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Debate 3: The Final Round

On Thursday, First Selectman candidates Martha Jankovic-Mark and incumbent Tim Herbst squared off for the third and final time before Nov. 5 in a debate centered around business.

The debate was sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and the Bridgeport Regional Business Council, so many questions dealt with taxes and economic development.

Asked what his short-term and long-term goals are, Herbst said, "You need a stable and predictable tax rate." Shelton does well in terms of business because of its stable taxes, he added.

"You need to give businesses the tools and resources they need," the first selectman said, in addition to growing the Grand List and finishing the Plan of Conservation and Development revision.

Democrat Martha Jankovic-Mark, who serves on the Town Council, agreed the Grand List and the commercial properties need to grow, but will also be helped by more sidewalks and bicycle paths, raising limits on building heights and stabilizing the tax rate.

She said Herbst has not stabilized the tax rate because personal property taxes and motor vehicle taxes have increased by 24 percent, and the tax rate is the highest it has been in decades.

Real estate taxes increased by 1.88 percent because a revaluation reduced home values on average by 20 percent, she said.

"My opponent has increased spending by $20 million over four years," she added.

Herbst replied that "The hypocrisy is mind-numbing." As a member of the Town Council, Mark voted to approve a $73 million as-new renovation to Trumbull High School, he said. 

That amount has been reduced to about $68 million, but the town is still paying the costs of the bond. "When you borrow it, Martha, I have to pay for it," he said.

He also attacked her statement that she would provide services without increasing spending or raising taxes.

"How are you going to pay for it?" he asked.

Going to the Mall

Both candidates agreed that the Westfield Trumbull, as the town's biggest tax payer and employer, is vital to economic improvement in town. 

But its residential neighbors must also be protected.

"We want to enhance our community. We don't want want to distress it in any way," she said.

Mark also noted another area of potential is Route 108.

Herbst said the Plan of Conservation and Development will shape business growth in town, and planned development is needed, especially for the area around the Trumbull Mall.

Other areas are on Route 108, on Main Street south of the Merritt Parkway and the former P.J.'s Garden Center building, which is "pre-existing and non-conforming."

P.J.'s closed last year and could be turned into 1-bedroom apartments and a shopping center. No plans have been filed yet.

Mark replied that under Herbst, there has been "negative Grand List growth."

In a later question about the mall, Herbst said the mall should be made into a more regional destination, or "life center," by adding grocery stores and other businesses to attract more shoppers.

Taxes and Sewers

On taxes, Herbst said Mark participated in raising taxes by 54 percent in eight years, with an average annual increase of six percent.

Mark said Herbst let a sewer contract with Bridgeport lapse without having a plan in place. She added that a regional authority would require more than Trumbull and Bridgeport.

Citing past conflicts between Herbst and Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, she said the first selectman "has had trouble working with other people."

Herbst replied that Mark's negative votes on a municipal budget and hiring an executive director for Trumbull EMS show that Mark "has a problem working with people."

Mark objected to hiring the EMS chief because the process violated the charter.

Herbst concluded by saying that Trumbull and Bridgeport are negotiating  a new sewer contract, but Bridgeport is pushing for direct billing of Trumbull residents and removing an equalizing clause.

Both of those items would increase sewer use fees on top of the recent 34 percent increase, Herbst said. Bridgeport also wants Trumbull to pay upgrading all of Bridgeport's sewer facilities, instead of the just the one facility Trumbull uses.

It took seven years to negotiate the last contract, the first selectman added.

Industrial Parks and Merritt Boulevard

Herbst said there is great potential for business expansion at the town's industrial park. He proposed connecting industrial parks throughout Fairfield County.

Development is the way to increase the Grand List, Mark said. "We need to look for creative solutions attract high-tech businesses but we need to stabilize the personal property tax rate first," she said.

Herbst replied that personal property tax increases came from state-mandated revaluation, which he said was unfunded.

Later, Herbst said the town should not be afraid to "reach into other communities" to lure businesses into town. "We're not afraid to make the sales pitch."

Stern Village and the Board of Education

Asked how they would develop relationships with members of the Trumbull Housing Authority/Stern Village and the school board, Mark said, "I work well with other people and I will work well with all of them."

She said she would re-open the town charter to extend Board of Education terms so members would be more effective. Current terms last two years.

For education funding, Mark said she will emphasize class-size and curriculum.

Regarding Stern Village, she praised Executive Director Harriet Polansky but said she disagreed with certain budget changes.

Herbst said he had to put together a budget in 30 days after he was elected in 2009. He was confident republican school board candidates could do the same. "These are very intelligent people," he said.

Herbst said the new THA and Stern Village officials have improved the complex, which houses seniors and the disabled. 

"I have a good relationship with the residents," Herbst said.

Town Budgeting

Herbst said Trumbull's taxes are low compared to surrounding communities. "It's certainly better than Stratford. It's certainly better than Bridgeport," he said.

Trumbull gets more and higher-quality services for its money, Herbst added.

Mark vowed to implement zero-based budgeting in all departments, and repeated that Trumbull's tax rate is the highest it's been in decades. Earlier, she noted she left the Republicans in 2011 because she thought Herbst was spending too much.

She said she has always been "fiscally conservative," and asked Herbst if he would serve a full term or leave if a better opportunity arose.

"It's amazing you can find fiscal conservatism a week before the election," Herbst said.
Richard W. White November 02, 2013 at 03:29 PM
"Herbst replied that personal property tax increases came from state-mandated revaluation, which he said was unfunded." Where to start? First, the state sets the rate for personal property items such as cars, towns don't really have to do anything other than collect the revenue. Second, for the real estate side, is Mr. Herbst advocating that either the state pay for the municipal reval OR that it not be required? Both are bad. Third, Mr. Herbst requested that our last reval be postponed one year and then reduced the cost of the reval from approximately $500,000 to $200,000; why the huge change in cost? Basically, he kicked the can on full inspections down the road five years.

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