Kress, Balderston, Kalamarides run for finance board seats

When Wiltonians go to vote this November, they will see three Board of Finance candidates on the ballot — Republicans Walter Kress and Peter Balderston and Democrat John Kalamarides.
Kress and Balderston will be replacing Al Alper, whose term ends Dec. 1, and Lynne Vanderslice, who is running for first selectman.
Kalamarides, a current finance board member who replaced former Wiltonian James Meinhold following his resignation on May 31, 2014, is running for another term on the board.

Walter Kress

After being approached by “several people” in town, Kress said, he decided to consider running for a spot on the finance board.
Even before he was nominated by the Republican Town Committee (RTC), Kress said, State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143) first approached him and asked if he would be “willing to serve in that role.”
“Then others in town, who were aware as well, also approached me to get a serious consideration,” said Kress, a managing director with J.P. Morgan and the chief operating officer for its retirement plan.
Kress said he met with Board of Finance Chair Warren Serenbetz and other members of the board to get to know them more.
After that meeting, he said, “I felt very comfortable committing myself to that and then I received the nomination from the RTC.”
From New Jersey, Kress moved to Wilton with his wife in August 2010 and “quickly engaged with the town,” becoming a member of the Wilton Energy Commission.
“I had a lot to do with working with Bruce Hampson, who is chairman of that commission, on getting the natural gas pipe extension in and working with some of the financial analysis behind that,” said Kress, who resigned from his position on the commission in January.
As a member of the Board of Finance, Kress said, fiscal responsibility would be one of his top priorities.
“I’d like to see the end result be arresting the rate of growth of our mill rate, and how to do that includes working closely with the Board of Education,” he said.
“It also includes working with the Board of Selectmen, but I mention the Board of Education first because it’s the larger piece of the operating budget of the town.”
Kress aid he would also like to look for areas where “perhaps there are shared services between the two” boards.
“I know that’s already underway and some progress has been made there, but where they’re assessing shared services between the town and the school, continuing to serve both effectively is one area where I’d like to look for opportunities,” he said.
The capital budget is another area that Kress said he would like to focus on as a finance board member.
“Everybody focuses on mill rate and the operating budget, and it’s equally as important to look at the capital budget long term — what is coming down the road and how that might impact the operating budget,” he said.
Kress, who considers himself a thoughtful and responsible person with “a lot of pride in the town,” said communication would be another focus area.
“I’m keen on communication. You know, I can find out about these budgets by digging around a little bit, but I don’t think the average Wiltonian really understands the process of the budget,” he said.
“I think very few people understand the long term capital plan and how that impacts not only the capital budget, but bleeds back into the operating budget, so I’d like to work on that — I’d like to see more and frequent communication surrounding that.”
Kress said he would also like to “at some point, think about working with other towns” to look for “opportunities where there might be shared services even beyond the borders of Wilton.”
“Somewhere out there, there are some services that we all have to go through, and it might be interesting to look at where those can be combined for better pricing for the benefit of towns beyond our border,” he said, “but the initial focus will be on Wilton.”
As for the upcoming election, Kress said, it’s “kind of a strange” one.
“People say, ‘You’re running for election,’ and I say, ‘Well, I’m kind of walking for election, because we’re unopposed,’ but I’m hoping that we do see good count on the votes,” he said.
“Quite honestly, I’m more concerned about voter turnout than people voting for me specifically, which sounds quite strange coming from somebody who should be a candidate — I have a hard time thinking of myself as a candidate, per se.”
Nonetheless, Kress said people should vote for him because he has “30 years worth of financial and investing experience and analysis of complex organizations.”
Although he doesn’t have a huge team in his current role, Kress said, he has “led significant organizations” with more than 200 people in previous ones.

