| G. Michael Dobbs
WILBRAHAM – About 100 people listened to question posed to most of the candidates who will appear on the Wilbraham ballot on May 20 at a candidate’s night that was sponsored by the town’s Republican and Democratic towns committees.
Appearing at the event were one of the three candidates for Water Commissioner, Rik Alvarez; two of the Library trustees, Linda Dagradi and Ronnie Haislip-Hansberry; one of the candidates for a five year term on the Planning Board, James Rooney; all five candidates for School Committee, Patricia Gordon, D. John McCarthy, Patrick Kiernan, Sherril Caruna and Patricia McDiarmid; and both candidates for Select Board, Susan Bunnell and David Sanders.
Each candidate was given two minutes to speak about his or her experience and intent and then questions were posed suggested by the audience.
In the Select Board race, Sanders, who has been serving on the Planning Board, described himself as a “small government guy, personal responsibility” who is interested in reducing and eliminating taxes and fees in the town. He believes the seniors should have a social center and the Memorial School is the most practical location.
He added Memorial School should also be the new headquarters for the town offices and the property on which the current town offices are located should be sold for redevelopment and put on the tax rolls. He would also reduce the town’s budget by 1 percent and eliminate the Community Preservation Act (CPA) in the town. He said he would establish a private account to which residents could voluntarily contribute to underwrite the projects normally the CPA would fund.
Bunnell, the incumbent, said she is excited about working with a new business development committee to help bring in new business to town. She is also interested in exploring the fairness of a single property tax, which she believes puts a burden on small business.
She added there is “a great opportunity” to develop the Boston Road corridor for more business.
In the question and answer period, when asked about the Green Communities program instituted by the state, Sanders said he was against joining it, as it was a “costly program.” The program would force Wilbraham to enforce a higher level of building quality and purchase an alternative energy fleet of vehicles.
Bunnell said the Select Board has been “short sighted” in not asking for more information about the program and noted the town would have been at least partially reimbursed for a $129,000 heating system it purchased. She believes the voters should decide on the issue.
On the issue of medical marijuana dispensaries in town, Sanders would like to put a temporary moratorium on them until the Planning Board can set up a zone for such businesses. He is against the sale of recreational marijuana in town.
Bunnell believes the town should take action now to keep marijuana out of town.
The only question on the ballot would be to prohibit any recreational marijuana sales or industry in Wilbraham.
The School Committee candidates answered a question on the hot button issue of a new middle school. Incumbent School Committee member Gordon said, “There is no timeline set for a new middle school to be established. We are obligated to fund the best solution for all of our students.”
McCarthy, a former member of the School Committee, said the committee should look at the entire budget and see if it can increase the revenue the schools receive from School Choice and from encouraging foreign students to come to Wilbraham. He added the district should consider having seniors graduate in January instead of June, as often the final semester is not necessary to fulfill graduation requirements and could save the district money.
Kiernan said the district should return to the middle school educational format, which it is not practicing at the present.
Caruana agreed with that statement and added, “We have to close the gap between the two towns.”
McDiarmid noted many Hampden residents have chosen to “cross lines” and send their middle school student to Wilbraham. She believes a new middle school, if one is to be built, should be constructed on the Minnechaug Regional High School campus.
“It all goes back to what the state will give us [for the construction],” she added.
Alvarez said his time during his youth living in Venezuela taught him the importance of a clean water supply. He said his experience as the brand manager for Hasbro has taught him negotiation skills that he would bring to the commission to help keep water rates affordable. He also spoke of ways to conserve water such as a rain barrel program for the town.
Of the Library Trustees, both Dagradi and Haislip-Hansberry spoke of the importance of a strong library, with Dagradi saying a good library is “a measure of the quality of life in our town.”
When asked about what services should be cut and what services should be developed for the future, Dagradi said the trustees would have to assess the needs of the town and look at the cost and efficiency of a program. Haislip-Hansberry said, “We’ve already gotten down to bare bones in many ways. It is important to keep what we have.”
Rooney, who described himself as a 40-year resident of the town and an Army veteran said if he were elected to the Planning Board, he would work to keep taxes as low as possible. When asked about regional interest versus local control, Rooney said he “wants to make sure Wilbraham maintains local control.” He cited the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission as an “outside influence.”