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Town campus, taxes are key Dedham issues

Taxes, the future of municipal buildings, and the hiring of a new town manager are among the major issues facing the eight candidates seeking two selectmen seats in Dedham’s town election this Saturday.

Thomas Boncek, Mary Gilbert, Kenneth Gilchrist, Dennis Guilfoyle, Brendan Keogh, Daniel O’Neil Jr., Cheryl Schoenfeld, and Dennis Teehan Jr. have been knocking on doors and participating in candidates nights in an effort to get their messages out to voters.

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While they differed on which is the biggest issue facing Dedham, all agreed this is a time of significant change in town.

For Keogh, finding a replacement for former town manager William Keegan is the top issue for the Board of Selectmen.

“This is going to determine where we go in the future; we need to have someone with previous experience who also understands Dedham issues,” Keogh said in an interivew.

Boncek and O’Neil said taxes were the most important issue. Boncek said people and businesses are moving to neighboring communities such as Norwood and Westwood because the tax situation is more favorable there.

O’Neil called Dedham’s tax increases “astronomical” in the past 12 years, considering the cost of living.

Taxes and the town manager tied in Gilbert’s mind. She said the business tax rate in Dedham was nearly the highest in the Norfolk County and that would have to change; finding a top administrator to control the budget would be an important way to do that.

Active town participation was the most pressing issue for both Schoenfeld and Gilchrist. Gilchrist said the town should seek residents’ advice on how to expand the tax base, while Schoenfeld said many residents are afraid to speak out in public.

“I want people in town to know you have a voice,” Schoenfeld said.

Teehan said his focus was on smart-growth for the town, expanding commercial opportunities while respecting the character of the neighborhoods.

“Dedham is a hot market right now,” he said.

Government transparency is paramount for Guilfoyle, who said the town needs to make a strong effort to show where every dollar is spent.

Beyond the selectmen races, Dedham’s residents will be asked to vote on a plan for a municipal campus by renovating buildings to create a police station, Town Hall, and senior center.

Most of the candidates wholeheartedly support the spirit of the plan — keeping Dedham’s municipal buildings in the center of town near Dedham Square.

Only Gilchrist expressed reservations about moving ahead with it, asking whether it might make more sense to renovate the existing town buildings.

Brocek said he would prefer that the plan combine the police and fire stations. He added that the senior center was a top priority, a sentiment that was unanimous among the candidates.

Teehan, son of former Dedham police chief Dennis Teehan Sr., said he would support the plan, but would be open to other options if the municipal campus plan turned out to be too expensive or logistically impossible.

Guilfoyle said he hoped that any new buildings would be environmentally efficient, though the plan calls for renovating an old historic building, the Ames Schoolhouse. He also believes public-private partnerships should be pursued for financing.

Schoenfeld, Keogh, and Gilbert said it was important to have all the buildings stay in the center of town.

While Boncek, Gilchrist and O’Neil said taxes needed to be cut, the other candidates said it would not be likely, as the town meets the demand for services and continues to improve education.

“Reasonable action on taxes is a good thing, but overreaction is going to cause more problems than it will solve,” Teehan said.

At the same time, fiscal restraint was important to Gilbert, who said she entered the race as a result of dealing with her mother’s soaring property tax bill.

Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at eisen.globe@gmail.com.
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