Candidates get an earful at commission meeting

Republican First Selectman candidate Paul Lavoie speaks to the Trumbull Senior Commission.
Republican First Selectman candidate Paul Lavoie speaks to the Trumbull Senior Commission.

The three candidates for first selectman spent some time speaking to members of the Senior Citizen Commission Friday morning, then spent a lot more time listening.

Democrat Vicki Tesoro, Republican Paul Lavoie, and unaffiliated candidate Michael Redgate each explained their position on the proposed joint community center and senior center on Old Church Hill Road to the committee in a meeting that had been called earlier in the week by Commission Chairman Amy DeZenzo.

In her opening comments, Dezenzo acknowledged the state’s financial position made Trumbull’s tax rate uncertain, but rejected the argument that financial instability should delay the project.

“Did any of us cancel a planned summer vacation because of the state’s financial situation?” she asked rhetorically.

In addition, she said providing a state-of-the-art facility for seniors, that would double as town recreational center and meeting place for various commissions and civic groups, would be relatively inexpensive compared to the amount of use it would get in the coming decades.

“To be honest, each of us would pay a $40 or $45 tax increase for a community and senior center we could be proud of,” she said. “It’s not a lot of money.”

Speaking first, Tesoro said she was not opposed to the concept of a community center, if it was something the community wanted and if it met the needs of the community. She reiterated her belief that the current building proposed for Old Church Hill Road was the “wrong place, wrong design, wrong time.”

“The location is not big enough, there’s not enough parking, and there’s no room for expansion,” she said.

Tesoro has advocated renovating the current senior center, including a new kitchen that could be paid for with a state grant that the town has received but not spent. But she said she would support a new center if it was approved at referendum, preferably on the upcoming November ballot for maximum voter participation.

“Let the people decide,” she said.

Lavoie said he was opposed to spending money on the current center, which he said was akin to throwing good money after bad. He also pointed out that building a community center was not a decision that was in the hands of the first selectman.

“I don’t make that decision. Vicki and Michael won’t make that decision,” he said.

The process, including approvals from the Town Council, should be followed. Lavoie’s position is not so much a “no” to a community center as much as a “not now,” as Trumbull waits to hear how the state’s financial troubles will affect residents.

“Follow the process, let the Town Council do its work, let the dust settle, then reset,” he said.

Redgate stuck to his position that the town should conduct a cost-benefit analysis of building a new community and senior center. He also said alternate ideas like using private facilities for town recreation programs could be explored. Financially, he said he was open to either option.

“It’s not a bad time [to build], it’s not the perfect time,” he said.

The commission seemingly found the explanations uncompelling, with Mary Moran criticizing the idea of delaying final approval.

“The seniors are always taking a back seat,” she said. “It’s time we did it. Now.”

DeZenzo said she found the sentiment that the Community Center Study and Advisory Committee had not done its job properly upsetting.

“We, once again, have been neglected,” she said.

Joseph Pifko, who chairs the advisory committee, said the candidates’ comments were an example of what was wrong with the process.

Pifko objected to the idea that the center’s proposed location was inappropriate, saying he and the committee had looked at 28 different locations in town.

“This is a central location, it’s near the Pequonnock Trail,” he said. “Where would you like to put it? We looked for three years, and if you know a better place, say something.”

Pifko also rejected the idea of a November ballot question, saying that the committee had looked at 22 other community centers that had been approved at referendum, and none of those had been held on Election Day.

“You don’t send buildings to referendum on Election Day because you have to divorce these projects from politics,” he said.