Greenwich’s First Selectman candidates faced off against each other last week at Greenwich High School’s Performing Arts Center in front of a crowd of about 300 people.
Jill Oberlander, a democrat, and Fred Camillo, a republican, took turns answering submitted questions from the public.
Oberlander is the current chair of the Board of Estimate and Taxation, and has several years of experience in local government in Greenwich and in New York City.
Camillo is currently serving his sixth term as a State Representative for the 151st District in Greenwich. He, too, has experience in town government over the years.
The two candidates agreed on a number of topics, but separated themselves on the issue of long-term financing for projects, and public/private partnerships.
Camillo stated that 83 percent of Greenwich’s debt is paid off within five years, and 92 percent is paid within 10 years.
“Under my administration, that will not change. That doesn’t mean that, if I look at a particular project, and it makes sense to go longer [with financing it], that’s fine. That’s what leadership is, you have to look at each project. But you never, never, ever want to abandon what has worked so well in Greenwich since the 1930’s,” Camillo said. “If you go with long-term debt as a policy, it’s going to result in more spending and more taxes. Look at Hartford; 120 years ago it was the wealthiest city in the country. Look at it today, it’s an absolute disaster.”
Oberlander is an advocate for more long-term spending. She said long-term financing is “already in play” in Greenwich with Nathaniel Witherell and the town’s sewers.
“The question really should be, what are our needs? What infrastructure does this community need? Are we investing enough? How are we protecting our seniors, our children, our residents? How are we preparing for the future?” she said.
Oberlander cited the closing of the Greenwich High School bleachers and issue of environmental remediation of fields at Western Middle School as examples of where cost was looked at first rather than needs.
“We need to make smart decisions. We’re a big town, a complex town with diverse needs. Long-term financing is a mechanism to accomplish your needs,” Oberlander added.
Camillo reiterated his desire to stay away from long-term financing.
“I grew up in this town, and I did not inherit debt, and I certainly am not going to pass it on to the next generation. How selfish is that?” Camillo said.
Oberlander responded and said she’s not suggesting the town fund every wishlist item, but the town should fund what’s needed and have the difficult conversations about what’s needed most.
Since Camillo began his campaign, he has stressed a strong desire to pursue public/private partnerships.
“I would ask that every project proposal that’s appropriated be accompanied by a public/private partnership,” Camillo said. “We absolutely have to do that. I believe in government, but I believe in small government.
We don’t want more government than we need… With 169 municipalities in the state of Connecticut, most of them would love to be in Greenwich’s position, to have citizens and groups like the Greenwich Athletic Foundation, open and asking us, almost begging us, to get involved with these things.”
Oberlander said that there are many public/private partnerships in town, and called them “critical parts of our community.” However, she said, they should be “supplementary to government.”
“Government needs to be the primary seat at the table. There needs to be accountability and transparency. We can’t outsource government,” she added.
The candidates were asked how they would handle plans to repair the Dorothy Hamill Rink.
Camillo suggested a public/private partnership, and said that Greenwich is “behind” on infrastructure compared to other towns in the state.
Oberlander agreed that Greenwich is behind, but said she would want town government to fund projects like a new ice rink. “I will lead a discussion on priorities, particularly on the infrastructure we have not gotten to. 30 years is a long time to talk about things and not do things,” Oberlander remarked. “We have schools that are in disrepair. 30 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act, we have schools that are not accessible. Greenwich is better than that. We need to have a conversation about the needs and the priorities, and then figure out how do we get that done.”
“I do not want government funding everything,” Camillo responded. “Our peer towns are West Hartford and Fairfield. West Hartford has a mill rate of over 38, Fairfield of 25. We’re a little over 11. We’re going to get to 38 pretty quickly if you rely on government to do everything.”
The candidates both pledged to work on issues related to the environment and climate change.
Oberlander said the environment is a big part of her platform. She noted that under her leadership, the BET funded and approved for the first time studies that look at rising sea levels as a result of climate change. “This allows us to plan,” she said. “Greenwich needs to move itself back ahead of the curve. We’ve taken the approach where we’re not active enough. We need to be a proactive government on environmental issues and climate change issues.”
Camillo agreed, and said he’d like to establish an enhancement and sustainability committee which will look at environmental policies and ways to improve aesthetics around town.
“We do have to lead. I want to make Greenwich the envy of the state when it comes to environmental policy and climate change,” Camillo said.
Oberlander and Camillo both voiced support over a potential new train station, but said they did not support the proposed redevelopment deal that would transfer air rights to The Ashforth Company, which owns Greenwich Plaza.
“The air rights are way too valuable to give up,” Camillo said, adding that the train station would overall be part of his vision to connect Greenwich Avenue to the waterfront.
Oberlander said that the town needs to get expert advice on the valuation of the air rights before moving forward. She expressed a desire to create a committee that would work with various town departments to tackle all of the issues that might arise with the project.
The candidates both agreed that the community needs to keep an eye on a potential plan to place a mooring for a barge in Stamford waters near Old Greenwich. Residents came out in full force last week to object to the proposal brought forth by Weeks Marine, a construction and dredging contractor. The proposal is currently withdrawn.
“We can’t take our foot off the pedal or our eye off the ball on this one. It’s still going to be there,” Camillo said.
“We need to build a record about both recreational uses as well as the commercial uses on our side that would be impacted by any placement of a mooring. We need to stay vigilant and show up,” Oberlander added.
The Round Hill Association will host a debate between Oberlander and Camillo on Oct. 22 at the Round Hill Community House at 7 p.m. They will also face-off against each other during a debate at Greenwich High School on Nov. 1 in which students will ask questions.