Old Lyme candidates debate police, property taxes, regionalization

Candidates for Old Lyme First Selectman and Selectman, from left, Bonnie Reemsnyder, Mary Jo Nosal, Jude Read and Chris Kerr answer questions during a debate on Thursday, October 12, 2017 at Old Lyme Town Meeting Hall.  (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Candidates for Old Lyme First Selectman and Selectman, from left, Bonnie Reemsnyder, Mary Jo Nosal, Jude Read and Chris Kerr answer questions during a debate on Thursday, October 12, 2017 at Old Lyme Town Meeting Hall. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Old Lyme — Candidates for first selectwoman and the Board of Selectmen debated Thursday evening a range of topics, from the level of policing in the town's beach neighborhoods to controlling property taxes.

Incumbent First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder, a Democrat, and Judith Read, a Republican, are vying for the town’s top office in the Nov. 7 election, while Mary Jo Nosal, an incumbent Democrat on the board, and Republican Chris Kerr are running for the Board of Selectmen.

Paul Choiniere, editorial page editor for The Day, asked the candidates questions and Olwen Logan, the editor/publisher of LymeLine.com and Lyme-Old Lyme Chamber of Commerce president, moderated the “Meet the Candidates” night at Town Hall. An overflow crowd listened to the hour-long debate.

In response to a question regarding the level of policing in beach neighborhoods, the two teams of candidates disagreed over exploring a potential collaboration with East Lyme, which recently established its own police force.

Reemsnyder, who has served as first selectwoman for the past six years and has been on the Board of Selectmen since 2003, said the town was working to address police issues. She said heightened activity during the summer, two vacant police positions, now filled, and an officer on disability are being addressed by using overtime troopers on the weekends and exploring a potential collaboration with East Lyme.

"I think that if we are afraid to look into new ideas as communities then we're not being responsible as leaders," she said.

But Read, who has served on the Board of Finance and Board of Education, said: "The only guarantee that regionalization brings is a loss of control of one of the most important functions of the government of our town and that is to provide a safe community for our residents. We will ensure adequate staffing and communication with our police to ensure a safe community."

Nosal, who is seeking her fourth term as selectwoman, said that Reemsnyder and the Board of Finance chairman have begun discussions to see if there are synergies with East Lyme. She said a committee will be formed to explore sharing a police department, but nothing has been decided yet and if the town moved forward, the issue would go to a town meeting.

Kerr, who has served for more than 15 years on the Board of Finance and Planning Commission, agreed with Read that there is no reason to consolidate with East Lyme. He said Old Lyme should hire more part-time positions, adequately staff the full-time positions to avoid situations like the prior gap of being down two positions, and "keep everything local."

Reemsnyder said that given the current state budget crisis, the town has to "be brave enough" to have conversations to determine if some collaboration makes sense to provide better service and save money.

Read said the state is broke and the town shouldn't follow the state's model, but instead needs to be independent and work productively with the police department.

The candidate teams further disagreed on a question about the town's decision to join the Ledge Light Health District. Nosal said that "regionalization is a tool in a responsible government's tool belt," while Kerr said that regionalization means "losing control."

During the debate, the candidates also addressed what the town should do to stabilize property taxes.

Nosal said the town has worked with the school district to try to create low budgets and is pursuing a project to improve Halls Road to maintain and drive business to town.

Kerr said that the Board of Finance has kept the tax rate low, but with the state cutting funds and Old Lyme being primarily a residential community, the town has to encourage business.

Reemsnyder touted the administration's efforts to find savings, including moving to a self-funded health plan, going out to bid for electric rates, and installing LED streetlights.

Read said the town could save more in areas, including that the town has agreed to pay $150,000 for bathrooms at Hains Park, which were removed from the project to rebuild the Fred Emerson Boathouse by Rogers Lake. 

The candidates disagreed on progress toward a project to install sewers in Sound View, but they agreed in their support of the town working with the beach communities on the sewer project.

A video of the full debate will be posted on www.theday.com

k.drelich@theday.com

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