The Shelton Herald sent questions to each Board of Aldermen candidate. These are the responses by the aldermen, First Ward candidates. Candidates are in alphabetical order. Incumbents are noted.

David Gidwani (R), incumbent

What major projects would be your focus once elected?

I would focus on increased school security for all school buildings, a vibrant downtown and maintaining our parks and infrastructure.

What is the most significant issue facing the city? What is required to address this issue?

The most significant issue facing our city is choosing “smart development,” which has long-term benefits to our taxpayers.

Questions have been raised about transparency of the budget process. What steps, if any, are needed to make the spending of city funds more transparent to the community?

I will advocate to have the budget available to all city residents in a timely manner on the city’s website. I would also welcome residents to attend BOA meetings every second Thursday of each month and speak their concerns or ask their questions.

What are your thoughts on the relationship with the Board of Education? Has it improved in your mind, and what would you do to make the relationship even stronger?

I have worked hard to communicate with BOE over the past two years. I hope the BOA and BOE can unite for the greater good of our Shelton youth.

Paul Littlefield (D)

What major projects would be your focus once elected?

Going over the budget and the development plan for the city. I don’t think the public is aware of exactly what is contained in them, and we’d all benefit from a better understanding.

What is the most significant issue facing the city? What is required to address this issue?

The education budget is my big issue. Our children are our future. I don’t have children of my own, but I strongly believe that every one of us has a responsibility to all the city’s kids. The first step is to establish a better relationship between City Hall and the Board of Education. These perpetual lawsuits are just a waste of the taxpayers’ money. Next, we need to establish goals for building up our school system. Our schools have done an admirable job on the skimpy budgets we’ve been giving them over the past decade, so if a bit of money could be freed up from efficiencies gained in other city departments, we could give the schools a bit more money and expect student performance to improve significantly. I hate to have to point this out, but saving all those lawyers’ fees by avoiding lawsuits between City Hall and the BoE would free up a significant amount of cash. If we give the board and the superintendent measurable goals to achieve, I have confidence that they could make a big difference even with just a small increase in their budget. And without even raising the mil rate.

We really do need to work on improving our schools. I worry that we may be getting to the point where school quality might behaving an impact on property values, and that’s no good for anyone. I suspect that there are plenty of improvements we could make without having to raise the mil rate. I also believe that if we were to come up with a plan to make significant improvements in school performance, we could sell it to the taxpayers, even if it were to require a modest outlay of cash above and beyond fostering greater efficiency at City Hall. Nobody wants to have to raise taxes, but as mentioned, the BoE is accustomed to making bricks out of straw, so imagine what they could accomplish with a small budget increase! Speaking only for myself, I could cope with paying a small amount more in taxes, if only I could be sure the money were being put to good use and not wasted. I am also sure that there are ways to help out anyone who couldn’t afford even a tiny tax increase if, God forbid, one should ever become necessary.

Questions have been raised about transparency of the budget process. What steps, if any, are needed to make the spending of city funds more transparent to the community?

I would start by reintegrating the Board of Apportionment & Taxation back into the budget process. They work hard every year to come up with a realistic budget, and every year their hard work gets ignored. The more people working on the budget, the more we are likely to spot areas that could be tightened up, as well as areas that need more resources. Finding greater efficiencies in one area should allow us to better fund some other department that needs it, without our having to raise the mil rate. The public should have the opportunity to be fully aware of the city’s spending plans, and to my mind that means we should be holding public hearings during the budget process, even if it makes the process more cumbersome.

The next step would be to overhaul the city’s accounting procedures. From what I have heard, there’s not enough accountability in the system, which makes it easy for errors to slip through. I would also make the entire budget available on the city’s website, and not just the proposed budget, but also any revisions as they are made, along with year-to-date spending figures. Not every citizen may care to know all these details, but they should all have the opportunity to know. Our citizens need to know that we are using their money as responsibly as possible.

At some point, we also need a forensic audit of the city’s books. I’ve been hearing so many different figures for the city’s surplus, ranging from $20 million all the way to the city’s being in deficit. The recent downgrading of our bond rating was a serious wake-up call, telling us that we need to know exactly where we stand, so that we know what to do better, going forward. The state government has just saved taxpayers $53 million in interest costs by improving the state’s bond rating. Surely it behooves us to save the city’s taxpayers some of their money, by doing the same thing at the local level.

What are your thoughts on the relationship with the Board of Education? Has it improved in your mind, and what would you do to make the relationship even stronger?

As mentioned above, the first thing is for City Hall and the Board of Education to find a better way to work out their differences than by suing. I know that our mayoral candidate, John Harmon, is very concerned with fostering better relations with the BoE, and I would certainly support him in all his efforts. I have every confidence that, as mayor, he will establish a far better working relationship with the BoE than has existed for quite some time, especially if there are also alderman in a position to support him.

