Candidate profiles: New Milford mayor

Patricia Murphy, Republican

Incumbent or first-time candidate: Incumbent, served six terms

Age: 61

Spouse: Clark J. Chapin

Children: Veronica Swain, Murphy McRae and the late Thomas McRae

Occupation: Mayor for 12 years

Number of years as resident: 19

Education: She graduated from Van Rensselaer High School, and attended Albany Business School and Albany State University. She also attended Maryland University while actively serving in the U.S. Army.

Community experience: She is mayor, having served for 12 years. She is a member of the Service Academy Nomination Panel, Harrybrooke Park Board of Directors, the Connecticut Space Land Acquisition, the Artificial Turf Construction Committee. She is a past member of the Board of Trustees at Bridgewater Congregational Church, the New Milford Youth Agency Board of Directors, the New Milford Zoning Commission, the MORE Commission, the Ambulance Facility Construction Committee, the Emergency Communications Construction Committee. She is also a co-founder and past president of the Mountain Laurel Quilt Guild.

Three most important issues facing the town related to the office being sought and proposed solutions:

Keeping New Milford as affordable as possible to attract businesses and families: Continue to provide a variety of programs to attract and encourage business, including tax incentives, financing partnership with state and local stakeholders, more mentoring programs and assisting with grants and low interest loans. Implement the plan for the Century Enterprise property.

Infrastructure and facility improvements: Being responsible for more than 200 miles of roads and 60 bridges, we need to continue the bridge, road capital and traffic safety improvement programs. Continue to develop the Strategic Plan for upgrades to athletic and recreational facilities, such as to obtain land for a facility to include ballfields and plenty of safe parking for families, library modernization, riverfront redevelopment, senior center expansion, Lynn Deming Park upgrades and the Lanesville firehouse addition.

Like many other communities, there is a substance abuse problem in New Milford: Continue and expand our counseling and outreach programs for families and substance user/abusers. We are currently in the process of establishing a training program for our police officers to learn to administer Narcan. Support lobby efforts in Hartford to allow school nurses to be authorized to administer Narcan. Create educational programs for parents of young children, so they can learn to recognize the risk factors, current trends and and potential behaviors before problems occur.

David Gronbach, Democrat

Incumbent or first-time candidate: First-time candidate

Age: 40

Spouse: Vanessa Gronbach

Children: Three children, 10, 9 and 8

Occupation: Attorney for 14 years and owner of Bank Street Book Nook for nearly two years

Number of years as resident: Seven and a half.

Education: Graduated from New Rochelle High School, SUNY Albany with a B.A. in history and from Pace University School of Law with a juris doctorate. He holds certifications in environmental and international law.

Community experience: He is a member of the New Milford Democratic Town Committee and St. Francis Xavier Church and head of the policy platform committee, the St. Peter’s Masonic Lodge and the Greater New Milford Chamber of Commerce for Gronbach Law Offices and the Bank Street Book Nook. He is a past member of John Pettibone School PTO.

Three most important issues facing the town related to the office being sought and proposed solutions:

Education: I believe it is in the best long-term interests of the town to make sure our children receive the best education possible. New Milford ranks amongst the lowest in Connecticut in per-capital spending on our kids. Young families will not move to a town where the education is perceived to be sub-par. We risk losing our best teachers to better districts.

When empty-nesters wonder why their home remains on the market for a year and all the offers are below asking price, it is because a young family is not willing to invest a 30-year mortgage in a town that will not invest in their children’s education.

I opposed the closing of John Pettibone School and transferring it to the town. The decision to close was based on a “projection” of population decline in the coming years. Parents and educators opposed it. Our town will suffer as a result. Rather than focusing on the population, the administration refused to consider moving the administrative offices on East Street into any vacant space in the schools. The Catherine E. Lillis Administration Building (the East Street building) is a drain on the town’s resources, requires significant upkeep, and could have been sold to provide needed development in the downtown area. Given the unexpected addition of students to many schools this year, the closing should at least have been delayed.

