Wilton Board of Selectmen candidate: Ross Tartell
Ross Tartell says he is running for a seat on the Board of Selectmen because he sees Wilton at a crossroads.
“I think there are two points of view on the future of Wilton,” the Democratic candidate told The Bulletin. “One is the financial armageddon that the Republicans have as their view of the future and another is much more optimistic and focused on the alternatives and the opportunities that we have going forward.
“Wilton’s got enormous assets and we should take advantage of them — the schools, the financial strength of our town, the capacity of our people to volunteer and do things and they have incredible competence. We can create a future that is phenomenal and you can’t cut your way to a future.”
Board of Selectmen candidate
Current job: Ross Tartell, Ph.D. Consulting, LLC
Education: Hofstra University; MA, MEd, MPhil, PhD Teachers College, Columbia Univeristy; MBA Columbia Business School.
The most important issue in this election: Wilton needs to recapture its vision for the future. My vision builds on a foundation of Wilton’s assets of excellent schools, a vibrant and safe community, and fiscal strength. This future vision of prosperity will create a town that is optimistic, responsive to our challenging world, family-friendly, and supportive to business.
Other issues: 1) Responsibly investing in and marketing Wilton’s focus on children and families. 2) Growing our grand list and ensuring a wide enough range of housing to meet the needs of millennials, seniors and growing families. 3) Strengthening the public/private partnership with not-for-profits and volunteers that are critical to Wilton’s success.
Family: Ross and his wife Karen have one child, Michael, who went through the Wilton public school system and is now in graduate school. Ross and Karen moved to Connecticut in 1984 and have been living in Wilton since 1989.
Previous elected offices, community group affiliations: Fire Commissioner; Wilton School Long Range Planning Teams (22 years); Wilton Historical Society; Wilton Congregational Church; Temple B’nai Chaim; Wilton Democratic Town Committee
Campaign website: wiltondems.org
His skill set is around understanding organizations, strategy, helping individuals and organizations succeed, helping people find common ground and create a future.
Having a vision is one of the main issues Tartell sees facing the town.
“Can we take advantage of these enormous assets that we have and build a future that is attractive and engaging and pulls people into our town, or do we hunker down and cut and watch our pennies and really look at what the future ought to be to keep us going over this apocalyptic financial cliff?” he asked.
After that come strategic issues of supporting schools and families.
Those are Wilton’s greatest assets, he said, and as such, “this is a place where people want to live because they know the schools are strong and they like the community, they like the people in the community, and that’s a very strong platform to lead from.
After that comes the grand list “because without money things grind to a halt.”
He sees the assisted-living facilities along Route 7 —an indication of Connecticut’s changing demographics — as an asset. In their favor are the fact those facilities pay taxes and don’t use many town services except emergency services.
“As you go up and down the corridor you see more medical services because older people tend to use more medical services,” he said. “So suddenly, you’re pulling in additional jobs and they’re all environmentally clean. So that’s an important place to start.”
He also brought up Cannondale, which he described as “this incredible gem that we need to pay attention to.”
How do you build it so it makes money for the town? “You maintain its historic significance and it becomes an attractive place for millennials and older people.”
He pointed out Wilton Crossing as an example of a place that had lost its luster and now will be developed into something that has value to the town.
“It’ll strengthen our center of town and I expect it will provide entry-level housing that a millennial will want to live in or maybe an older person who wants to downsize.
“Those are opportunities to build the grand list and keep our town vibrant,” he said.
Affordable housing integrates with the grand list, he said.
“Unless we address the issue of affordable housing, then developers will use it as a lever to develop what they want rather than what fits best with the town. It’s one of the places where the town has lost its vision. It doesn’t know what to do. In fact, we’ve lost [affordable] housing over the last few years.”
The state’s financial situation “is part of the apocalyptic vision that the Republicans have,” he said.
“The forced regionalization issue is over,” he said. “Grassroots voices targeted to our legislators both Republican and Democrat made a huge difference.”
He pointed to Gov. Ned Lamont as “a business guy making business decisions. He put us on a debt diet. He hasn’t been perfectly successful, but those are the types of things where the ratings agencies are starting to say ‘gee, we’re a little more optimistic about Connecticut’s financial future.’”
Downtown Wilton is a 15-25-year vision, he said. Darien, he said, has been able to drop its mill rate partly due to growth of business through a plan started 15 years ago.
“Wilton needs to do that sort of planning and plan for that sort of investment,” he said.
“Republicans in Wilton have been penny-wise and pound foolish,” he said. “That doesn’t mean you’re fiscally profligate. It means like any business you need to manage your cost basis and then look at how you allocate your resources.”
Building a stronger center of town will bring in more taxes and attract the millennial generation and the generations that come after them. Millennials are moving where there’s life, he said, and they will soon be having kids and looking for a town where they can be well educated.
The hidden piece that no one talks about, he said, “is an incredible strength and that’s around our volunteeers and the not-for-profits that are in this town.
“You have this enormous reservoir of people who are volunteering to take care of our town. It’s an incredible strength and one we have not thought about,” he said.
“This administration has tried to shift more work onto them, if you look at the way it changed the funding for Trackside, or the way it changed the funding for the library, or how they want to make the historical society care for more town buildings.”
“How the town faces off to build that public-private partnership is both an unseen strength and opportunity.”
Tartell also wanted to talk about the people serving Wilton.
“You have people who earn hundreds of thousands of dollars because they’re worth it and then they do the same thing and give it to this town for free,” he said.
“The Democrats this year said, if we do what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always gotten and it’s not good enough. That’s what the Republicans have done. So we went out and created a blend of people who are veterans in service to the town and people who have incredible competence who can bring in new ideas and perspectives,” he said.
“They’re knowledgeable, they competent, they’re motivated, they’re here for the long term. And I believe they will play well in the sandbox,” he said.
“One of the decision-criteria was will they be able to work together ... everyone’s your neighbor.”