So the key to making improvements in our schools will be to find rational ways to work together to make our school system one of the finest in the state. John Harmon has a great deal of experience helping agencies identify measurable goals and efficient ways of achieving them. Granted, with his business experience, he is a better position to judge than I am, but I have looked over the Shelton school budget and am confident that there is very little waste in it, if any at all. I wouldn’t be so big a supporter of the BoE, otherwise. As I mentioned above, simply not suing all the time will save a significant sum of money that could be better spent our our city’s schoolchildren than on lawyers’ fees. (No offense to the lawyers in town, but I have every confidence there’s enough other work for them to do, that they can afford for the city not to use them unnecessarily.)

I know that there are a couple of differences between the Board of Education’s accounting system and the system used at City Hall. Harmonizing the procedures should be easily doable, and it would eliminate any further potential for confusion. Accounting for special education payments from the state appears to be an area where City Hall and the BoE could also reach a better understanding.

I’m not in a position to judge whether taking over the school buses has saved the city any money or not, but it is pretty clear from the results that the takeover could have been better carried out. I am concerned that not all the backgrounds of drivers currently on the city payroll have been properly checked, and I am greatly concerned further about the safety issue of crowding students onto buses in excess of their rated capacity. All it would take would be one injury for which the city was liable, and that would be the end of any possible savings we might have accrued so far.

Anthony Simonetti (R), incumbent

What major projects would be your focus once elected?

I feel the most important project which the BoA has dealt with for many years is the ability to have the Board of Education budget match that of the city to allow both Boards to review spending, trends, and any movement of funds in real time to better serve the students in the Shelton public schools. This process began almost three years ago, but the employment of Rich Belden as BoE financial director has provided the BoA with confidence and actual data that has made it easier to read and understand BoE financial documents already.

The improvement in communication between the boards has been very noticeable and is very much appreciated by me personally and other members of the BoA. Remembering the BoE is provided with almost 70 percent of our city budget and those tax dollars must be accounted for as we do with any other city commission or department expenditures.

To that end the BoA and the BoE two weeks ago jointly agreed to fund the purchase of Chromebooks which a group of students will personally carry and use throughout the school year. This program will require the BoE staff to provide tracking data of student improvement to the BoA to support similar expenditures and possibly more funds to the Shelton public schools in the future.

What is the most significant issue facing the city? What is required to address this issue?

I feel there are three issues that are most important:

First to be even more diligent with our spending as the Democratic governor and the Democratic-controlled House and Senate could easily impose a financial burden on the city if even a small part of the teachers pension costs were passed on to us. Our three Republican advocates in Hartford, Reps. Jason Perillo and Ben McGorty along with Sen. Kevin Kelly are their fighting for us but they need every ones support in this effort to slow spending and not just raise taxes.

Secondly to continue to recruit more businesses to the city to add to and continue to maintain our stable tax basis. The mayor does this along with the SEDC, real estate agencies and through our Board of Alderman continued commitment to establishing low taxes, less government and delivering balanced growth.

Thirdly I feel is to continue properly planned and balanced downtown development which is critical to our cities future growth. Again we have a very good advocate in Mayor Lauretti and others whose vision for downtown development is not stagnant and is still being tweaked which makes for better development and continued success in locating private downtown investors and grants like the $750,000 one received thru the SEDC last year.

Questions have been raised about transparency of the budget process. What steps, if any, are needed to make the spending of city funds more transparent to the community?

I believe the city budget process could not be more transparent. The budget process is done in full view of the public with impute from any citizen, all commissioners, department heads and outside agencies to participate in. All documents and information is available upon request with out the need for an formal requests for same.

The Board of Apportionment & Taxation has graciously included the Board of Alderman in its meetings for over 10 years when discussing any proposed budgets expenditures. The statements and request for all departments are clearly stated in their documents to the Board of A&T. All documents are available for public review and the recommendations of all boards in the process are done in a public forum.

The only cloudiness in the process were the BoE budget requests and proposals which up until this year as I stated before did not have the clarity that has now been provided by Mr. Belden in the BoE finance office. The BoE has special spending requirements that have needed to be vetted in public for some time now and I see this process coming to fruition which will I feel lead to better understanding of the BoE needs and cooperation with the BoA during the budget process.

What are your thoughts on the relationship with the Board of Education? Has it improved in your mind, and what would you do to make the relationship even stronger?

I am very optimistic about the relationship between the BoA and BoE going forward as I mentioned above. The BoE agreement and positive actions to provide more easily read and understood financial reports with explanations of spending and future needs is very encouraging. I suggest both boards and their financial support staffs continue to cooperate in any way that they can in the future to allow the board members the means to assist each other when requesting additional expenditures or programs to efficiently spend tax payer dollars.