The Pettibone property has the potential to continue as an asset for this town, even if the school is closed. Multiple programs such as the culinary school, Adult Ed, Robotics And Beyond, the library, Parks & Rec, the Youth Agency, the probate court, etc. can use the property. Thinking bigger, it could be a satellite campus for UConn or Yale’s agricultural program. The fact that Region 12 is considering building an AgSTEM school that the state will fund 70 percent of the cost seems like a waste when we have an empty school in New Milford. The value and potential of this property extends beyond a balance sheet. The current administration cannot see that.

There needs to be a commitment to not only maintain, but reduce class sizes. There is a direct correlation between class size and student achievement. Even with a temporary decline in student population, it should have been used as an opportunity to reduce class size rather than cram more children into Hill and Plain, which is already near capacity.

A curriculum is more than how students perform on a test. It is the total package that includes the arts, science, athletics and fundamental educational skills that generate productive citizens. For 12 years, this administration has sent parents into the community with their hat-in-hand soliciting businesses and other parents for donations to fund what should be part of a well-rounded curriculum; pay-to-play sports; educational field trips; school supplies and technology for teachers; educational speakers. I propose to rebuild the “curriculum” that has suffered a death by a thousand cuts by this administration.

Quality of life: These are issues that affect everyday life for the people of our town:

Road maintenance: The extent of potholes and road deterioration is staggering. How many people have gotten flat tires or had to swerve to avoid holes and crumbling road. Public Works had complained there is not enough funding or staff to maintain our roads. Roads need to be fixed right the first time instead of the constant maintenance and patches that have become the norm.

Bike lanes and recreation: Private individuals and groups have spearheaded the promotion of biking and establishing a Greenway. The town needs to ”own” these issues to offer a quality of life that allows us to enjoy the town’s natural beauty. Our town deserves recreational facilities that provide an outlet for both adults and children. New Milford is comprised of vibrant communities of young families, teenagers and empty-nesters. Recreational facilities are an important attraction. In addition, our river is an amazing resource that has been wasted for years. The boat launches are chronically underused. Most people do not even know there is a marina at the end of West Street. Imagine attracting kayakers, canoeists and paddle boarders. Imagine waterfront dining on a summer night. It can be a reality.

Candlewood Lake is one of this town’s most important natural resources. Yet, the administration does little to promote its health. The loss of the lake as a viable recreational and swimming resource will decimate property values and dry up vacation and second-home spending that helps support the town. The lake has the potential for sightseeing, educational uses and research purposes. The river and lake should and can be destination points within our town.

Traffic congestion on Route 7 continues to increase over the past 12 years. People are getting killed as they walk and cross Route 7. The number of car accidents on the road is unacceptable. Nobody should feel like they are taking their life in their hands if they try to make a left turn. The town has ignored this problem. I propose to address the issue by laying the groundwork for a new bridge to cross the Housatonic. No round-about or alternative will address the issue of traffic in town so long as we continue to tolerate the bottleneck at Veterans Memorial Bridge, which impacts the entire downtown.

Heroin and substance abuse: Chris Herron's presentation on this issue was terrifying and uplifting. His suggestion was for more counselors in school and a dedicated drug counselor. I would go further and enact early intervention in schools from elementary through high school; re-institute the DARE program that was cut because of funding issues; provide outreach to addicts and their families; and coordinate a police response that puts the fear of God in people selling drugs in town. Because of my law practice, I've gained an inside look at the drug problem. One tactic is to offer rewards for confidential informants. As they turn in drug dealers and suppliers, the cost of selling drugs in town will go up. Plus, drug dealers will be less inclined to sell when anyone can be an informant. With a combination of education, treatment and enforcement, I know that we can turn the tide on this issue.

