Republican incumbent Bill Davis and Democratic challenger Ed Edelson squared off Thursday night in one of their last opportunities to make an impression on voters before the November 8 election.
In a debate, hosted by the Southbury Business Association and moderated by the League of Women Voters, Davis continuously stood on his record and praised the town of Southbury, while challenger Ed Edelson acknowledged the positives, but said he felt it could be done better.
Davis highlighted his role in decreasing spending and balancing the budget and drove home the idea that in uncertain economic times, no one can afford more taxes. Edelson highlighted what he thought has been poor planning and relaxed management under the Davis administration. The challenger consistently preached improvement, but only occasionally detailed how he would do so.
The two men both put the Southbury Training School atop their list of town issues. Edelson included on that list a lack of a strategic plan and inefficiency in town hall as major issues, while Davis felt fiscal conservatism and volunteerism where top priorities.
The candidates disagreed over an approach towards Southbury Training School. While Davis stressed the fact that the town needs to follow the state’s lead and the state has yet to develop a plan, Edelson said the problem is the training school is suffering from a ‘lack of imagination’.
“If we get the populace involved it can work,” said Davis. “We have yet to see a first selectman bring the town together and get behind this.”
When the two discussed a first selectman’s role regarding taxes and the budget process, Davis spoke from experience in lowering taxes while Edelson admitted to being less experienced than his opponent in this regard.
Edelson said the current system is working pretty well, but that there is not enough conversation about the town’s inefficiencies. Davis called out Edelson on what he felt was a generalization instead of a hard answer.
“I don’t know how much of that questioned you answered, Ed,” said Davis.
Davis went on to outline the budget process and stress the fact that his administration has scrutinized every penny that has been spent over the past three years.
The candidates both said they were strong believers in regionalization. Davis mentioned his role in bringing the Probate Court to Southbury and the successes of the Pomperaug Health District. Edelson said there needs to be a better two-way communication with regions. He said if elected he would set up bi-monthly or quarterly meetings with the Region 15 superintendant and the Middlebury First Selectman.
The audience was eager to hear what the candidate’s thoughts were on the Southbury Corporate Park, but both Davis and Edelson withheld judgment, saying they wanted to wait until developers made a presentation on the property later this month. They did both say they had concerns about the property and questioned the town’s rationale for purchasing the land.
When asked how a first selectman could keep the mill rate low Davis alluded to small changes he made that have had a big impact financially, such as hiring four part times librarians that do not receive benefits when two full time librarians that had been receiving benefits retired.
Edelson directed his answer in a different direction saying the town needed to gather together more to ease financial suffering. He suggested relocating the food bank to a better location and making people aware of the services that the town provides.
In his closing remarks Edelson praised his campaign, saying it has brought key issues such as strategic planning to the forefront of Southbury and has made people aware and gotten people talking about the issues facing the town.
“If you like how we’ve run our campaign, you’re going to love what we do in town hall,” said Edelson.
Davis closed by again referencing his role in balancing the budget, lowering taxes and holding the line on spending.
“We know it’s your money we’re spending, and we justify each and every penny,” said Davis. “We can’t afford more taxes and you can’t either.”
The last opportunity for Davis and Edelson to go head-to-head will come later this month when the League of Women Voters and the Heritage Village Civic Association sponsor a debate on Wednesday, October 26 from 7 – 9 p.m. at the Southbury Town Hall. The initial first selectman debate was held last month in Heritage Village.