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McDaniel, McNally mayoral rematch looms in Montville

Montville — Democratic Mayor Ron McDaniel and Republican Town Council Chairman Tom McNally will face off for the mayor's seat on Election Day, a rematch between two longtime public servants that's poised to roil a political divide that simmers on social media and occasionally flares up at Town Hall.

Both men tout track records of stabilizing finances in the budget-strapped town, and both say driving economic development and new revenue sources will remain a key priority in the coming years. They are divided on some of the best ways to move forward, with McNally critiquing what he described as consistent tax hikes and inaction by Democrats, and McDaniel arguing he's helped the town remain fiscally responsible through a period of economic upheaval.

McDaniel described a history of sealing hard-fought deals and garnering state funding for infrastructure projects during the loss of major taxpayers like the AES Thames power plant and West Rock paper mill. He said he helped secure $2 million through AES Thames' bankruptcy and paved a path to savings of $3.3 million over 20 years through an LED retrofit of 2,000 streetlights, $1 million in electricity bills through a fuel cell project at the wastewater treatment plant and millions of dollars through a recently negotiated 10-year solid waste contract.

"My commitment and dedication to the job is unquestionable," said McDaniel, who is seeking his third term. "I think the town is in better shape than it was eight years ago. There's always more to be done but I can stand on my record."

McDaniel argued that his long-time negotiations with Mohegan Hill Montville LLC helped lead to payments of long overdue back taxes totaling more than $1.3 million, the demolition of dilapidated properties and ongoing plans for a large-scale data center that he said could be "transformational for the town, the region and the state."

McDaniel added that he often partners with Montville Public Schools Facilities Director Steve Carroll, renowned for his creative projects and investments that have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars at the high school. The town, McDaniel said, likely would take advantage of state law that lets municipalities boost savings through solar projects.

He also said he was proud of the overhaul at the transfer station, which made the facility "more user friendly, safer and accessible. It's the focal point in town. You want to know what's going on, you find out there first."

A former budget analyst with the state and the U.S. Navy who later ran oil and property management businesses, McDaniel, 55, previously served as a probate judge and sat on the Zoning Board of Appeals and several school committees. He's lived in the town for about 25 years and participated and led in a host of regional groups, including the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, Southeast Area Transit District, the Regional Human Services Coordination Council and the Joint Land Use Study's policy committee.

McNally, 43, grew up in Montville and owns and operates a landscaping and property management business. A former WPCA assistant superintendent, McNally also has volunteered as a firefighter. He served on the Board of Education for eight years, the Public Safety Commission for a dozen years, and sat on the Economic Development Commission, Planning and Zoning Commission, Historical Steering Committee, the Conservation Commission and other committees. He's been on the Town Council for two separate terms, serving the last two years as chairman.

McNally paints a picture of inaction before Republicans took control of the Town Council in 2017. He touted a tougher tax collection policy that's helped the town rein in more than $4 million in overdue taxes, a $10 million investment in road repairs over the next decade, an unprecedented investment of millions of dollars into a capital improvement plan for schools, a bus replacement plan, a tax credit for Gold Star families, and decorations of Town Hall and town events that "put the town in a positive light."

"I'm out there in the community every day," McNally said. "We've done a lot. And doing all that while keeping the mill rate down is a big accomplishment."

McNally said the Town Council under his leadership has knocked down tax increases proposed by McDaniel in several budget seasons.

He also said the Town Council's $220,000 purchase of a 29-acre site off Route 163 could help the town expand Camp Oakdale and "put more passion into it."

The purchase came under fire from some Democrats, who argued it was rushed and noted that Town Planner Marcia Vlaun, in an April 2018 property analysis, estimated the site to be worth just $90,000.

McNally characterized the complaints as "campaign fodder. The town had been looking at that property for 15 years or more."

If elected, McNally said his top priorities would be maintaining the tax rate, support for education and infrastructure at schools, public safety and expanding revenue sources.

He said there's "not a magic wand" that can bring development in, but working with public and private sectors, and the Mohegan Tribe, could help incentivize retailers and developers to set up shop outside, but near, the high-rent casino.

He also said he'd push for freezing taxes for seniors "to help them stay in their homes," securing funding and grants for a new community center, and continued boosts to the schools' capital improvement plan, with one building grappling with a leaky roof and another with a "gym floor falling apart."

Both candidates say it's just a matter of time before the town implements an independent police force.

They said the infrastructure already is largely in place, including an impound lot completed earlier this year and the hiring of more dispatchers, which readies the town for an independent department.

Both said they did not think an independent force would be as expensive as previous estimates, and both noted state police are severely short-staffed.

If re-elected, McDaniel said he would continue working with Electric Boat and the Naval Submarine Base in Groton, as "they're going to be the largest employers going forward. We were fortunate to have casinos pick up the slack when EB slowed down, now it's going the other way. We're doing all the studies we need to ensure we have the proper housing stock and educational resources to lure middle class, working families here to Montville."

Conversion of the former Faria Beede Mill in Uncasville is a key part of that strategy, the mayor said, as is expanding sewer and gas lines to viable land in the Chesterfield area.

McDaniel added that he'd continue to push state lawmakers for a bigger piece of the Mashantucket Pequot/Mohegan Fund, arguing urban areas far from Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun receive more cash but have not had to hire more emergency personnel or teachers, or grapple with added traffic since the casinos were built.

In the 2015 contest between the pair, McDaniel won by about 750 votes, with roughly 35 percent of Montville's 8,400 registered voters casting a ballot, The Day reported at the time.

The pair had a history prior to the 2015 race. McNally in 2012 sued McDaniel, the town and several WPCA employees after he was fired from his WPCA position. McNally denied any wrongdoing and, in the lawsuit and an interview, claimed his termination was politically motivated. The parties later settled.

McDaniel said politics played no role in McNally's firing, noting that he'd given McNally a raise months before the incidents that led to the termination.

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 5.

b.kail@theday.com

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