By Lisa Capobianco
Republicans and Democrats running for Town Council came face-to-face last week during the first Q&A session, hosted by the Southington Chamber of Commerce.
Both parties addressed key issues of the town, including property taxes, open space and the environmental cleanup of superfund sites. However, Republican and Democratic candidates shared opposing visions on the solutions to these issues.
Democrats said the most significant issue of Southington today is the “continuing reliance on property taxes.”
“Eighty percent of our general revenue is generated by property tax from homeowners, and that is a major issue that has to be addressed,” said Democratic Town Councilor and running incumbent John Barry. “We are also at a seven-year high in our mill rate, and with a high mill rate, it affects your car taxes.”
Chris Kelley, a Southington native and the youngest candidate on the Democratic slate, said his vision of the town in the next two years involves reducing the mill rate “as low as possible.”
“What we need to do for Southington is work across party lines, taking the best of both worlds,” Kelley said. “We really need to come together.”
Republican candidate Michael Riccio, the current chairman of the Parking Authority who served eight years on the council, said the town should develop more commercial land to take the burden off residential taxpayers.
“We can’t keep putting the burden on the residential homeowners,” Riccio said. “We have hundreds and hundreds acres of undeveloped commercial land…[and] we need to focus on getting that land developed, getting the businesses in there…and take a look at how to grow that tax base, so we can continue to provide the services to our residents.”
While both parties agreed that Southington’s biggest asset include its centralized location filled with businesses and spirit of volunteerism, they disagreed on the town’s biggest burden. Republicans said the town should examine vacant buildings and improve infrastructure.
“When infrastructure collapses, so does the economy,” said Republican candidate Paul Champagne, who currently serves on the Planning and Zoning Commission. “We have to keep up with the economic development team, and raise the tax base of commercial buildings—not put the burden only on residences.”
Meanwhile, Democrats expressed their concern about the cleanups of superfund sites in town.
“We need to secure money not only from the state but also from the federal government,” said Democratic candidate David Rinaldi, who previously served eight years as an alderman in Waterbury. “We need to get that cleaned up, and once we do that, we will be in much better shape.”
Republican and Democratic candidates also shared several goals if their party becomes the majority in November. Cheryl Lounsbury, a running incumbent from the Republican Party, said she would like to see the council continue enhancing economic development in order to downsize taxes and leveraging spending.
“In order to do that we need to develop a town-wide strategy,” Lounsbury said. “You do not know where you are going unless you plan for it.”
In contrast, Democrats said their goals would involve preserving open space and continuing to enhance the education system.
“We need to focus on is trying to preserve the community that we have, and promote sustainable development that comes in, so we don’t have abandoned buildings that are taking up valuable real estate here,” Kelley said. “We also need to focus on…bringing foreign language down to the elementary school levels.”
Later in the week, Republicans held a press conference to address their list of accomplishments they have achieved in the past four years. Town Committee Chairman Brian Callahan addressed these accomplishments in response to reported “misinformation” about certain Republicans running for office. Although he did not say where this misinformation came from or what it entailed, Callahan said the Republican party will “run an election campaign focused on issues, ideas, plans and strategies based on reliable facts.”
The Republican slate also includes running incumbent Stephanie Urillo, along with Victoria Triano and Thomas Lombardi. The Democratic slate also features a mixture of new and old faces, including running incumbents Dawn Miceli and Chris Palmieri, along with Dennis Conroy who served on the Council for a term in the late 1970s.
By Lisa Capobianco