Montville Town Council candidates face pressure to bring taxes down despite hurdles
Montville — At the transfer station, the senior center, at campaign events and at their front doors, candidates for the Town Council say residents have been asking for one thing: bring their taxes down.
The five Democrats on the ballot, members of the party that has held a majority on the town's legislative body for two decades, say they have been doing their best to keep mill rate increases as low as possible, and argue that many of the town's economic problems are a symptom of the state's financial woes, not mismanagement at the town level.
The two Republican council members running for re-election, and the four other Republicans trying to get on the board, say they think that if they had the majority, things would be different.
In Montville, a town where political parties are more like teams than reflections of political philosophy, voters' decisions on Tuesday will answer question the two parties have posed over the last weeks: Do you like what you have?
"Our theme this year is, 'If you like what you have, keep it,'" said Tom McNally, 41, the Republican Town Committee's chairman and a candidate for the Town Council.
McNally — who owns a lawn care business, previously served on the Board of Education and Town Council and ran usuccessfully for mayor in 2015 — criticized the current council for relying too much on bonding for capital projects and not renegotiating the compact the town has with the Mohegan Tribe.
"I think we've done a good job," said Democrat Joseph Jaskiewicz, the town's former mayor and the council chairman, who is running for a fifth term on the council.
The council passed a school budget of $37,660,619, a general government budget of $20,300,168 and a capital budget of $690,082 in June, after months of deliberation, that raised the town's mill rate by about $100 on a home with an assessed value of $100,000.
Jaskiewicz, 71, pointed to stable tax increases, the council's approval of Mayor Ronald McDaniel's proposal to install LED streetlights on town roads and cost-savings the council has realized in the face of cuts to town aid in the state budget as successes.
"Right now I think we've got to really evaluate where we are, and what the cuts are," he said. "I think for now, we really just have to let the cards fall where they may."
Kathleen Pollard, who has served four terms both as a member of the now-defunct Independence for Montville party and as a Republican, said she also been hearing from voters about their property taxes. Pollard, 59, declined to outline any proposals she would put forward if re-elected to address the tax rate.
"I'm not sure where we would begin," she said. "I would definitely state what I see that we should work on. There's quite a bit — taxes, and I can't say anything more."
Joe Rogulski, Pollard's fellow Republican on the council, said Thursday that he rejects the political binary in Montville.
"I don't care if you're a Democrat or Republican, just vote for the person who you think is going to do the best job," said Rogulski, an information technology manager at the Ledyard manufacturing company Davis-Standard who also helps his family run the Brown Derby restaurant.
Rogulski, 44, said he has been able to oversee changes to the town's IT and vehicle replacement policies as a member of the council's policy-focused subcommittee. He said many of the town's financial problems were caused by poor planning by previous councils.
Jim Andriote, a longtime player in town politics, is running for the council as a Republican after many years as the head of the Independence for Montville party, which he folded this year.
Andriote, who is retired from a security job with the Mohegan Tribe, said he plans if elected to continue his crusade against what he sees as excessive town spending, put in place more support for the town's Economic Development Commission, which he says has been neglected, and push for more financial support for the town from the tribe.
Jeff Rogers, a retired state trooper, announced he was running for political office for the first time last year after he was passed over for a seat on the town Parks and Recreation Commission. Rogers, 47, echoed the proposal to push the Mohegan Tribe for more financial support and said he hopes to disrupt the "status quo" on the council.
"We have a giant casino in our town," the Republican said. "We've done nothing to move the town in a direction to capitalize on that."
Democrat Tim May, who is running for a third two-year term, criticized the proposal to push the Mohegan Tribe for support as a request for a "handout."
"They are looking for a weird form of welfare from the Mohegans," he said.
May said the council has helped the town build a healthy fund balance to protect against future financial uncertainty, managed the effects of the lawsuit, settled in 2008, against the Rand Whitney containerboard company and passed tight budgets in the past two years.
"We're in good shape," said May, 52, an Electric Boat engineer who also owns his own engineering consulting company.
Chuck Longton, a self-described "conservative Democrat" running for a fourth term on the council, said the council has cut fat from the budgets in the past several years in response to waning town aid in state budgets.
"We've been anticipating for about four years now that the state's reckless spending was going to catch up with them, and they were going to be looking to the towns for their bad decision making," said Longton, 71, who retired from Electric Boat last week.
Democrat Billy Caron, who is 50 and running for his 11th term on the council, pointed to the LED streetlights initiative, grant-funded capital improvements and a switch to bigger recycling bins as ways the council has helped the town save money.
"This is the people's money, you have to spend it wisely," he said, adding that he plans to continue advocating for steady aid for Montville from the state budget.
"We have to be aggressive about how we go back to the state and say 'Hey, it's not fair what you're doing to us,'" said Caron, who works at W.R. Allen & Co., his family's building and remodeling business.
Republican Wills Pike, 59, said he would like to consider budgeting adjustments like developing a capital budget for the school board — the board currently pays for capital expenditures with its operating budget — reconsidering the number of fire departments in the town and restarting a conversation on the council about separating the police department from the Resident State Trooper Program after the 2015 referendum on the issue.
"If you know how to initiate, foster and close a conversation, that's what's missing right now," said Pike, who works at Electric Boat and serves on the town's Planning and Zoning Commission.
Denise Gladue, who in 2010 helped push for an agreement between the union for table-games dealers at Foxwoods Resort Casino and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, is running for the council as a Democrat.
She was appointed to fill a vacancy on the council in September after the man originally nominated to fill the seat, Ryan Hartman, discovered he was subject to a Defense Department directive preventing active military members from serving in elected office.
Gladue said via Facebook message that she would focus on improving services at the senior center and the town's social services and youth services departments and would try to "stabilize or lower our mill rate."
Raymond Coggeshall, a member of the Raymond Library board who has pushed for more funding for the library during recent town budget deliberations, is running for a seat on the Town Council as a Republican. He could not be reached for comment this week.
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