Republican First Selectman candidate Jim Zeoli and Democratic challenger Ken Lenz squared off at High Plains Community Center for their final debate before the Nov. 3 election on Monday, Oct. 26.
The center’s auditorium was standing room only as the audience watched the two candidates go back and forth answering a series of prepared questions presented by Orange resident Dr. Daniel May, who served as moderator for the debate. May is the University of New Haven Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs.
The debate, originally intended to be a paid event hosted by the Orange Chamber of Commerce was changed to be free and open to the public. The debate is also available on Orange Government Access Television.
For most of the questions the candidates were given two minutes to answer and then their opponent had two minutes to retort. The candidate originally given the question then had one-minute to reply if desired. A coin toss determined that Lenz would take the first question.
Attracting people to Orange
Lenz stood on the shoulders of the town’s education system, calling it a strong draw fro families considering moving to Orange.
Zeoli concurred, adding that the town has a fairly stable tax base.
“You get a lot more for your buck in Orange,” Zeoli said.
Lenz answered first, noting that Orange is heavily reliant on property taxes from the residential sector. He stated that traffic concerns along Boston Post Road, the town’s primary corridor, limits expansion.
“We’re really restricted from developing [the corridor] to it’s full potential,”Lenz said.
He went on to suggest looking into developing more light industrial production in Orange.
Zeoli said he wanted to really see bringing in new developments into town as well as developing existing empty spaces. He noted the new train station in works as well as a planned office facility at the infamous Stew Leonard property.
“While refilling spaces is good, it’s new bricks and mortar that brings in money that didn’t exist before,” Zeoli said.
Zeoli also noted the town currently holds an average of 3.25 percent vacancy rate across office, retail and light industrial spaces.
Zeoli fielded a question about expanding natural gas infrastructure through Orange first. He noted several areas where the Southern Connecticut Gas is already looking to expand but said the process is largely handled by the private company based on customer demand.
Lenz suggested he would make it a point to sit with the SoConn representatives to target where and how to best bring natural gas to more sections of town.
Lenz said the town needs to be better about taking care of infrastructure issues with roads and drainage before they become a problem. He also suggested investigating sharing equipment with neighboring towns to help keep cost down.
Sharing equipment and personnel is already something the tow does according to Zeoli, who noted several points of overlap including having Bethany do street sweeping in Orange in exchange for Orange performing catch basin maintenance there.
“My opponent’s approach has been to micromanage,” Lenz said in his reply. “The bigger picture is long term maintenance.”
Relation With The State
“We’re very concerned,” Zeoli said when asked about staying informed about what happens at the state Capitol. “The budget put forth is not a sound budget.”
He noted multiple rounds of proposed cuts by Gov. Dannel Malloy, stating that they would impact towns.
Lenz drew laughter from the crowd when he said Malloy had assured him the state budget wouldn’t be balanced on the backs of the towns. If elected, Lenz intends to make himself an occasional presence in Hartford in order to stay informed. He also implied he could lean on connections through his law career to be kept in the loop.
For his part, Zeoli promised to diligently keep an eye on the dealings in Hartford.
Senior And Affordable Housing
Zeoli would like to see more developer controlled housing options for seniors in town that do not necessarily fall under the blanket of affordable housing. Creating a definitive affordable housing market could generate a necessity for creating a housing authority and other regulatory parameters that would cost the taxpayers money.
“The town of Orange has no business being in the housing business,” Zeoli said. He added, “I want people to stay here, but it has to be affordable in a way that the developers make it possible.”
Lenz took almost the exact opposite approach, saying the town needs to investigate getting more involved. He also suggested looking into spaces along the Boston Post Road corridor where there is better access to public transportation.
Parks and Recreation
West Haven got thrown under the bus by both candidates in comparing Orange’s amenities to surrounding communities.
Lenz proposed relying heavily on volunteers to develop and maintain parks and available spaces. He suggested fundraising a method for getting park spaces developed and maintained.
Zeoli noted areas left to the public to maintain often go neglected. He also noted a $300,000 STEAP grant from the state legislature to help develop Fred Wolfe park.
After the prepared questions, the public submitted several of their own which the candidates answered.
The full debate is available online from OGAT.