The four candidates seeking the first selectman spot are Democrat Town Committee-endorsed Robert C. Desmarais, Sr.; petitioning candidate Joseph Rock, Republican Town Committee-endorsed Edward B. St. John and petitioning candidate George Tzepos.
Robert C. Desmarais, Sr.
For the past four years, Desmarais served as selectman on the Board of Selectmen. He has been a member of the Middlebury Volunteer Fire Department for more than 50 years.
His goal for the town is to make it a better place to be.
"We need to maintain our infrastructure," Desmarais said. "We need to improve our tax base with the economic development aspect of things."
He said he wants to focus on the dilemma of education in town, in terms of how much Middlebury pays to Region 15.
One area where the town can improve is with communication between the town agencies, he said.
Desmarais said the town's basic character, its services and the quality of the educational system are its strengths.
He said his strengths are desire, drive and roots in the community.
Areas of Concern
The town's proximity to Waterbury-Oxford Airport, specifically the Triangle Hills neighborhood, is of concern to Desmarais. He expressed upset over how the residents were treated when it came to the voluntary acquisition of homes.
"The relocation effort needs to be completed expeditiously," said Desmarais. "Those people aren't just living with a noise problem. They're living with the possibility of an airplane falling on their house."
Vacant Storefronts in Town
Desmarais said the town has to encourage owners to get tenants. A way to make the town more business-friendly can be achieved during the Plan of Conservation and Development and zoning regulation revision process, he said.
"We could become much more user-friendly," said Desmarais.
In the Future
The economy may be tough but the town needs to move forward, he said.
"We've got fire department equipment and public works equipment that's getting old," said Desmarais. "Buildings are in need of repair."
These improvements have to occur despite tough economic times, he said. But before major expenditures can take place, the Board of Selectmen must pitch it to the Board of Finance and residents alike.
"You need to seriously do your homework," said Desmarais. "Justify the need and get a proposal that allows you to fund them, otherwise they'll be shifting money from somewhere else. We need to find a creative source of funding."
Petitioning candidate and Republican Joe Rock has a list of goals to accomplish and projects he will support if he is elected.
- Reduce taxes through more commercial development
- Work with legislators on a Waterbury-Oxford Airport Enterprise Zone
- Maintain a quality education at the lowest cost
- Support tax relief for seniors
- Support charter revision in 2012
- Support a blight-free Middlebury
"I believe that the town should have more services, support personnel, facilities and tax relief for our senior citizens," said Rock.
Triangle Hills and Oxford Airport
Rock supports the development of an Oxford Airport Enterprise Zone. He said it is a key part of increased commercial development in Middlebury.
"I will work with Southbury [and] Oxford and with our local representatives to get the zone in place by 2012," he said. "I also believe that the zone will help expedite the sale of Triangle [Hill] houses via commercial developers purchasing them."
Vacant Storefronts in Town
"I am in favor of blight control," said Rock. "However, the development of these properties has to be tempered by the current state of the economy. There is in place a tax incentive program for development. I would start with discussions with the owners using the tax incentive as a source of help to get improvements started."
The town's environment and its dedicated volunteers and seniors are what make it great, said Rock. But there are areas in need of improvement, he said.
"In order to advance commercial development, the application and approval process has to be dramatically shortened," said Rock.
The budgeting process and the involvement of the first selectman in that process can also be improved upon, he said.
Rock's strengths lie with education, public service and experience, he said. He received a bachelor of science in electrical engineering from the University of New Haven and a master's degree in public administration from the University of Hartford.
His public service includes seven years on the Region 15 Board of Education, serving as a charter member of the Economic and Industrial Development Commission, a former membership on the Water Pollution Control Authority and a member of the 1999 Charter Revision Committee.
Rock's work experience includes 38 years of business management at Hamilton Sundstrand, a program manager of the state Motor Vehicle Emission Inspection Program and a lobbyist for United Technologies Corporation.
He is the owner of an automobile repair and service station business in Watertown.
Maintaining Quality Education
This is one of the top issues Rock sees Middlebury facing in the future: maintaining a good quality education at an affordable cost.
"My experience on the Board [of Education] and the fact that I have been instrumental in saving the town in excess of $1 million in the last three years will continue to be used to present to the board new avenues of savings and/or cost avoidance. This has to be done with full knowledge of all state laws regulating educational costs."
