The race is on for two open seats on Burlington’s Board of Selectmen. The election is April 10.
Incumbent Walter T. Zenkin will be joined on the ballot by Robert C. Hogan (photo, right), Virginia E. Mooney, and Michael Runyan. Selectman Sonia Rollins, who has served on the board since 2004, is not running for re-election.
With the deadline passed for joining the race, the four will vie for the two open spots. Candidates identified the budget, overbuilding, and how to use the town’s land as among the major issues.
“I’ve not been satisfied with how town government has been responding to current economic conditions here in Burlington,” said Runyan (photo, left), a Burlington firefighter for the last 21 years. “Families make difficult decisions every day…I don’t see any reason why the town isn’t making those decisions. "
Runyan’s suggestions include a community development office that would be responsible for seeking outside sources of funding from the commercial sector and a private education endowment fund for school needs.
After serving as selectman from 1988-1991, Mooney (photo, right), a resident of Burlington for 50 years, “has run every year.” “I’d like to see some changes,” she said. “It’s a good ol’ boy crowd, has been for years.” Most of the selectmen are well known, she said, and she would like to see new faces and “an outsider” on the board. “I’m going to keep trying,” she said.
Mooney said she is especially concerned about overbuilding in Burlington, citing concerns about traffic and the environment.
Hogan said that with an open seat, “I thought now would be a good time to continue my service with the town.” He is the town’s director of Veterans Services.
The budget is the biggest issue the town faces, Hogan said . “We need to take a good hard look at how we decide to spend our money.”
Hogan suggested consolidating services, such as a human resources director who shares time between the town and the schools. “What we need to do is look at the large departments and see if there are other services across the board that can be shared by the two departments rather than have duplicated services on both sides of the budget,” he said.
Zenkin (below), a small-business owner, was elected to the board in 2007 and is the current vice-chairman. “The biggest challenge that lies ahead for the town is to maintain the same level of services we expect” without placing the entire burden on taxpayers, he said.
“Last year, the amount of state aid we received has diminished by $1.2 million and more aid cuts are expected for this year and following years. This is not going to change until the economy does.”
The town should take a creative approach to fiscal issues, said Zenkin, including using the state’s grant system as a source of funding. “I intend to work more closely with Ways and Means in order to help solve these problems…these are untapped resources we haven't yet taken full advantage of.”
The candidates also weighed in on the ongoing debate about what to do with the town-owned 250-acre landlocked forest bordered by routes 3 and 28.
Last fall, citizens tried to put a non-binding referendum on April’s election ballot asking if the town should explore developing the property. The Board of Selectmen voted against the referendum, and some local groups have argued that the land should be converted to recreational space.
For Runyan, the land-locked forest is “too big to ignore” and exploring options for the land is the key to infrastructure needs. “Cemetery space has been an issue in Burlington—perhaps (the land) could satisfy cemetery needs for the next 100 years,” he said, adding that he is open to discussion about the use of the space.
“There is no rush to do anything, as far as I’m concerned,” Hogan said about the land. “Now is not the best time to be selling property. I don’t see any reason in the very near future to do anything about the property.”
Mooney said the forest is an example of open spaces that need to be protected, and Zenkin was one of the three selectmen who voted against the referendum to explore developing the forest.
Selectmen serve three-year terms. The next town meeting is May 10.