On Tuesday, September 13, Brookfield Republicans have been asked to go to the polls to choose their two candidates for the Board of Finance (BOF) in the November 8 municipal elections.
Registered Republican voters will have the option of picking two of four candidates on the ballot: current BOF Chairman Bob Belden and Greg Dembowski, both , and Dr. Robin Appleby and Phil Kurtz, who . The two sets of candidates have been campaigning in pairs, with Belden and Dembowski touting their experience in the public and private sectors and Appleby and Kurtz running on a fiscally conservative platform, vowing to maintain a flat tax rate if elected.
Belden, who joined the BOF in 2003 and served as its vice chair for two years before earlier this year, said it was an “interesting thing to have a primary for the Board of Finance only,” but he noted that all four are members of the Brookfield Republican Town Committee (RTC) and there has been “no antagonism in the race” to date.
Appleby agreed. “We’re running against the nicest guys,” he said, adding that they had a standing “gentlemen’s bet: the winners have to take the losers and their wives out to dinner.”
Despite their affinity for each other, “It’s time for a refocusing,” Kurtz said. “The focus has always been on the ones receiving the money; it’s time to focus on the people giving the money.”
“You always hear about how the government needs this much money, ‘We need this much money,’” Appleby said. “You never hear them say, ‘What’s good for the taxpayer, for the people.’”
Appleby, who spent six years serving on the Board of Assessment Appeals (from 1998 to 2004), and Kurtz, who is a newcomer to elected politics but currently holds an appointed position on Water Pollution Control Authority (WPCA), frame their campaign as a fight for the middle class.
“We like to think of ourselves as activists and advocates for the middle class,” Appleby said. “We don’t want layoffs, we just want to hold the line on taxes.”
“We plan on going in with a fair and conservative attitude,” Kurtz said, admitting that there would be some learning curve if elected to the board. However, “there’s a fine balance between how much to give and how much to get,” he said, “What do we need versus what do we want… We need to be prioritizing and hold up until we see a break in the economy.”
“If we could rely on the other two guys to hold the line, we wouldn’t need to run,” Appleby added.
Kurtz referenced this year’s budget vote, which then after .
“In the last budget referendum, when I saw that they cut only $150,000 when half the people said no — it should have been much more,” he said.
“We had 1,800 for and 1,800 votes against,” Belden said, “And there were those who wanted our board to split the difference between zero and the 2.8 percent increase and thought that that was the right answer. The job of the Board of Finance is to flesh out the right answer; deep cuts is a leap to an answer.”
Belden explained that with a close defeat, he preferred to make small cuts to the budget, expecting to reach the “right answer” through multiple referendums if necessary.
“I didn’t expect the second budget to pass,” he said. “I expected to have to go to a third or more and find that balance point.”
“The board is a good board,” Belden said of the BOF he serves with currently. “We all have strong financial backgrounds and operational backgrounds and we also all have different priorities and views. The role of the chairman,” he continued, “has been to make sure everybody has a voice and to do the best thing for Brookfield.”
Belden, who has made his career working as a chief financial officer for IBM, asserted that he and Dembowski together bring “a lot more experience [to the BOF] and a lot more involvement in the town.”
Before retiring, Dembowski worked as a plant business analyst for Union Carbide before being transferred to Danbury in 1983, when the company merged with Dow Chemical, to take over as operational director of one of the company’s largest divisions. Since retiring in 2002, he began volunteering at the Regional YMCA, where he was hired on as developmental director in 2004, and is the acting finance chair of Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys Church.
In that latter role, Dembowski pointed to the recent Family Life Center addition at Saint Marguerite’s. When the campaign to build the expansion began, the project committee envisioned a $3 million addition.
When fundraising came up short, “We had to cut the scope of the project while still finding a way to deliver all the important things we wanted to accomplish,” Dembowski said, nearly reducing the project by half to $1.6 million. “We came in on budget and on time, that’s what I’m most proud of.”
“It’s about really being willing to work,” he said. “It’s having the skills, experience and really the commitment to work at it.”
“It’s easy to think [managing the budget] is something you do in March and April of each year when it’s plopped in front of you, but it’s not that simple,” Belden said. “Initiatives on energy savings, flexibility on medical benefits costs, investments in information technology — they pay off probably in the next year’s budget, but we’re constantly looking ahead to areas that will pay off.”
”None of those are about Draconian cuts,” he added.
“We’re not looking for huge cuts,” Appleby said. “We’re asking for a mandate to hold the line.”
“Every bureaucracy grows over time,” he admitted, however he pointed toward a growing number of administrators in the town’s school district over recent years. “We never had two assistant principals at the high school, never had assistant principals at the lower schools — it just keeps expanding.”
Along with looking at the number of administrators in the school district, Appleby said that he hopes the teachers’ unions would agree to “zero increases” in the upcoming contract negotiations.
“They’re very well paid… all of us need to pull our belts in,” he said, though he stressed that he was not in favor of layoffs. “When we say no cuts, we mean teachers.”
Appleby, an obstetrician with a practice in Ridgefield who also manages a farm on his property in Brookfield, said he and many he speaks with are “afraid that very hard times are coming and we want to do the best we can to make people ready.”
In generations past, “we were always able to leave it better for the next generation — we don’t do that now,” he said. “We ought to be paying for things ourselves, not putting it on our credit cards for our grandchildren.”
“We don’t want to see budgeted money for things that aren’t a necessity right now,” said Kurtz, who manages three apartment complexes in Woodbury, which he compared to running a small village. “If we ever have any kind of a true emergency, I want to make sure that we’re prepared for that.”
Along with a potential emergency situation, Kurtz also pointed out that revenue sources such as the state of Connecticut could begin to dry up as well.
“The state is going to have a lot of trouble in the coming years,” he said. “Any money we’ve expected from them is up in the air at this point.”
“If they [the voters] say they want us, then they’re saying they want discretion in spending,” Kurtz added. “If not, then we will fully support their choice in November.”
Republican voters can cast their ballots for any two candidates at either (BHS) or (HHES), whichever is their usual polling place, between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. Tuesday. Contact the with any questions about voting.