WILMINGTON, MA — Selectmen candidates Rob Fasulo and Jonathan Eaton recently took part in a debate as part of WCTV and Chamber of Commerce’s Candidate Night. Below are some highlights:
Fasulo is hearing complaints from residents on the issues of traffic, consistent building, and nepotism. He promises, if elected, to “put the people first.”
“Many Wilmington residents moved from a city environment because they wanted to live in a small town; they never expected the town to become so urbanized,” said Fasulo. “As I travel the town today, I see woodlands being decimated, houses popping up on lots the make me scratch my head, and wildlife fighting for its own existence.”
Eaton highlighted some of his previous service to the community, including his work as a Finance Committee member, Rotarian, and member of the library’s Strategic Planning Committee.
“I’m running for the Board of Selectmen because I believe my experience, my temperament, and my involvement in the community can help bridge the gap between our residents and our town government,” said Eaton.
How Can Wilmington Foster Economic/Housing Development, While Maintaining Its Small Town Feel?
“I’ve been very adamant about an inclusionary bylaw, which is one of the most important tools that we should have,” said Fasulo. “Our services in town need to keep up with the rate of growth in town. The rate of growth has been too fast, too much, too quickly. Our services should determine how fast we should be growing.”
“An inclusionary zoning bylaw could be a good tool, but it’s certainly not a magic wand to solve the affordable housing issues here,” said Eaton, who wants the town to act proactively to avoid facing a 40B development. “I would like to see affordable housing and senior housing become a priority for the Board of Selectmen and the town.”
Should Sciarappa Farm Be Taken By Eminent Domain?
“The elephant in the room is not knowing how much the property would cost. Is it $15 million? That’s seems like a heck of lot more than we should be spending. Is it $6 or $7 million? That seems a lot more palatable to me,” said Eaton, who would prefer the town try to acquire the land first through negotiations.
“The price is going to determine everything,” agreed Fasulo. “Thousands have propped up that land for many years, giving them tax breaks. I certainly want to see the town end up with that land, but done through negotiations. I don’t want it see it come to eminent domain, but the voters will be the ones to decide that on Town Meeting day. Let the voters say.”
What Should The Town Use Sciarappa Farm For?
“Preserving open space needs to be the short-term priority,” said Eaton, who noted voters would ultimately decide what to do with the land, pointing to the possible need for a fire substation and other “conversation points” generated by the Facility Master Plan.
“I would like to see that agricultural land stay agricultural. It was a farm. Let’s keep it that way. I like the model of Brooksby Farm in Peabody,” responded Fasulo.
“In 2001, the Master Plan recommended an inclusionary zoning bylaw. It was rejected by the Board of Selectmen. And another study in 2004 recommended it,” said Fasulo. “It’s been talked about for a year and nothing has been done. It’s a very important tool for the town to get to [above the 10% affordable housing threshold]. It should have been done years ago.”
“I believe the town owns plots of land that can be used for affordable housing and senior housing, and those are avenues we should be pursuing,” said Eaton, who expressed disappoint that a majority of the current Board of Selectmen would not allow residents a vote as to whether or not the land next to St. Dorothy’s should be used for such housing.”
Economic Development Committee
“I’m a very strong proponent of an economic development committee,” said Eaton. “It’s worked very well in different communities. Over the past 12 months, we’ve seen a bunch of proposals that have upset a lot of neighborhoods. One of the main benefits of an economic development committee is it actually empowers the residents to get a seat at the table, identify the types of businesses we want in our community, and then go out and get them. I don’t like that our residents feeling they’re always on defense.”
“I’m also in favor of a committee, but with the proper makeup,” said Fasulo. “I want the committee to be made up of more residents. I don’t want to see any officials on that other than what we need. It’s the people who need to decide what types of businesses they want to see in their communities… The town can then offer incentives to that type of businesses.”
What Will You Do To Keep Taxes Low?
Eaton would like to consolidate the town and school’s IT departments, allowing the town to benefit from economies of scale and a greater purchasing power. Eaton would also like to see the town implement “See, Click, Fix,” a program used by another municipalities to alert DPW to issues such as pot holes and downed trees.
