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Westport Finance Board Hopefuls Examine the Issues

WESTPORT, Conn. – Taxes, other post-employment benefits, costs and the sale of town land were some of the topics Westport's five Board of Finance candidates tackled during Monday night's debate, co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters, Westport Woman's Club and Y's Women.

One of the questions, submitted by audience members, asked the candidates how they would ensure checks and balances with regard to the town's retiree plans, which includes the controversial other post-employment benefits — health-care benefits outside of pensions.

Democrat Janis Collins, who is running alongside incumbent Ken Wirfel, said teamwork is a key component.

"The Board of Finance needs to work with the finance director and the first selectman to develop a financial framework that shows and ensures us how we can meet our current obligations and make sure we don't blindly commit to obligations we can't meet," Collins said.

Republican incumbent Tom Lasersohn, whose running mates include Michael Rea and John Pincavage, called for more transparency.

"The first thing toward checks and balances and accountability has to be clarity in our budget documents so anyone can look at the budget and understand where our money is going," Lasersohn said. "We don't have that right now."

Considering the economic climate, it was no surprise that candidates were asked about taxes, specifically how they would keep the rates "reasonable." Down the line, all the candidates agreed that the town needs to re-examine its employee contracts.

"For every dollar in wage, we're spending $.53 in benefits. I would like to see in the budgets put out to town bodies that the numbers are fully loaded to reflect the all-in costs," said Rea. "We cannot sustain the type of wages and benefits we're paying right now, and we need to have this information so we can sit down with the unions and negotiate."

Candidates also agreed that the town and schools need to consolidate as many services as a possible to keep costs down. On that theme, candidates were also asked what services they think could be shared with other towns as a cost-saving device.

Pincavage said he would be in favor of in-sourcing. "Let's say we have an outstanding garage that can fix police cars, and we have excess capacity. Why aren't we offering that to another town, selling it to them at a cost which covers our costs and fills up our capacity?"

Candidates were also quizzed about how they felt about selling town property. For Wirfel, the sale of town property isn't an issue that should be taken lightly because "once it's gone, it's gone."

However, he said it's not something that shouldn't be considered. "We have a number of parcels of town land. It is conceivable—I'm not recommending it at this time— if there are gaps in our ability to fund OPEB obligations in the next few years, that certain parcels might be considered for sale."

If you missed the debate, it will be rebroadcast on Channel 79 (AT&T Channel 99) at 8 p.m. from Oct. 21-23. It will also be streamed on the town's website until Election Day.

Check back with The Daily Westport Tuesday afternoon to read what the Planning and Zoning candidates had to say during the debate.

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