Peter Balderston

A Wilton resident of 23 years, Balderston said he feels “strongly about giving back to the community and being involved in the community,” which is why he decided to consider the finance board position.
With 20 years of finance, operational and funds management experience, Balderston said the finance board position is “an important role” that suits his background.
“I have a strong orientation towards finance and numbers, and I thought I would be most useful in the role,” said Balderston, a portfolio manager and adviser at Falcon Capital Management in Wilton.
As a finance board member, Balderston said, he would like to address taxes.
“One of biggest issues I think our town faces is that we have an issue with respect to taxes on real estate,” he said, “and in the face of that, we have a projected declining enrollment in the schools.”
Managing through that projected decline in enrollment, Balderston said, is going to pose a challenge for the Boards of Education and Finance.
“If you talk to Realtors in town, and pretty much anyone, they have real concerns about the rate of growth in our taxes over the last 10 or 15 years, and that will be exacerbated in the reduction in enrollment,” he said.
“We have to be very mindful of how we manage those changes so that we’re not further burdening our homes with additional taxes.”
When it comes to finances, Balderston said, “the devil is in the details,” which is something he enjoys looking into.
“I’d like to dig into the details regarding our finances because I think we’re going to have to be very creative in terms of how we cut costs without impairing the excellence in our school system,” he said.
“I think it can be done, and it’s a matter of looking deeply into the numbers — looking at how we square up against our peers in the surrounding towns and where there might be opportunities for cost-sharing where we could reduce costs without impacting services at all.”
The Board of Finance would be the first time Balderston has served on a town board, commission or committee, and he said is confident that he will do a good job.
“I’ll certainly bring a thoroughness that I think is necessary to be on the board,” said Balderston, who considers himself a thorough, well-rounded person with broad interests.
“There’s always a conflict between wanting to have great schools and town services, but also being fiscally responsible. That's going to be a conflict that just is part of the Board of Finance role,” he said.
“I think I can run in between those two conflicting goals in a way that brings to the table a measured approach to things, and I think I can do a pretty good job of managing through that challenging conflict.”
Balderston said voter turnout and engagement also concern him.
“I don’t think in the last four years we’ve ever reached the threshold of 15% that’s required by the town charter to accept a vote, and that troubles me,” he said.
“The message I would try to make to voters is to try to be as engaged as possible because it’s very easy to be critical of something, but if you’re not voting, you’re not sending a loud and clear message.”
Balderston said participation is not only crucial to the voting process, but in helping members of the finance board.
“I think we’re going to go through some challenging times in the next couple of years,” he said, “and having that kind of feedback and input from the voters is a very important ingredient in making appropriate decisions on the Board of Finance.”

John Kalamarides

Kalamarides has lived in Wilton since 1982 and is a certified financial planner and vice president of wealth management at Source Capital Group in Westport.
He also chaired the Wilton Democratic Town Committee (DTC) for six years before resigning in 2013, and is currently an officer of the Wilton Kiwanis and member of the Our Lady of Fatima Church Finance Council.
When former finance board member Meinhold announced his resignation from the board in May of last year, the DTC’s nominating committee recommended Kalamarides to serve the remaining year of Meinhold’s term.
At the time that he joined the finance board, Kalamarides had 16 years of working in development in higher education and non-profits, as well as 30 years in financial services.
Kalamarides said his experience on the Board of Finance has been “rewarding.”
“It has been interesting and enjoyable to work with my fellow board members. It was revealing at first how much there was to town government and to monitoring the school budget. It is complex,” he said.
“During the budget preparation season, I gained a greater appreciation of all the work that went into preparing the town budget. I attended all the department presentations to the first selectman — this allowed me to get deep into each budget request.”
During a visit to the town garage and the fire department, Kalamarides said, he saw first-hand what each was requesting for the capital budget.
“I attended a statewide conference with other financial officials on how to prepare a town budget and learned that Wilton’s method was just fine,” he added.
“I also served at the Board of Finance representative on the Miller-Driscoll Building Committee and the Town of Wilton Pension Committee — both assignments I felt honored to serve on, attended all the meetings, and offered my thoughts when appropriate.”
Kalamarides said his role on the board has also allowed him to better know Wilton’s town and school employees, who he found to be “intelligent, skilled and dedicated individuals.”
In his upcoming term, Kalamarides said he would “like Wilton to be able to maintain and improve its fine school system and still provide all the town services” Wiltonians expect, while keeping any tax increases very minimal.
“These next few years are going to be financially challenging for our town,” said Kalamarides.
“How we maintain a balance between what our residents expect and what they can afford is going to take some new ideas, some real diligence and some hard work by the Board of Finance.”
Kalamarides said “a spirit of cooperation and civility on our board and by all with whom we talk” will be needed.
“We will also want to encourage some cross-pollination of ideas between the town, the school district, and all the boards,” he said.
“There are no quick fixes to the issues that have arisen this year. We need a reasoned approach to a solution.”
While the finance board “cannot do a lot about expanding the grand list,” Kalamarides said, “I think we need to discuss ways that we can encourage business and corporations, as well as new residents to move to Wilton.”
“Interestingly, as we consider holding down any future tax increases, I am interested in making Wilton a more attractive place for residents,” said Kalamarides.
“We need more opportunities for recreation. I see a much greater role going forward for Parks and Recreation. We need more fields, tennis courts and playgrounds spread around the town. We may need an ice rink. We need to think about how to make Wilton Center the go-to place for residents, which would incent businesses to locate there.”
At the same time, Kalamarides said, he believes the town needs to “be sure that any new donated turf fields have an endowment to maintain them” because “our present turf fields will soon need some renovation, yet there is no sinking fund or money set aside for this work,” he said.
Kalamarides said the board needs to also think about how to keep senior citizens in town.
“Again, what the Board of Finance can do may be limited, but it should be on our members’ minds,” he said.