Rich Balestracci

Vote Board of Finance!

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As a lifelong Stonington Resident, I have volunteered with numerous groups across our community, including my current role on the Economic Development Commission, past member of the Stonington TRIAD – a local coalition protecting our senior citizens from falling victim to financial fraud, and former president of a Stonington business networking group. My finance and economic educational background, volunteer activities, and career expertise will add value to the Board of Finance, as the town navigates through the fiscal challenges ahead.

Q&A:                                      

What is it that appeals to you about being elected to the Board of Finance?

I grew up in Stonington, went through Stonington’s public school system, and am proud of our community. I have lived in Mystic, Pawcatuck, and now reside in Stonington. I love each of the unique characteristics of our town, which is why I chose to remain in Stonington and raise my family here. I enjoy volunteering locally, and given all of the challenges being forced upon Stonington due to the budgetary issues at the State level, I felt compelled to volunteer to utilize my background and experience to ensure my kids come up through the same great community that I had the fortune of being raised in, while ensuring our town continues to benefit from one of the lowest mill rates in the state.

The Board of Finance is more than looking at line items in a budget and determining their value. There are complex issues at hand, such as managing pension liabilities, investment policy, debt management, all amongst many other complex financial decisions. The challenge to not only effectively and proactively plan and monitor these, but also balance a budget that best serves our community, is a challenge that my background in commercial and municipal finance is suited to.

On November 7th, when voters decide who to cast their ballot for, why should a voter put their trust in you?

Stonington is very fortunate to have several candidates for the Board of Finance, enabled by the Charter Revision in 2015. Both Republicans and Democrats have each presented candidates that all have a common passion to do what they feel is right for our town – this election is about selecting the candidates that will best be able to balance the competing needs of our community by leveraging their experience. Members of the Board of Finance are tasked with a great level of responsibility, one that will require the ability to listen, compromise, and make difficult decisions. I am the right fit for the Board of Finance because this is a challenge that I am prepared to approach with an open mind, and I have the right skillset and experience to guide the financial future of our town.

Part of my “day job” includes analyzing and funding loans to municipalities. As we embark on funding Stonington’s largest bonded project in its history, the ability to analyze and understand the town’s financials from a lender’s perspective, will allow us to plan ahead and position ourselves to maintain a strong bond rating (and thereby keeping interest costs as low as possible and preserving our ready access to the debt market).

I will also be able to ensure we proactively avoid financial pitfalls many other municipalities have fallen into – primarily from the perspective of a lender tasked with assessing risks associated with municipal finance. Our town needs to continue proactive, long term planning if we are to continue to benefit from the same level of financial security we enjoy today.

What is your vision for how Stonington responds to the State’s proposed cuts to Educational Cost Sharing Grants and other municipal funding in both the short and long term?

Stonington has developed an excellent reputation for quality public schools – an honor earned by the hard working teachers, staff, and administration of our schools alongside active and involved parents. Working cooperatively with the BOE and parental outreach will be essential to navigating the proposed cuts together, to ensure we do not lose sight of the importance of educational quality, while continuing to maintain one of the lowest mill rates in the state. I would recommend navigating these hurdles cooperatively over the long run by the advocating for the following:

1)     While preservation of the town’s general fund will be important to maintain the town’s bond rating and keep a reserve for unexpected capital needs, the general fund can be utilized to a certain extent to help ease the immediate impact of the cuts in this coming fiscal year. This will provide the town with the time and ability to adjust to a new level of state funding.

2)     For the following fiscal year, I would propose seeking out efficiencies, across all town departments, to see what costs can be minimized or reduced. All part of a collective effort of compromise and inclusion in the process. The Board of Education should be commended on leading the charge with reviewing options such as consolidating the middle schools, especially in light of the declining enrollment trends. This type of thinking needs to be prevalent across our entire local governmental structure. Other sources of revenue generation should be sought out, such as regionalization opportunities, with any tax increases scrutinized to minimize impact on local residents and businesses to the extent possible. Once state funding is reduced or eliminated, we should not anticipate funding being restored in the years to come. We will need to adjust to a “new normal” and the goal will be to insulate our town from the irresponsible fiscal policies of our State.

3)     In the long run, Stonington continues to be an excellent choice to both live and work. Grand List growth should be encouraged, in line with the carefully crafted Plan of Conservation and Development adopted by the town. I am confident that Stonington can continue to add beneficial development to the town, while maintaining its character and charm that we have all come to cherish.