Carl Fortuna exudes confidence. He is confident that he has served Old Saybrook well over the past 10 years as a Member and Chairman of the Board of Finance. He is confident that he has put together a strong campaign to become the town’s First Selectman, and he is optimistic about his chances on Election Day, November 8.
Over the past twelve years Republican Michael Pace has governed Old Saybrook as First Selectman. During this period Pace compiled an unprecedented record of rebuilding the physical face of the town. These improvements include: the historic building of the Katherine Hepburn Theater, the construction of the new Town Hall, the construction a new town recreation building, the renovation of the town’s fire house, and, perhaps most notable of all, the completely new look of the Main Street of Old Saybrook.
The man with the town checkbook, behind this raft of improvements, has been Carl Fortuna, who for ten years has served under Pace as both a Member and then Chairman of the town’s all important Board of Finance. Now Fortuna is running to succeed Mike Pace.
Fortuna maintains that Pace’s building spree has not created an impossible fiscal burden for the town. In fact, he says that the town’s current “debt level is very manageable.” However, Fortuna acknowledges that any bond issues in the future will have to be carefully tuned”
By way of background Fortuna, in addition to his Board of Finance duties, is a practicing attorney with an office in Middletown. When asked at a recent public appearance how he would manage being a practicing attorney and the town’s First Selectman at the same time, his response was that, if elected, he would be “a full time First Selectman.”
In fact, he points out that the Town Charter specifies that the First Selectman’s job is to be a full time position. However, Fortuna has said that on a limited basis he would consider representing private clients so long as it does not interfere with his First Selectman’s obligations. “I have two partners in Middletown that will handle my caseload,” he says.
Illustrative of the fact that Fortuna is capable of engaging in the business of the town, while at the same time practicing law, is the very active role that he has played on the town’s Board of Finance for the past ten years. Having been at the financial heart of town government for many years, also lends credence to Fortuna’s assertion that when he assumes the job of First Selectman, “I can hit the ground running.”
There will be a very short time to learn the ropes for those who are newly entering town government. After the election on November 8, fourteen days later, on November 22, these newcomers will take the offices that they were elected to serve.
As Chairman of the seven member Board of Finance, Fortuna has been primarily responsible for review of the town budget, a task which Fortuna says is “a laborious process.” It is wide ranging as well. In fact, the Board of Finance is already considering issues for future budgets of 2012 and 2013.
In coming up with town budgets the Board of Finance may, in any given year, hold as many as 15 meetings and three public hearings on the budget.
The climax of the budgetary process is when the Board of Finance seeks the approval of the budget by residents of the town. The first step in the process is a hearing to solicit comments from town residents on the town’s next year’s budget. After this public hearing the new town budget is put before a referendum of town voters.
Fortuna notes that during his period of service on the Board of Finance not a single town budget has been turned down by the voters in referendum. “It shows that we have done our job correctly,” he says.
To assist in public understanding of the budget in advance of its life or death referendum, Fortuna has held workshops on the budget for those interested. If elected First Selectman he says that all meetings on town budgets and other issues will be held in the evening, when the public can more easily attend.
Major policy questions facing Old Saybrook
According to Fortuna there are two major policy areas that must be addressed in managing the Town of Old Saybrook in the future: 1) fiscal questions, especially those relating to real property taxes in the town and 2) preserving the quality of life of the town.
In the fiscal area, the major issues are fourfold. The first is the falling real property values in town. In fact, the next revaluation may show property values in Old Saybrook have declined by over 20 percent. This means that fewer property tax dollars will be paid to the town without a mil rate rise.
Second, there will, very likely, be a decrease in state aid to the town this year as well, concomitant with the changing of the state aid formula for education. Also, the fact that the state characterizes Old Saybrook as a wealthier town means the town gets less state aid dollars than other towns. It all comes down to, as Fortuna put it, “We are going to get less.”
The third major issue with fiscal implications facing the Town of Old Saybrook in Fortuna’s view is the town’s innovative waste water management program. The town created its Water Pollution Control Authority to deal with this issue.
Faced with a lawsuit and a court order, Old Saybrook was required to develop a plan for sewerage treatment. “This has been the defining town issue over the past fifteen years,” says Fortuna, “and it will continue to be one for the next ten years.”
What the town has come up with so far is a decentralized sewerage treatment program, which will be first of its kind in the state.
Rather than having one large, town sewerage treatment plant, Old Saybrook plans to rely on individual homeowners to put in place their own upgraded septic systems, pursuant to precise specifications and subject to regular inspection. As Fortuna points out, the plan could turn out to be “a very costly project” for the town and therefore will require good management.
The fourth issue on the candidate’s list of major issues is that the town is going to have to build, and pay for, a new Police Department headquarters. The department’s old Main Street headquarters is completely “unsustainable for operations,” according to a recent report by the Town’s structural engineer.
Under the category of a quality of life issue in Fortuna’s mind is the attempt to develop the Preserve. The “so-called” Preserve is a 1,000 acre tract of privately owned land, heavily forested, and mostly located within the boundaries of Old Saybrook.
The Town’s Planning Commission not too long ago approved a proposed development on the property. The approvals have been challenged in court, but Fortuna fears that the Commission’s approvals will ultimately be upheld.
Fortuna feels strongly that, “Building on that land [the Preserve] would be bad fiscally and environmentally for the Town of Old Saybrook. These are the last 1,000 acres of the coastal forest in the State,” he notes.
Also, he feels, “To develop the property will place a financial burden on the town,” because of “the infrastructure requirements” that would be “onerous to the town.” “I think we need to cause a ruckus to oppose this development,” Fortuna says. “We need to make it a statewide, even national cause.”
Fortuna’s running mate, Scott Giegerich
As for the background of Scott Giegerich, he is the Principal of the Middle School in Portland and the Associate Principal of the town’s Secondary School as well. He and his wife, Joanne, have educated all of their three children in Old Saybrook public schools, and Joanne Giegerich is a teacher in the Old Saybrook school system.
So far Fortuna and his running mate for Selectman post, Scott Giegerich, have sent out five campaign mailings.
On the subject of education, Fortuna notes in a campaign flyer that the Board of Finance under his leadership has fully funded with fiscally responsible budgets the following projects:
Renovation of the high school and middle school; New watering system on the high school fields; Improvement of the day to day maintenance; and Resealing of the high school track and tennis courts.
Also, in an advertisement the campaign claims that “The Fortuna-Giegerich Team” stands for: Protecting our town’s finances; Continuing educational excellence; Dealing with economic challenges; Respecting the environment, and Transparency in government.
Another campaign piece is headlined, “Life is Good in Old Saybrook.” Among the factors listed: “Over the past 10 years as chairman of the Board of Finance Carl Fortuna has provided the steady leadership that makes Old Saybrook a great and affordable place to live.” The piece continues, “The mill rate has remained low, while fully funding the Town’s service needs in Education, Public Safety and Public Works.”
Also noted is that, “Over the last 10 years Old Saybrook has: Enacted firefighter tax abatements; Enacted the elderly circuit breaker helping our seniors stay in their homes; Maintained a stable rainy day fund; and Improved the Town’s bond rating.”
The piece ends with the campaign’s mantra,
”Let’s keep it that way.”