Two candidates seek Preston first selectman seat

Preston — Change is coming to the top layers of town government with the Nov. 5 municipal election, with two candidates vying to become the first new occupant of the tiny first selectman’s office in Town Hall in 24 years.

Democrat Sandra L. Allyn-Gauthier unanimously was endorsed by her party caucus in July, while Republican Gregory S. Moran Sr. won a Sept. 10 primary to run for the chief elected officer position held by Republican Robert Congdon for the past 24 years.

If the losing first selectman candidate receives more votes than any of the three Board of Selectmen candidates, that person can be elected selectman. Both have been attending recent town government meetings, canvassing neighborhoods and greeting voters at the town transfer station, listening to their concerns and discussing their qualifications for the seat.

Allyn-Gauthier, who will turn 55 on Nov. 4, has been a financial adviser at the People’s Securities division of People’s United Bank, and is completing a 16-month appointment on the Board of Finance. She formerly served on the Board of Education for one term and was on the Zoning Board of Appeals about 15 years ago. She was on the original committee that established the town Ethics Commission.

Allyn-Gauthier also formerly served on the Three Rivers Community College Foundation Board, was chairman of the Norwich division of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut and served on the loan review committee of the Norwich Community Development Corp’s Norwich revitalization program.

Moran, 52, has worked as a truck driver for Anderson Oil in Ledyard for the past five years and prior to that worked in his family’s business, Moran Service Center in Preston. Moran has been active in town civic and youth sports activities for many years and has been a member of the Board of Assessment Appeals and the Zoning Board of Appeals for the past several years.

Moran coached youth baseball when his son was young and now coaches his grandson in Little League. He has been a Boy Scout leader and lifetime member of the Poquetanuck Fire Department.

Allyn-Gauthier said her career in finance and master’s degree in business administration give her the background to tackle forming a town budget. She cited experience in managing a staff of up to 20 employees, including training, recruiting, hiring and coaching, as the experience she would need to “hit the ground running,” in governing Preston.

She has attended meetings of the Board of Selectmen, Board of Education and Redevelopment Agency for the past several months and also has attended meetings and workshops of the Connecticut Council of Municipalities.

“I tried to be as involved as I can,” Allyn-Gauthier said, “and CCM gave me a sense of the issues other towns are facing, and what’s going on in other towns. You get varying ideas, and then can decide whether the ideas are good for Preston or not.”

Moran, too, has been attending selectmen meetings and has discussed issues with Congdon in recent weeks. Moran said he has been listening to what Preston voters see as the top issues in town and how they want them addressed.

Moran said he looks forward to the challenges of learning to work with a large budget, $3.86 million this year, development pressures, public safety and road maintenance, all while keeping an overall theme of maintaining Preston's small-town character.

“I want to be there for the townspeople, listen to their requests," Moran said. "Make sure they are heard.”

The top issue he has heard on the campaign trail is public safety, he said.

The town was at the point prior to the contentious budget season — it took three referendums to pass town and school budgets — where too few trained volunteers were available at times to answer emergency calls. The budget increased funding to hire per diem part-time firefighters by 200 percent.

The Board of Selectmen also revisited a proposal by the Ledyard Police Department to provide 24-hour police coverage in Preston, which now has two resident state troopers and supplemental coverage from state police Troop E.

Moran currently supports the two resident troopers but said he would prefer the town have 24-hour, seven-day police coverage. He wants to meet with the town Public Safety Advisory Committee to discuss both police and fire issues. Moran would like to explore ways to boost volunteer firefighter ranks, possibly including tax break incentives offered in other towns. “I really want to work on this,” he said.

Allyn-Gauthier said she would study the town’s options on police coverage, the advantages and disadvantages of contracting with Ledyard or keeping the resident state troopers. Start-up costs seemed to be a challenge with the Ledyard proposal, and the looming potential development at the former Norwich Hospital could drive the issue and revenues to fund it, she said.

Police and fire coverage, the town’s response to pending development — especially at the former Norwich Hospital property — would be part of Allyn-Gauthier’s strategic plan for Preston.

She also said earning support of residents would be critical. Residents voiced strong support for Fire Chief Tom Casey’s plan to hire part-time firefighters, but it still took three votes to pass the budget. In past years, residents criticized the Board of Finance for reducing to one state trooper, but voted down budgets with two resident troopers.

“How do we increase participation?" Allyn-Gauthier said. "Is 20 percent (turnout) representative? Could be. If you want these things, it falls on the residential taxpayers, and with volunteers dwindling, how do you get more volunteers?”

Finding that right balance is on Moran’s priority list, too. He said the current tax rate of 26.43 mills is “not too high, but I wouldn’t want to see it go higher.” He said the town has increased development over the past 20 years. Moran hopes to attract development to town that could provide jobs for Preston residents.

“We have to consider that,” he said, while also maintaining the town’s current rural, small town character.

c.bessette@theday.com

 

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