Suffield first selectman candidates Ed McAnaney (GOP) and Tom Frenaye (Dem., incumbent) participated in a cordial and somewhat agreeable first half of a debate Wednesday night at . The candidates answered questions from a moderator and agreed, at least to an extent, on a few of the answers.
The debate was divided into two parts, with prepared questions asked first and questions from the audience of about 100 people, written down and chosen by a panel, asked after a break. The questions focused on the economy and attracting businesses to town, a strategic plan for the town’s development, assisting residents harmed by the current economic downturn and supporting farmers and open space preservation.
University of Hartford Vice Provost Dr. Fred Schweitzer, a West Suffield resident, moderated the debate.
McAnaney stressed the importance of an aggressive philosophy in attracting new businesses to Suffield, especially from the commercial and industrial sectors. He also talked about the importance of streamlining the process a business must go through to begin operating in Suffield, making it “largely invisible” and easier for prospective companies. Coordinating the efforts of town boards and committees was one of the ways McAnaney plans on simplifying the process.
“We have to actually aggressively go after these businesses,” he said.
Taking advantage of opportunities, including working with community groups like Citizens Restoring Congamond to identify potential for economic growth was another part of McAnaney’s plan. He wants to create an advocate or coordinator position that will be the voice of prospective businesses while understanding the town’s approvals process.
Frenaye talked about key development properties in town including Ffyler Place and the part of Suffield near Bradley International Airport. He specifically mentioned the expansion of Windsor Marketing Group into Suffield and Arcor Laser’s relocation to town. Frenaye also pointed to the creation of the Connecticut Airport Authority as a benefit for Suffield’s economic development.
Information sharing between the town and prospective businesses and finding businesses that are “a good fit” for the town were both major points for Frenaye. Infrastructure was another key, as he noted that well-maintained roads are attractive to businesses.
Frenaye said involved boards and commissions do work in parallel to quicken the approvals process. Keeping developers advised of the process and its obstacles is part of his information-sharing philosophy.
“I believe it’s actually a fairly good working process right now,” he said, while noting that it can be improved.
The candidates agreed that some obstacles, like permits from the Connecticut DEEP, are out of the town’s control. McAnaney advocated focusing on issues that the town can change.
The candidates also came together on the issue of a strategic plan for the town. McAnaney said some parts of the town’s strategic planning goals and the recently revised plan of conservation and economic development need updating, but both agreed the documents are good guides for the town.
McAnaney mentioned finding a way to measure progress and a long-range planning schedule as goals.
Frenaye said Suffield has a $100 million dollar infrastructure and every town resident has a part to play in maintaining it. He also pointed out the low amount of debt service the town is responsible for, between 4 and 4.5 percent of the overall budget, as lower than that of an average town.
As for assisting town residents harmed by the present economy, both candidates said the town should help such people in Suffield.
Frenaye said the town should do more to help and said the community needs to find and build upon opportunities to assist people.
“The key is to communicate,” he said.
He specifically mentioned the (SEAA) as being a big asset for the town as well as a very good value for the money the town invests into it. He said the town does have a good safety net in place and the first selectman’s office will help residents find the right resources.
McAnaney said the town has structures in place to help those in need, including the SEAA, the and the town’s housing authority. He also said the town needs to find budget opportunities to help and encourage charity and volunteer groups to participate. He said he wants to pursue all available avenues, including federal and state grants, to help those in need.
“The town should do what it can to assist people,” he said.
The candidates also agreed on the issues of helping farms and farmers as well as maintaining town funding for open space. They were especially united on the open space issue, as both had previously drawn attention to the importance of preserving open space in Suffield during the evening.
Check Suffield Patch on Thursday afternoon for a story on the second part of the debate, featuring questions from the audience.