After voters chose to oust the district’s veteran state representative in the primary, two Winchester residents are vying for the Cheshire County House District 13 seat in November’s general election.
Republican Ben Kilanski, 43, has been a town firefighter for 20 years and is also the manager of Ashuelot Land and Water Co. in Winchester. He is chairman of the Winchester selectboard, as well as a member of the town’s budget committee, conservation committee and drug-free coalition.
His Democratic opponent, Natalie Quevedo, 37, is the chief contracting officer for New York State Solar, a Ronkonkoma, N.Y.-based company that designs and installs solar systems. This is Quevedo’s first time running for public office.
Quevedo defeated incumbent Rep. Henry A.L. Parkhurst, who has held the seat for nearly two decades, in the Democratic primary Sept. 8. Kilanski ran unopposed on the Republican ballot.
Cheshire County House District 13 covers only Winchester. N.H. House members are elected to two-year terms.
Kilanski said he is running for the seat because he feels “Winchester and most of Cheshire [County] need a strong voice in Concord.”
If elected, he said his priorities boil down to one thing — government spending.
His main goal is to properly fund education in New Hampshire, as it’s the largest part of residents’ tax bill. Kilanski explained that this could be done by overhauling the state budget and reallocating funding.
“At the state level it is a problem with the way funding is structured,” he said in an email. “A new tax would be a new problem and not a solution. The state doesn’t have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem.”
Similarly, Quevedo said previously that Winchester needs more funding for education.
She pointed to the recent $1.6 million cut to the school district budget proposal, which Kilanski supported. Voters cut the proposed budget during the annual deliberative session in February, when they amended the warrant article. Residents then approved that lower budget at the polls in March.
To stay within the reduced budget, the school board later announced it would cut full-day kindergarten, busing to Keene High School and all athletics and field trips, among other things.
“Our teens have no way to get to High School in Keene, our entire sports program was cut and a lot of [teachers] lost their jobs due to the town vote,” Quevedo said previously in an email. “This to me is NOT acceptable. We need to be able to fund our children’s future.”
She said Winchester has some of the highest tax rates in the state, but has one of the lower-funded schools, and that needs to be addressed on the state level.
According to 2019 tax rates published by the N.H. Department of Revenue Administration, Winchester’s tax rate was exceeded by those of only four other communities (Berlin, Charlestown, Claremont and Keene).
To fix this, Quevedo said funds should be redirected from more fortunate communities with a surplus in education funding.
“By setting a set property tax rate for all towns specifically based on median income we can ensure that our education system is [properly] funded for every town, not just the most affluent,” she said in a text.
Another priority for Kilanski is addressing the financial impact of N.H. Department of Environmental Services’ project regulations.
He explained that these regulations can increase costs, and he wants to see fewer mandates on small-town construction repairs and projects.
Ultimately, though, Kilanski said he wants to rework the state’s financial structure to “fill the needs of all towns.”
“It will significantly help the burden on the residents and businesses,” he said.
Quevedo said that New Hampshire’s reliance on property taxes to fund “everything” leads to wealth disparities across the state.
“New Hampshire needs to create an EQUAL tax system so that families struggling in the state are not burdened with the highest property taxes thus allowing them to stay in our state and in their homes,” Quevedo said.
The issue she is most passionate about is climate change, pulling from her work in solar energy. If elected, she said previously she will push for further investment in renewable energy, developing more solar projects and giving better tax incentives to those using green alternatives.
“Our [planet] is in turmoil. Our global temperature is rising, oceans are warming, ice sheets are shrinking, sea levels are rising, and we are having more and more extreme weather events,” she said. “NH NEEDS to become one of the leaders in Climate Action and it needs to happen now.”
This article has been changed to clarify Natalie Quevedo’s vision for education funding.