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Retired Businesswoman Eyes Westport Finance Board

WESTPORT, Conn. – The name Janis Collins is one that likely rings a bell for many in Westport. Outside of being the only female Board of Finance candidate, she is currently the chairman of the Parks and Recreation Commission.

Collins, who's lived in town for more than 10 years, is also a member of the Westport Sunrise Rotary, on the board of the Westport Farmers' Market and a past Green's Farms Elementary School PTA co-president. On Nov. 8, this Democrat hopes to win what would be her first term on the finance board.

Before this mom of two Staples students launched herself into community leadership roles, Collins worked 25 years in financial analysis and business management. Throughout her career, she worked as a partner at KPMG Consulting, a managing director at JPMorgan and currently provides consultation to small-businesses. She recently took the time to answer some questions about the upcoming election. The following are her responses.

Question: What do you think the best course of action is to correct the current Other-Post Employment Benefits (OPEB) predicament the town is faced with?

Answer: We have had a wakeup call and can no longer negotiate pension and benefit plans without understanding the long-term financial impact. In the short term, we can do four things to bring down on our costs.

We can immediately establish compensation and benefit plans that are in line with economic realities and the marketplace. We can offer these plans to new employees, and offer incentives to existing employees to switch to the new plans.

Second, we can examine the existing Other Post Employee Benefits (OPEB), and review specific options for restructuring to ensure they are more economically feasible for the town. Third, we can enlist the advice of a professional benefits/actuarial firm that has experience with municipalities and can price out our options.

Fourth, we need to enter negotiations now, with the intention of making significant pension and benefit changes.

Q: Beyond seeking consolidation between town and school services, how would you propose the town reduce its costs while still maintaining the quality of life Westporters have come to expect?

A: The simple answer is that challenging economic conditions require us to make tough choices. We need to address the source of our rising cost of services, which includes replacing unaffordable pension plans and costly benefit programs with those that make sense for employees and taxpayers.

Additionally, we need to provide sufficient funding for proper maintenance of our valuable school and recreational facilities, since ignoring routine maintenance will simply costs us more in the long run.

We need to benchmark Westport with other towns of a similar profile in Fairfield County and share best practices with these towns. We can learn why and how other towns are doing a better job than we are in the purchasing and provisioning of important town services. We need to use alternative service providers when it becomes unquestionably more cost effective and improves service.

My strong business background combined with my town community leadership roles prepare me for meeting these challenges. And I am committed to working collaboratively with other boards and commissions to get the job done.

Q: Excluding OPEB, what to you are the biggest financial issues facing the town?

A: Maintaining our quality of life while keeping taxes reasonable is our challenge. Westport is lucky to have a good tax base, great people, strong assets and healthy financial resources. We need to take the right steps to protect our position.

Immediate steps should include strengthening our fiscal controls and establishing a five-year financial plan to improve our strong financial footing.

Q: Why should people vote for you?

A: Westporters know me for being action- and results-oriented. And they know that I work collaboratively with others to get the job done. With over 25 years of financial management experience and 10 years in community service leadership roles, I am prepared to meet the challenges of Westport's finances.

As a former KPMG partner, I can help solve our town's financial issues. And my years of community service leadership roles demonstrate that I care about our town and am committed to serving Westport. As chairman of the Parks and Rec Commission, I have uniquely spearheaded public/private initiatives, improved public interaction and pioneered a new group — the "Friends of Westport Parks and Rec" to create private financing alternatives to important public projects such as the Longshore Golf Halfway House.

Q: What would your goals be as a board member?

A: My number one goal is to protect Westport's finances today and in the future. As a member of the board of finance, I will have several priorities. First, I will work to keep taxes low and competitive with other Fairfield County communities.

Second, I will encourage the replacement of costly town benefits. Third, I will encourage investment in our town assets and infrastructure, so that maintenance remains reasonable and the value of these assets does not deteriorate.

Fourth, I will emphasize high quality services, consolidating where possible and outsourcing when it makes sense. Finally, I will focus on strengthening fiscal controls and establishing a long-range financial plan for our town.

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