“I would like us to attack this by bringing in more businesses to accommodate some of that burden,” said Fasulo. “The business tax rate is much higher than the residential. The more businesses that come here, the better off we’ll be as residents.”
Agree With Facility Master Plan Committee Recommendations?
“Placing a new Town Hall/School Administration Building at the current Senior Center site does appeal to me, but it’s up to the residents,” said Eaton. “The current Senior Center is not equipped to its current programming. Having a Senior Center at the current Town Hall site is a great idea. There’s a lot of walking trails back there, and we’re building pickle ball courts… I think an expanded library should eventually happen, but it will come down to the cost. We can want all these things. We have to make sure the impact on residents’ tax bills aren’t overbearing.”
“The cost — is it really feasible for us to do all of this building?” responded Fasulo. “This is something that needs to be done, piece by piece. Otherwise, we’ll be seeking overrides and debt exclusions, and I don’t think there’s any flavor in the town for that. They’re good ideas, sure, but is it feasible for us to do at this time as we dip into free cash by $5 million?”
Fire Substation In North Wilmington?
“Yes, I believe a fire substation in North Wilmington should happen,” said Fasulo. “I come from a public safety background. The most important thing is EMS, who will be responding to our families. Minutes, seconds count. If [public safety] needs it, they should absolutely get it. That should be priority #1. We need to give the police and fire and EMS the tools they need.”
“Yes, I do believe that’s necessary,” concurred Eaton. “In the last 5 years alone, Fire Department calls have increased 10% and ambulance calls have increased over 33%… Our Fire Department has been overworked over the past few years. With the amount of development, both commercial and residential, going on in North Wilmington, we should make sure a substation is a priority.”
Free Cash — Is The Town Saving Too Much?
“Standard and Poors has rated us as an AA+, which is the second highest rating they give out,” said Eaton. “They recommend that the free cash balance be 10%-15% of our operating balance. The current free cash balance will soon be just under that 15% mark. The amount we’re at right now has benefits as it serves as a “rainy day fund” and helps with [unanticipated expenses]… The bond rating allows us to pay less in finance charges when we have to go to a borrowing.”
“I agree with Jonathan regarding the bond rating,” agreed Fasulo. “There are unforeseen circumstances… Is the current balance too much? No, we need to keep the bond rating up, but we shouldn’t need to worry about using it for one time projects.”
Should Town Voluntarily Pay More To Trash Collector Or Cut Ties?
“We shouldn’t be paying them extra money. They need to abide by their contract with the town,” said Fasulo. “They’ve put up bonds just for this situation. I don’t agree with paying them the extra money.”
“I’m in favor the resolution that the board came to [in voluntarily paying more for FY18],” said Eaton. “The economics of the situation is that if Russell Disposal decides not to honor their contract, we’d then have to scramble to find a replacement, and the market rate – given the tipping fees – would be a significant increase over our current contract. We had to make the best of a bad situation.”
Thoughts On Proposed Detox Facility Location & What Should The Town Be Doing To Address The Opioid Epidemic?
“Great idea. Wrong location. It’s backing up to an established neighborhood. I have safety concerns for the neighborhood,” said Fasulo, who wants to know would will actually be running the facility in question. “One incident is too many. There are places in town that can safely house this type of facility. Middlesex Avenue at that spot is not one of them.”
“That’s not the ideal location. I did support Article 2 [restricting future detox facilities, hospitals and nursing homes to industrial zones with special permits] at the Special Town Meeting,” said Eaton. “I’m not insensitive to the epidemic and how it has affected my families in town. I was in favor of hiring Samantha Reif as the Substance Abuse Prevention Coordinator. This town used to have an agreement with Wilmington Family Counseling. That’s something we should revisit as well.”
Is There Anything Selectmen Can Do About Traffic In Town?
“A lot of it has to do working with our state delegation,” said Eaton.
“There’s almost nothing the Selectmen can do, unfortunately, relative to traffic. That would have to come from the state level,” said Fasulo. “A lot of the traffic is coming from Tewksbury. We know what’s gone up in Tewksbury. There’s nothing we can do to stop [over-development in other communities].”
