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Archive for March, 2011

– STURBRIDGE –

By Jennifer Grybowski
Turley Publications Reporter

More than 35 people turned out March 30 to watch the five candidates for Selectmen debate audience-submitted questions. Incumbent Mary Blanchard, incumbent Scott Garieri and Priscilla Gimas are vying for two, three-year term seats. Angeline Ellison and Alphonso Esposito are vying for one, one-year term seat.
During their opening statements, the candidates each spoke about their backgrounds and motivations for running. Esposito and Garieri both have business backgrounds. Esposito said his business development training background has given him the opportunity to travel to and observe many different cities and towns.
“I chose to run because I believe my diverse background gives me a unique advantage,” Esposito said.
Garieri, a local business owner, said that not only as a business owner, but as a Selectman, he believes that the town is not more than a larger business itself.
“I care about what happens to Sturbridge,” Garieri said. “I hate seeing empty storefronts in this town.”
Blanchard, Ellison and Gimas all have education backgrounds. Blanchard pushed for support of the Planning Board and the Master Plan as well as the hiring of an economic development coordinator, but said she feels the largest issue facing the town is the budget.
“We need to determine how to get people the services they deserve at a price they can afford,” Blanchard said.
Ellison said she is committed to promoting education.
“I am committed to the betterment of the schools and the community,” Ellison said.
Gimas also pushed for support of the Master Plan and the Commercial Tourist District Revitalization Study.
“I am running because I feel I can contribute to the town’s economical and cultural vitality,” Gimas said. “I will bring integrity, respect and objectivity to the Board of Selectmen.”
During the question and answer portion of the evening, it was clear that residents in this town are concerned about development.
As for Route 15 development, all candidates said they were in favor of some type of development and all spoke to the challenges of getting sewer and water services to the corridor.
Blanchard said she thought it would be a good idea to hire an economic development coordinator to reach out to businesses that are currently zoned there. Garieri said he thought the special use zoning should be changed and that the town should focus on getting water to that area as soon as possible. Gimas said she didn’t think the zoning should be changed; she said the town currently offers incentives, such as Chapter 43D permitting, Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and a single tax rate, and should use those incentives to attract businesses that fit the zoning. Ellison said she also thought offering TIF would be helpful and that the town should work together to move along the process that has already begun with Master Planning. Esposito said he thought private and public grants could be secured to help develop the area. Both Ellison and Garieri said they thought the area is prime for entertainment and recreational facilities.
Another question asked candidates how they would balance the town’s outdoor recreational and shopping opportunities.
Garieri gave credit to the people in town who create and maintain the trails, however said Sturbridge is one of the few towns he knows of that has a river people don’t enjoy.
“It’s one of the biggest advantages we have,” he said.
Ellison again pointed to the Master Plan and the Commercial Tourist District Revitalization Study. She said the studies show ways to connect trails and the river to Route 20 as well as obtaining a unique gateway to the district.
Gimas said she thought this was an instance in which an economic development coordinator or grant writer would be vital. She said that many people don’t know about the trails and that a coordinator would be able to connect them to the shopping district.
“There’s a lot of potential out there,” Gimas said.
Blanchard said she agreed that some people don’t know about the trails and that a coordinator would help, but that she thought balance and patience were necessary. She said she thought the Commercial Tourist District Revitalization Study was a wonderful plan, but that it was going to take time and money to implement.
Esposito said he thought the more opportunities there are, the more people will visit the area. He also suggested opening up the fields to regional tournaments and that beautification efforts along Route 20 should be pursued.
Candidates were also asked how they felt the town should pay for all the ambitious projects outlined in the Master Plan. All candidates agreed that it’s really up to the voters what projects, and when, they decide to implement. Gimas said this was another reason an economic development coordinator could be utilized – to help find alternative sources of revenue other than raising taxes.
“That is not an option,” Gimas said.
Esposito agreed that raising taxes is a bad idea and thought prioritizing projects, as well as communicating the issues to voters so they can be well-informed, were a good approach.
“There is only so much money to go around,” he said. “We need to be a model of fiscal discipline.”
Blanchard said the town is fortunate to have a diversified tax base and continues to budget conservatively so that projects can be funded.
Garieri said that when projects are presented to the public, they are presented as only costing each taxpayer $200 or $300 a year in taxes. But, he pointed out, those projects add up and now they are putting a pinch on people’s pockets.
“In reality, grants are not available like they used to be,” Garieri said. “We need to live within our means.”
Ellison said she thought partnerships with local towns and state and national entities could help the town get creative about alternatives other than raising taxes to pay for projects.
Another question focused on legal counsel and who should appoint the position. All five candidates agreed the Town Administrator should continue to appoint legal counsel, with Board of Selectmen confirmation, because he is the one who consults with them most, and is the one that is able to reach out to certain people in the community. Esposito pointed out that there are very few firms who represent municipalities and most of their fees are similar. In fact, Blanchard said the town received a deal on legal counsel this year as a direct result of the current town administrator’s negotiations with them and that while Town Counsel all cost pretty much the same, it is the town’s responsibility to do what they can to be careful so it doesn’t have to use their services as much.
The candidates all thanked Moderator Michael Caplette for moderating, Selectman Thomas Creamer and the Local Cable Access personnel for helping to put the night together. The election is scheduled for Monday, April 11 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Burgess Elementary School gymnasium.

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I have been a resident of Sturbridge for 37 years, and was a teacher at Burgess for 25 years.

I was an elected member of the Zoning Board of Appeals from 2002 to 2008, a member of the Open Space Committee from 2001 to 2008, the 2000 and 2005 Charter Review Committees, and was an appointed member of the Board of Registrars of Voters for 9 years.

I also served as a member of the Route 131 Study Committee, the Affordable Housing Subcommittee of the Dialogue for the Future and the Burgess Teachers Negotiating Committee for 4 contracts covering 12 years.

I am married with four grown children who attended Sturbridge Public Schools, and two grandchildren who currently attend Burgess Elementary School.

As a teacher, and as an active member of several town boards and committees, I have learned that when improvement is needed it is accomplished not by confrontation, but through positive support, encouragement and open communication.

Since I was elected to the Board of Selectmen in 2008 I have worked to maintain the character and quality of life of our community, to keep Sturbridge affordable and to help get the maximum value from our tax dollars.

I will continue to bring an open-minded and broad view to the Board of Selectmen – requiring the Board to consider how its actions will affect the entire community.

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