Rock and his wife Arlene have lived in Middlebury for 43 years. His daughter Stefanie and her husband Robert are Middlebury residents. He and his family are members of St. John of the Cross Church.
Edward B. St. John
The biggest issue facing the town is completely different from what it was just nine days ago, said first selectman candidate Edward B. St. John. He has added one goal to his platform in the past week.
"My goal is to improve upon our response time," he said, referring to the town's response to the October snowstorm. "This has put our residents in a terrible situation."
St. John said the town needs to look at its emergency operations plan.
"We can do it better," he said.
The Town's Strengths
The strength of the town is with its residents and a strong spirit of volunteerism, said St. John.
His strength lies with a wealth of experience. For 24 years, St. John served as first selectman and he said his involvement in town goes back for more than 20 years prior.
"I have knowledge of where the town has been and where it needs to go," said St. John.
One area in town has one foot in the past and the other in the future: the Triangle Hills neighborhood near the Oxford Airport. St. John has strong opinions about the airport.
"My position has always been that the airport would come to be the Achilles heel of the town," he said.
With 71 houses slated for , St. John said the loss of those homes is great.
"The sad part is, we're losing 71 properties off the grand list but we're also losing a neighborhood," he said. "We'll never see another neighborhood again like it. The town put a lot of resources into it, with roads and sewers. It was a beautiful little neighborhood and I'm beginning to see it all evaporate."
Vacant Storefronts in Town
St. John said the town needs to create a new image for itself.
"People moved here, not because of low taxes, but because it was politically stable and the services were great," he said. "If we can restore a lot of those great qualities, economic development can boom in this town, in time."
Balancing the cost of services with the town's ability to pay is a delicate balance, said St. John. He said the first selectman's charge will be to improve on that balance. The October snowstorm tested the town's resources, he said.
"Our resources have always been responsive in the past, but it's always been for short durations," he said. "The shelter took a while to get up-and-running."
St. John said people criticize town government sometimes for reacting too much.
"I'd rather people criticize me for overreacting," he said.
St. John's overall goal for the town is that it become a better community.
"We've got to get this community together," he said.
Tzepos has one big goal he wants to accomplish, if elected.
"I want to bring the town together and I'm the person to do it," he said.
The self-described non-politician among the candidates vying for the spot, Tzepos said he has no baggage. No baggage does not mean no roots: Tzepos owns a business in Middlebury and has six children, so he is familiar with the Region 15 school system.
His educational experience includes a B.S. in accounting from UConn and a Juris Doctor with honor from DePaul University's College of Law. In town, he served on the Conservation Commission for 10 years, was a former secretary of the Republican Town Committee and coached youth basketball and soccer.
If elected, Tzepos said he will be a full time first selectman and intends to hire an attorney and paralegal to work in his law office.
"People raised that concern: How will I be a first selectman and run a business?" said Tzepos. "I will be a full time first selectman."
Regarding the Region 15 school budget, he said it makes up a large portion of the budget.
"Even though the town doesn't have direct control over it, [the school district budget] I want to find a way to cut costs in Region 15," he said. "I can work with [Region 15 Superintendent] Frank Sippy."
Reducing Spending in Town
Tzepos said he brings creative and innovative solutions to the table, if elected.
"There are a lot of ways to reduce spending by becoming more efficient," he said.
One example: If the Middlebury Police Department becomes accredited, there are savings and grants the department will then be eligible to receive, said Tzepos.
Increasing the grand list is another challenge Tzepos sees going forward.
"We're losing homes along Triangle Hills," he said.
With the governor's support of , Tzepos feels that will help Middlebury's tax base by creating jobs and resulting in tax breaks from the state.
Tzepos said the way to get vacant stores filled is to promote and market the town. He said that if elected, he will promote available business space the old-fashioned way: by calling people and telling them all about the business opportunities in town.
Strengths and Weaknesses
The town's strength is its people power and location, said Tzepos. The town is rural but has easy access to a highway.
Its weakness is a lack of communication in the town's government, he said.
"We can't be competitive if we're fighting against each other," said Tzepos, referring to how the town is competing with other towns for businesses and residents.
He said he learned of a resident that said if he had known how the government fails to communicate well, he would not have moved to Middlebury.
"That really bothered me," said Tzepos. "We need civility and cooperation among public officials. I'm going to appoint people who are consistent with that mentality."