First Selectman Jim Zeoli believes he has the best resume for the job he’s seeking in November – another term as the town’s First Selectmen. “I’ve had 12 years of on-the-job training,” he said. “And there’s no better education than that.”
Former First Selectman Dottie Berger and the rest of the Republican Town Committee agree, nominating him once again as their candidate to run for a seventh term in the fall. In her nominating speech, Berger described Zeoli as a “roll up your sleeves, Johnny-on-the-spot” guy who works diligently for the town, 24 hours a day, every day. She emphasized Zeoli’s fiscal responsibility, his commitment to economic development and maintaining a sound tax base and stellar school system, his uncanny knowledge of town operations and dedication to providing quality programs and services for everyone in the community.
“Jim is dedicated to providing a quality of life in this town that we take for granted, but he doesn’t take it for granted,” she said. “He grew where he was planted in this town and through his effort he has produced a better Orange. He is proud of this town and we are proud of him.”
Upon accepting the nomination, Zeoli touched upon the many goals he’s accomplished in his tenure, but not without first recognizing the team of volunteers and elected officials who serve on Orange commissions and boards. “We have the finest slate of candidates and it thrills me to be part of this team,” he said. “They give hours and hours for the betterment of the town. I’ve done a lot but it wouldn’t be possible without those who have either volunteered or were elected that make this town so good.”
When reflecting on his 12 years in office, Zeoli has much to be proud of, most notably the town’s “AAA” bond rating, a budget that is stable enough to weather the state’s fiscal uncertainty, preserving open space in town, an on-going capital improvement schedule and a real estate market that’s “hot, hot, hot,” – due in part to the town’s first-class schools, and well-maintained roads and infrastructure. “People want to live here. They like our planning – our large lots and beautiful roads,” he said.
He also implemented an annual auction years ago to sell surplus and worn out town equipment and vehicles for cash which has grown to become a decent addition to the town’s coffers. “The first year we brought in about $31,000, last year we brought in $51,000. That’s real revenue for the town and beats the old way of putting a car out on Lambert Road with a ‘for sale’ sign,” he said.
Economic development has been a top priority since taking office in 2005. “When I was first elected we were on the cusp of an economic down turn, there were many vacancies along the Boston Post Road and Orange had a reputation as being unfriendly to business. I’ve worked very hard to turn that around,” he said. “I meet with or talk to developers every week and also meet with property owners along the Post Road to find redevelopment opportunities.” While maintaining a low vacancy rate on the Post Road is ongoing, a recent coup is the approval of a new extended stay Hilton Homewood Suites Hotel on Marsh Hill Road. “That was a project that I worked very hard to bring to Orange because of the demand for more hotel options outside of New Haven,” he said. Attracting United Illuminating, Yale University and the University of New Haven to town also occurred during his tenure, with Yale purchasing the former Bayer Campus along Marsh Hill Road and the University of New Haven purchasing the former Hubbell property on Derby Milford Road. One of his biggest challenges has been the Firelite Shopping Plaza on the corner of Old Tavern and Racebrook roads. “It’s very worn and tired, and I will continue to try and find the right fit for that location,” he said.
Balancing the needs and wants of all the demographics of the town’s population is always a concern and Zeoli pointed out two projects that benefitted different constituents. The Board of Selectmen recently increased the reduction on town veteran’s property assessments from $10,000 to $20,000 and cleared eight acres at Fred Wolfe Park for new lacrosse fields for the town’s children. The town is currently in the midst of a to-do list of capital improvements including repaving the elementary school parking lots and roads in town; updates to the Police Department’s communication system and the renovation of the south wing of High Plains Community Center.
Zeoli hopes his record will put in good stead for the upcoming election. “Orange is a great town because people here care and have a concern for the well being and betterment of the entire community. I enjoy the job and hope I’ve done a good job,” he said.
In addition to his duties as First Selectmen, Zeoli is on the state’s Task Force to Study the Curriculum and Education of Police Officers and is Chairman of the state’s Farmland Preservation Advisory Board. Over the past decade the number of farms in the state has grown from 252 farms and over 32,000 acres to 328 and over 44,000 acres.
Zeoli has served six terms as First Selectman and has been an active member of the Orange Board of Selectmen since 1999. He served as a volunteer fireman for over 20 years, and is a past Assistant Treasurer of the Volunteer Fire Association and past Co-Chairman of the Orange Agricultural Fair. He is a graduate of Fairfield Prep High School and the University of Connecticut. He also operates Shamrock Farm on Lambert Road.
CANDIDATES FOR REPUBLICAN SLATE:
Board of Selectmen: John Carangelo, Ralph Okenquist, Judith Williams;
Town Plan and Zoning: Kevin Cornell, Oscar Parente;
Tax Collector: Sandra Pierson;
Town Clerk: Uncontested;
Board of Finance: Joseph Nuzzo, Robert Bocek, Pat Romano;
Orange Board of Education: Jeffery Cap, Christian Young, Kimberley Browe;
Amity Board of Education: two-year-term, Shannan Carlson; four year term, Thomas Hurley, Steven DeMaio;
Constables: Jeffrey Vargo, Michael Donadeo, Jody Daymon, Glenn Papelo.
By Laura Fantarella – Orange Town News Correspondent