Do You See Marijuana Dispensaries Opening In Wilmington?
Both Fasulo and Eaton do not envision marijuana dispensaries opening in town. Both gave one-word “no” responses to the question.
One Place In The Budget You’d Cut Money And One Place In The Budget You’d Add It?
“I’d like to see a reduction in the amount of studies done,” said Eaton. I think sometimes too much analysis leads to paralysis. Sometimes we’re farming out what we could be doing in-house… A perfect example of that is the North Wilmington Fire Substation study.”
“I’d like to see a reduction in the amount of studies too. I don’t think we need them. We have professionals in every department of the town,” said Fasulo. “I’d like to see money added to the police department… I’d like to see a police officer in every school, during school hours, protecting our kids.”
Most Important Quality In A Selectman?
“They need to be able to listen to the people and do the people’s work,” said Fasulo. “I don’t want a Selectman that I wonder why a decision is being made — is it being done honestly or for a special interest?”
“The ability to communicate and listen,” responded Eaton. “There’s 23,000 people who live in this town. A lot of the issues that go in front of the Selectmen are very black and white. But, some are in between… [Selectmen] need the ability to pick up the phone and take the medicine when someone disagrees with you. You need to responsive to those you represent… You need to be able to explain yourself.”
Is Eaton The Establishment Candidate? Is Fasulo The Change Candidate? Is Wilmington Heading In The Right Direction?
“I don’t like to define myself based on who endorses me,” said Eaton. “I’m humbled that many volunteers who have contributed so much to this community have found something in me that inspires confidence. That said, I’ve disagreed with every one of them that endorsed me and they know the issues I’ve disagreed with them on because, sometimes, I can’t keep my mouth shut. But I have the ability to be very professional in the way I disagree with people.”
“Is Wilmington moving in the right direction? In certain ways, yes. In certain ways, no,” continued Eaton. “I’d like to see your neighborhoods preserved. I think too much growth too quickly is sometimes [bad]. Overall, from a financial standpoint, we’re in a pretty good position. Residential tax rate is lower than [most neighbors]. Wilmington is a great community, but there’s always room for improvement.”
“I’ve had the ability to talk to Jonathan several times — he’s a very nice guy. There’s no ill will between either one of us. We bring two different methods that people can choose from,” said Fasulo. “When I look at a candidate, I do look for who is backing them. There’s something in the back of my mind — is there something driving their decisions?… I like Jonathan. I don’t like seeing a divisive discussion.”
“Wilmington is a great place,” continued Fasulo. “I just think we need to take a step back from the amount of development, let’s stop the over-development, and let’s get back to our community roots.”
Speed Round Questions
Town Manager gets a “B” grade from Eaton and “C-” from Fasulo.
Both are against the Town Meeting article that bans plastic bags at commercial establishments in town.
The next Boston sports team to win a championship? Fasulo picked the Red Sox. Eaton chose the Patriots.
“I bring to town a fresh perspective with no biases. My goal is that every resident has a seat at the table of our government and that perceptions of favoritism are ended,” said Fasulo. “I’m self-funded. I have no relations with law firms, real estate firms, or any special interests that go in front of the town boards. My decisions will be based on the citizens’ desires and my compassion for the town. I’m not in this race for financial gain. I will never make a penny of a decision from this board…. [I ask you to support] a new course that will be a better direction for this community.”
“I’ve consistently fought to preserve our suburban environment by voting against spot zoning articles [as a Finance Committee member],” said Eaton. “I haven’t taken a dime from developers or contributions from any attorneys who practice in town. 100% of my income comes from my employment at a medical school in Boston. I have no professional or financial gain to be elected to the Board of Selectmen. I’m doing this not just because I believe in how great Wilmington once was, but because how great Wilmington still is… I hope to continue to fight for residents, to increase the financial efficiency of your tax dollars on the Board of Selectmen.”
Watch the 45-minute debate, courtesy of Wilmington Community Television, below:
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