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New London candidates address voter concerns at forum

New London - Three of the four candidates vying to represent New London in the state's General Assembly fielded questions from voters Wednesday night during a forum sponsored by taxpayer watchdog group Looking Out for Taxpayers.

The forum included the two candidates for the 41st House District seat, which covers Groton and the southern part of New London - incumbent Democrat Elissa Wright and Republican challenger Aundre Bumgardner - and one candidate for the 39th House District seat, which covers the northern part of the city - Republican challenger Andrew R. Lockwood. Incumbent Democrat Ernest Hewett did not participate in the forum.

During the question and answer session, which focused largely on fiscal issues at the city and state levels, Wright touted her experience in Hartford and previously at the city level in Groton working to reduce property tax burdens.

"I have a deep knowledge of local government, the complexities of government, the difficulties of municipal budgets and raising revenues locally," Wright said. "I have brought those same interests with me in my work in the legislature."

Bumgardner advocated for a comprehensive change in the state's tax system, including a shift that would have the vehicle tax collected at the state level and allocated exclusively to fund transportation projects.

"We need a complete overhaul of the entire tax structure because if we continue this course, of having a taxation system that is entirely regressive and too disproportionately levied on middle class families, we are not going to have young people who want to stay here," said Bumgardner, 20. "As a young person, I think our elected delegation and the individuals we have in Hartford now have done nothing to incentivize any individual staying here."

Lockwood argued that the state's spending is "out of control" and said he would support any measure that would increase the amount of money the city receives from Payment in Lieu of Taxes from colleges, hospitals and nonprofit organizations.

"I think our community has to start looking at all possibilities and start asking them for more help," Lockwood said. "We have to have that conversation with them. We're hurting here now and we cannot keep raising tax dollars on our seniors, forcing them out of their homes, forcing them out of the community because there is some other nonprofit that wants to come up and get a free ride."

The candidates also spoke about the opportunity New London has to become the state's first all-magnet school district and the financial support the state might provide to see that opportunity through.

"New London is going to need experienced, seasoned legislators in Hartford to advocate for the best possible state level of funding for whatever project the taxpayers, the citizens of New London, decide to pursue," Wright said. "I do have a track record of working with my colleagues ... for getting results. We have invested in New London's schools."

c.young@theday.com

Twitter: @ColinAYoung

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