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First Selectman Candidates Square Off at Infinity Hall

 

By Wiley Wood

In a conversation that touched on a familiar range of topics—taxes, education, infrastructure—the two candidates for Norfolk first selectman spoke in front of a crowd off about 85 townspeople on a recent Saturday morning at Infinity Hall.

Both candidates are longtime residents of Norfolk, and both have run for first selectman before—Bill Reudgen (R) against Arthur Rosenblatt in the 1990s and Matt Riiska (D) against Sue Dyer two years ago.

The session, which was moderated by Tom Hodgkin, began with a round of applause for Dyer, who is stepping down from her post as first selectman in November after 18 years in office.

Both candidates broadly agreed that bringing young families to Norfolk was a priority. Riiska pointed to the affordable housing units currently being built by the Foundation for Norfolk Living as a mechanism for introducing younger residents into the community. Reudgen mentioned the regionwide fiber optics initiative being promoted by Northwest Connect as a draw to younger residents. “After a few days on Elmore Road,” said Reudgen, “my granddaughter says, ‘I need to get back to civilization,’ meaning someplace that has Wi-Fi.”

To sharp questioning about how Norfolk might pay its share of the cost of fiber optics, quoted at $4 million, Reudgen suggested that his plan for a solar power company at the town farm, similar to a project being investigated in North Canaan, might help offset the cost.

When an audience member asked about the school system and its cost to the town, both candidates said they would favor reopening discussions with Colebrook to regionalize the towns’ elementary education. As a first step, Riiska said, “Norfolk would have to work with Colebrook to find out what they would like to do with their school building.” He stressed the importance of good education, good socialization and good camaraderie for the children of both towns. Reudgen argued the importance of Colebrook’s having a say in the budget process.

Sally Carr, chairman of Norfolk’s Board of Education, asked how the two men felt about the “tuition option,” where Colebrook would pay tuition to Norfolk to send its children to Botelle, which would remain under the Norfolk school board’s control. Riiska replied that all options would need to be reviewed, that the important thing was to get the discussion going again.

On the subject of taxes, both men expressed a willingness to see taxes rise. Riiska mentioned infrastructure projects that would need to be addressed. Reudgen similarly felt that the state’s cuts in aid to municipalities would result in higher taxes.

Both stated their intention to step away from their current jobs if elected and devote themselves full-time to the work of being first selectman.

The debate was sponsored by Norfolk Now and hosted by Infinity Hall. The moderator, Tom Hodgkin, is a member of Norfolk Now’s board of directors.

 

The Candidates

Bill Reudgen

Age: 66

Party: Republican

Education: Computer Processing Institute

Occupation: Automobile salesman; owned and operated Reudgen & Johnson, an information technology firm; certified tax collector and assessor in Connecticut and Rhode Island

Experience: Board of Finance; chairman, Coventry Town Council

Family: Wife, Carol; six children

Contact: wreudgen@me.com

 

Matt Riiska

Age: 61

Party: Democrat

Education: BS, organizational leadership and management, Charter Oak State College; studied industrial technology and engineering at Utah State University

Occupation: Program manager, plastics industry

Experience: Chairman, Board of Assessment Appeals; secretary, Rails to Trails Committee; president, Norfolk Lions Club; Foundation for Norfolk Living; Weekend in Norfolk Committee; Board of Finance

Family: Wife, Linda; one child

Contact: matthewriiska@yahoo.com

 

Photos by Bruce Frisch. Main photo: Norfolk Now board member Tom Hodgkin (right) moderated last month’s debate between the two candidates for first selectman. A sample ballot for the Nov. 7 municipal election is available on the town website, or by clicking here.

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