Bob J April 13, 2011 at 11:48 AM
Maureen seems like a very nice person, but she knows nothing about the BOS. What makes that scary is that she's on it. Marty Heiser knows every issue front to back and his vote will be an informed one. I'm voting for Marty, hands-down, and if you care about this town I suggest you do the same.
Jamie Shafer April 15, 2011 at 03:42 AM
We do not need a new library - this whole library issue is enough to make me vote against anyone who proposes to go along with it. The forces behind the library have tried to sell the town and all citizens on a pig in poke. Economic conditions do not permit this kind of foolishness! And the cell tower is another piece of nonsense imho. What's wrong with a landline? And yes, we do need cuts in the BdofE budget - we always need cuts there - this budget and all town expenditures have grown like evil fungi. Does anyone understand that the state of Connecticut is one of the highest taxed states in the US, and as such it is losing population and businesses - not just losing but hemorrhaging taxpayers. I want to support the candidate who has the most common sense about finances, and so far I have not seen such a person.
Asking April 15, 2011 at 06:14 AM
I agree Jamie. We do not need a library. My guess, Wilton has a new library as does Darien, so some people feel we need to get one too. We overlook two important details: 1) Wilton and Darien are wealthier towns. They can afford a library because their residents make more money that we do. 2) We already spent our wad. We bought more things than other towns in recent years, new schools, rec center, etc. We are in no position to now go out and put anything else on the credit card. We need to face reality. I hope this is clear to everyone, especially this year. I believe the schools are having trouble getting a higher budget exactly because we are maxed out. Oh the irony. We bought ourselves fancy new school buildings, but now we don't have enough money to staff the buildings. Who is in favor of this arrangement? We should have thought this out better before approving "The Bundle". Anecdote: A few years ago I attended the annual town budget meeting. One thing in particular caught my attention. A group of rah rah "schoolies" voted yes on new lawn mowers for the golf course and every other little thing that came up. A week later the school budget was defeated. I still wonder if they get it. With hindsight, do they look back and maybe connect the dots? If we spend money on every wish list item, then no, there will be no money left for their schools.
Alex Karsanidi April 15, 2011 at 03:33 PM
Hallelujah! The awakening to the foolishness of some of Ridgefields financial decisions seem to be finally grasped by many out there. However, talk is cheap and, while the commonsense fiscal responsibility message preached by Marty Heiser and the BOF for years is hitting home more and more these days, it all comes down to following through at the ballot box. The silent majority who have seen for years that we are spending oursleves into a ghost town have finally found their voice, but now we need to make sure that message is heard with a vote for sanity. Marty Heiser is your man on April 27th.
Jamie Shafer April 15, 2011 at 03:44 PM
I vote - always vote - nearly always disappointed and have a real huge objection to this final nail in the coffin - the library. The backers of this pie-in-the sky project figure if they put in some seed money then we'll all get behind it and spend more money we don't have. If the backers who send out flossy mailings promoting this scam would pay ALL the cost of the building plus ALL the cost of staffing this monstrosity, then I might think other wise. But you all know it's not going to happen- they will just stick it to the taxpayers once again. You'd think we'd learn - kind of like Charlie Brown, Lucy and the football.
Robert Lavelle April 15, 2011 at 06:08 PM
Commenting on the form of the debate, Heiser was well-prepared, knowledgeable, well-spoken; Kozlark appeared flustered and had difficulty presenting views during a few of her answers, especially considering she has been a Selectman for four months. Objectively as I can be, I believe if I was an out-of-towner who wandered in and listed and had to decide, I would say Heiser appeared to be the better candidate. To comment briefly on 2 issues, first the library. Bookstore chains are going out of business because of the internet. Same with reference information and knowledge, one can find a plethora of information on any subject, from home, in a matter of seconds. Investing millions of dollars in a bigger library building now? Very bad idea. I'm at the existing library several times a week, and have never seen it crowded or over-used, ever. If the objective is for social meeting space for hanging out, presentations, etc., there is ample space at the town Rec center. Second, cell phone tower. I don't care about a four or 5 year investment payback. One acre of space would be overkill by a bunch for the site requirements. Spending $350,000 of town money at any time, but especially in this economy, is nuts. And if the local community strongly objects to the tower, and the major issue is communication at the high school, that issue should be and can be fixed a lot more easily and cheaply.
Caution April 15, 2011 at 06:12 PM
"The awakening to the foolishness of some of Ridgefields financial decisions seem to be finally grasped by many out there. " I am hoping you are right. I am hoping even the school parents now understand that if we spend money on wish list items, there is no money left to fund the schools. * Industry standards suggest that fire engines should be replaced after 20 years. We are replacing ours after 10 years. * Some towns replace their police cars every 4 years (New Canaan). Other towns are on an 8 year cycle (Norwalk). I'd put Ridgefield's financial status somewhere in the middle, but closer to New Canaan. I see no reason to replace our police cars on a 3 year cycle. We can't afford to outspend New Canaan. * $350,000 to buy more open space? That's 5 teachers. Or that's more than a mile of repaved road. What would you rather have, necessities like teahcers and roads? Or yet another hiking trail? Examples like this make me question all of our "necessary" expenses. I'll be voting no on the capital items with the hope that the money can be put to better use or even left in the pockets of the taxpayers.
interestinridgefieldeducation April 15, 2011 at 11:11 PM
This article should be renamed "Marty Heiser Fan Club Comments."
Caution April 16, 2011 at 12:18 AM
Insulting and inflamatory. Is that what Maureen represents? I was going to vote for her, should I not? I am pointing out areas where we waste money, money that could have instead gone to education. Anyone who has a problem with that is anti-education.
Don Trump April 16, 2011 at 12:31 AM
Caution - get real interested - so what? Afraid of the truth?

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