Loaves & Fishes serves an important charitable purpose by feeding those who cannot afford to feed themselves. Some of the patrons are homeless, but many are hardworking families who cannot afford to make ends meet. The compassion shown by the many volunteers and donors spans party lines. The crisis was created by the administration when it informed Loaves & Fishes they had to vacate the senior center. I support the mission of Loaves & Fishes and hope that in their new building, they can better address the needs of the homeless in town. However, I work downtown and own two businesses here. There are individuals who practice aggressive panhandling and don’t want to share the Green with the taxpayers that actually support it. I will not allow the Green or any part of town to be overtaken by any group who do not have respect for the hardworking people who are struggling to maintain this town as a vibrant, family-friendly destination.

Police department: When it comes to paying the men and women who are charged with keeping us safe and enforcing the law, their livelihoods should not be a negotiating tool to balance the budget. The police officers have been working without a contract since July 2014. The union was forced to pursue arbitration with the town. Lost wages and interest have been withheld from the men and women charged with risking their lives to protect us. Undermining the morale and livelihood of this essential town department is not good government.

Fire department: Our volunteer fire department and its leaders risk their lives to defend the life and property of New Milford citizens. As volunteers, they do not get paid a salary. Yet, they are held to the same standards of a professional force. They require constant training and certification. Equipment that is stressed needs to be repaired or replaced or the lives of these men and women can be lost. We need to address the issues that discourage recruitment of new members.

Short- and long-term planning: The current administration and leadership has failed to follow their own plan for the development of New Milford. Vacant businesses and “For Sale” signs have become permanent parts of the landscape. Commercial development, both large and small, is on an ad-hoc basis. There is no leadership to guide development. While developers are an important part in the future of New Milford, there needs to be a plan that ensures that profits will never outweigh the public good. For instance, A Family Dollar Store was approved and built at the “gateway” to our town. During most hours of the day, it’s impossible to make a left turn in or out because of traffic backed up at the bridge.

Apart of a sustainable plan for the future, our town government needs to:

Proactively court manufacturing and commercial businesses to take advantage of the prime, but limited space New Milford has to offer;

Develop a long-term plan to attract young families to invest in our town; to do so, our town needs to invest in us;

Our government needs to attract people downtown and support the small businesses there;

Address the future development of Route 7, especially the farms, fields, and open spaces south of Still River Drive and north of Bridge Street; if downtown is the heart of New Milford, Route 7 is its major artery. Yet, it is clogged with traffic, generic developments and big box stores, choked at Veterans Memorial Bridge, and defined by an absence of character.

Address the outdated Veterans Memorial Bridge that was never meant to serve the current capacity of traffic when it was built in 1953. What was the point of Super 7 and widening Federal Road if it all grinds to a stop at the bridge? The economic and social benefits of connecting these two halves of New Milford make this project a priority.

Develop policies to attract industry back to our town and encourage the industry that is here. If any tax incentive is offered to a business, conditions need to be in place to ensure the town benefits overall. For instance, require employment of New Milford residents; contract with New Milford businesses for work to be performed.

I believe local government has a responsibility to pursue solutions that will improve our quality of life and encourage new businesses to move into town that will create well-paying full-time jobs with employee benefits. Fast-food places and chains have their place, but minimum wage jobs without benefits will not sustain our community.

Preserve the historical and unique character of our town. It should not be left to any private group or the whims of development. It needs to be a core consideration. For example, the “Red Barn” at the corner of Route 7 and Dodd Road sat for more than 100 years. It was demolished and replaced with another Dunkin‘ Donuts. If we care about the character of our town, couldn’t there have been some way to incorporate the historic building with the business?

Restore passenger rail service. Our town should actively promote the restoration of passenger rail. The current administration opposes this and has done little to advance it as an issue.

Agriculture and open spaces. Agriculture has historically been a major industry shaping not only New Milford’s character, but also its people. It continues to be an important feature in what makes New Milford a unique and vibrant community. New Milford will continue to grow and change, but we will practice “smart growth” as opposed to the haphazard projects of the past 10 years.