RIDGEFIELD - First Selectman Rudy Marconi sees challenges as he looks at the year ahead.

"As far as running the town - this will be a tough year, but I know we can do it," Marconi said last week. "You hear of the big corporations of the world having fiscal problems, problems that are affecting retirement packages and such. But the town of Ridgefield is in good shape."

Marconi cited the recent audit of the 2002-03 fiscal year that reported a $900,000 surplus, and said he anticipates a surplus this year.

"We're managing to get the road work done and to keep Ridgefield the wonderful small town that it is," Marconi said with a smile.

But there are certainly issues that will warrant careful consideration in the coming year.

Supporting the town's school system while delivering a mill rate to the town's residents that keeps with the 10-year projection made in 2000 is of concern, Marconi said.

"We're right where we're suppose to be on mill rate increases, but it's going to take a lot of hard work" to support the schools and stay there, he said. "It means bringing the building projects in on time and within budget, and I can safely say they're at 80 percent completion and coming in on time and in budget at this point."

An issue that could affect town finances is Bennett's Pond legal actions initiated against the town by Eureka V LLC , the previous owner of the northern parcel of the property taken by the town in eminent domain proceedings and the present owner of the southern parcel of the property that the town has attempted to acquire through the same route.

On Jan. 21, the state court commences the valuation case on the northern parcel, hearing arguments from both sides. By April, the judge will decide if the $8.4 million paid by Ridgefield to Eureka V was enough or if the town has to pay more.

"Our arguments are good that we paid a fair price to Eureka for that parcel," Marconi said.

A date for the federal court case on the southern parcel is yet to be set, but Marconi is hopeful that a resolution may be forthcoming after the state court case is settled.

"There is no question that corporate development of that parcel is needed" for the financial well being of the town, Marconi said. "Nor is there a question that when someone buys property that is zoned for corporate development, as the southern parcel is, that they put up corporate buildings and not sue because they don't want to."

Another concern that Marconi cited as being paramount is whether the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, the American Indian tribe in Kent, receives federal recognition. Marconi still fears that the Schaghticokes might build a casino somewhere in the Fairfield County region that would affect his town. A decision on the Schaghticoke's bid for recognition is anticipated by the end of January.

With further corporate development in town, such as that which will be coming from the expansion of the Boerhinger-Ingleheim campus, senior tax relief should be able to be increased, another issue that Marconi continues to work on.

"We want to do more for the seniors, to provide additional benefits," he said. "We are looking at building at least 12 additional units at Ballard Green . I have talked to Rep. John Frey about that, and we are looking into more affordable housing units at Halpin Lane ."

The welfare of Ridgefield's residents is, after all, his top responsibility, he said. Under that umbrella falls the need to spend taxpayer dollars on homeland security. That includes developing and implementing a reverse-911 system, which would call and alert residents of present danger.

"Given our proximity to Indian Point power plant on the Hudson River, that is necessary," he said.

It also means working with the citizens group of Ridgebury, residents who live near Danbury Airport and with the city of Danbury to come up with a solution to noise pollution from airport.

"It's all quality of life issues," Marconi said. "We'll follow up on all of the issues that affect our town, including the traffic and parking issues, solving them with a conservative approach as Ridgefield always has. There will be no parking structure downtown, and we will continue to touch on all of the avenues of transportation available."

That includes the Katonah shuttle, the traffic in the Route 35 corridor, the future electrification of the Danbury Branch railroad line and the widening of Route 7 from Ridgefield to I-84 due to start this spring.

Contact Susan Tuz

at stuz@newstimes.com

or at (203) 731-3352.