Water connection, fire department among main issues facing voters

WILTON — Select Board member and District 4 State Representative Bill Condra is challenging the current Water Commission Chair Jim Tuttle for his position in March’s upcoming election, saying the current Water Commission administration isn’t making the best strategic decisions for the town.

“I perceived there to be strategies not to be in the best interest of the 700 rate payers of the town of Wilton,” said Condra in an interview Monday, when asked why he chose to run for the Water Commission.

Tuttle is advocating to make a water interconnection with the town of Milford. The connection would provide a back-up source of water for both towns should current water supplies fail. Both of Wilton’s wells connect to the same aquifer, and if the water source underwent a damaging event, the town would not have immediate access to clean drinking water, Tuttle said in an interview Monday.

Condra, however, argued that the connection to Milford wasn’t necessary. The town’s New Reservoir Dam, which holds 33 million gallons of water, can be easily connected back into Wilton’s system in case of an emergency.

But Tuttle says the water does not meet state standards for drinking water and to be a long-term solution for back up, the town would have to invest in a system for purifying the water and a storage tank.

Condra said the Water Commission was pushing the connection with Milford to increase revenue for the commission, by gaining access to multiple businesses and residences on Route 101 who would have the option of accessing the new corridor and purchasing water from Wilton.

“I don’t believe it’s a necessary expense,” said Condra. “I believe their plan to be just commercial in nature.”

Tuttle said it is the intention of the Water Commission to expand into those new markets and generate revenue as well as providing an additional water source for both towns. Condra said that in past years, Wilton Water Works has operated with a substantial surplus — at times in excess of $100,000 — and does not have a pressing need for the funds.

Tuttle pointed to his 35 years on the Water Commission as one of his strongest points in this race. “I think the knowledge and experience I have is a real strength, and I don’t feel that Bill has some or any of that,” said Tuttle. “I think eventually the townspeople are the ones that will lose out if I don’t get re-elected.”

Condra countered that he had long experience in municipal board, including serving as a selectman, on the Planning Board, and as the town building inspector gave him sufficient managerial experience to serve as a water commissioner. “I have a long tenure of working to the betterment of the town of Wilton,” he said.

Tuttle is also throwing his hat in the ring for the Select Board seat, which is the only other contested race on the ballot this year. Running opposite Tuttle is Richard Swanson, a current member of the Budget Committee. Both decided to run for the office when Select Board Chair Steve McDonough opted against running for re-election.

Swanson grew up in New Hampshire, he explained in an interview Monday, but received most of his governing experience while living in the Southwest, as an elected member of the Flagstaff, Ariz., City Counsel for eight years. He moved to Wilton three years ago, and has been a member of the Budget Committee for two of those years.

The two men disagree on one key issue on this year’s warrant — a bond proposed to renovate the existing fire station and put an addition on it that would alleviate space and safety concerns. An article on March’s warrant proposes to bond $935,000 and take $763,950 from the fire department’s reserve funds to pay for the project.

“I don’t see how these improvements can be avoided. It’s gone through a lot of process and it’s finally time to do something,” Swanson said of the fire station bond.

Tuttle disagreed, stating that as a former member of the fire department, he felt the scope of the renovations was excessive for the needs of the town. He said the conversation originally began with discussion to add a third bay to the fire station to accommodate all of the vehicles, which he was in favor of. But he did not support the current proposed renovations, which would eliminate a second floor and elevator, and include a mechanical system update and add 5,515 of floor space, including a third bay area, and additional office space.

Both Swanson and Tuttle said they have reservations about articles on this year’s warrant that would authorize the Select Board to take ownership of the former Sacred Heart Church on Maple Street. Swanson said the restrictions placed on the properties use, forbidding using the property for uses against the morals of the Catholic Church, could provide unforeseen issues. Tuttle also voiced concerns, pertaining to the cost of renovating the building to meet standards for a town building, and the ongoing cost of upkeep for a building of that age.

Candidates for all positions will gather tonight at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall in a candidates night to speak on the issues.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

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