Less than 50 days to this year’s election, and the race for first selectman is heating up.

Democratic First Selectman candidate Vicki Tesoro demanded a top-to-bottom reform of Trumbull’s approach to taxes and fiscal management in a press release on Sept. 9, describing the current approach as a reckless mix of out-of-control spending and misplaced priorities.

“Here in Trumbull, we pay high real estate taxes and high car taxes, and both have increased over the last six years,” Tesoro said. “We pay fire taxes, and the highest sewer use rates in the state for a town with over 5,000 residents. Over the last six years, our spending, taxes, fines and fees have increased to record levels. The Tesoro Team says it is time this stopped.”

Herbst, who’s been releasing various parts of his Trumbull 2025 campaign platform over the last six weeks, told The Times last Thursday that Tesoro’s claims were nothing but empty rhetoric and “insulting to the intelligence of Trumbull taxpayers and voters.”

He requested that his competitor and the rest of the Democratic Party point out what part of the town’s budget they would cut if in office.

“If the budgets have been so bad, then why haven’t they produced an alternative budget in six years?” he asked.

“I want them to tell me what they’re going to cut,” he added. “They’re not being very specific and that’s because I don’t think they have much of a plan…

“What town services is she going to cut — Leaf pick-up? Annual contribution to pensions? Reductions to parks and rec programming? A reduction to senior citizen tax relief? These are serious questions that she needs to answer.”

Tesoro has a plan, Herbst acknowledged, but it’s based on “being something she’s not.”

“She’s trying to be me,” he said.

“What I laugh at is that four years ago, the Democrats ran to the left of me and said, ‘Tim’s not spending enough, we need a budget increase for education,’” he explained. “They saw that strategy doesn’t work. Now, they’re running to the right of me trying to pretend they’re fiscally conservative, and I think that says a lot.

“When you have a political party that’s made up of people who aren’t principled — people that don’t have a set of principles — this is what you get,” he added. “It’s all about ‘how can we win’ and raw political power; and when you put hypocrites like that in charge of a community of 37,000 people, at the end of the day, it’s the community that’s going to suffer.”

Similar to the stance he took in the earlier part of his campaign, Herbst said that Tesoro should be held accountable for statements she made about increasing the town’s budget as a private citizen — before she was elected as a member of the Town Council.

“For her to say what she said as a private citizen doesn’t count, that’s equally as insulting,” he said.

“When you’re offering public comment, that goes to your value system — your core, what you stand for, what you believe in,” he added. “To say that doesn’t count and then to say — 53 days before an election — that you’re more fiscally conservative than me, when you have a clear and consistent record for advocating for budget increases that people’s income cannot sustain, is just disingenuous.”

The first selectman added he believes that’s why Tesoro and the Democrats want to wait until the end of October to have a publicly televised debate.

“What she’s going to do is try to prosecute this campaign, in the mailboxes, with negative literature that’s false and misleading because she doesn’t want to face me in open debate,” he said. “She’s going to wait until late in the fourth quarter to debate me, and that’s because all she has is her empty rhetoric and her lies…

“I’ll do the end of September,” he added.

Maximize taxpayer value

In her release, Tesoro did highlight that Trumbull needs to invest in things that keep home values strong and make the town a great place to live — small class sizes, paving roads, improving services, and growing the grand list and town savings account.

“Our plan is simple,” she said. “We will control taxes by controlling spending. We will set priorities that minimize increases, and eliminate unnecessary costs; that is, focus on priorities that maximize taxpayer value.”

The tagline of her campaign has become — “we can’t afford to spend more, but we can spend smarter.”

“Six years ago, the Herbst Team ran for office by claiming they would lower the ‘out of control’ taxes and ‘reckless’ spending,” Tesoro said. “Six years later, we have seen ‘reckless’ spending rise every year — over 20% on the town budget alone.

“We have seen significant tax increases every year, even as property values have stagnated,” she added. “We have seen our mill rate rise to record levels, driving businesses to neighboring towns. We have seen positions created and long-term contracts granted as favors to allies of the administration.”

Salary increase

Towards the end of the statement, the Town Council member focused on a proposal that passed under the Herbst Administration to increase the salary of the first selectman by 20.2% as well as increase other town officials salaries.

Tesoro said her party will lead by example and immediately reject and repeal that “does nothing to help our citizens or improve our town.”

Herbst countered that the ordinance is nothing without funding, and that the Board of Finance considered it during budget deliberations and unanimously voted to approve it. He added that he recused himself from the discussion, and never signed the ordinance into law.

“If Ms. Tesoro and the other Democrats had a problem with this then why did Tom Kelly, Andrew Palo, Lainie McHugh approve increases in the town’s operating budget?” Herbst asked. “They approved the funding so they could say she voted against it at the council level and make this into a political issue, but it should be pretty obvious to voters that this wouldn’t be an issue at all if the Democrats had just voted against it at the Board of Finance level because it would have been a 3-3 vote and it wouldn’t have gone through,” he added. “If they didn’t agree with increases, then they shouldn’t have funded them. And if Ms. Tesoro wanted to reduce it to eliminate the increase, she could have but she chose not to.”

The first selectman claimed that the Democrats were “looking for anything” and “stretching the truth.”

“They’re not telling the whole story,” he said. “They’re looking for any opening they can find to gain political points. And what I find funny is that they talk about this 20.2% increase but what they conveniently leave out of all their press releases is that it’s a pay plan over a five-year period.

“They want to make it sound like it’s 20.2% increased in one year, when that’s not the case,” he added. “They’re trying to say they’ve always been against it, when they voted to fund it. It’s just very disingenuous of them.”

Empty rhetoric

Checking off each of the proposed nine items on Tesoro’s list to cut wasteful spending, the first selectman maintained a hard stance on his opponent’s release.

“She talks a real good game but her record doesn’t match her rhetoric,” he said.

“They’ve had every opportunity, if they thought this budget was wrought with inefficiency or if this budget didn’t spend smarter, to present an alternative budget,” he added. “In four years, they haven’t done that because the budget is very lean.”

The Democratic challenger said in her release that she will require department heads to justify each and every expense and she will prohibit Town departments from seeking supplemental funds except in cases of emergency.

“This 'back-door' tax increase results in deficits and defeats transparent spending practices,” Tesoro said. “We will be honest with Trumbull about the cost of services and how much is being spent.”

The other six points focused on reducing costs through grants; increasing access to honors courses for students; eliminating six-year contracts for town employees; limiting take-home town cars for employees, ensuring that the town’s saving account not be raided to artificially lower taxes, and protect and benefit taxpayers by limit bonding on essential items like infrastructure.

Bottom line

Tesoro said that the bottom line was pretty simple. If she wins the election, she promises that

every dollar spent on behalf of Trumbull taxpayers improves “our quality of life and protects our property values.”

“We will scrutinize current spending,” Tesoro said. “We will create budgets that are transparent, realistic and properly prioritized. Any new proposals will be modest, and will be paid for by cutting spending elsewhere. If we can’t find a way to pay for a proposal, we will not fund it until we can.

“We will not make grandiose promises just to get elected,” she added. “We will not mislead our citizens by raiding our town savings account. Team Tesoro is focused on Trumbull today. We don’t need to spend more; we need to spend smarter.”