We asked Southington Town Council candidates the following questions:
1) What was the most important challenge or issue faced by the Town Council over the last term? How did you handle it or how would you have handled it?
2) What is the most important issue ahead of us, and how will you handle it if elected?
Here are their answers:
John N. Barry
1) Cooperation in government. In order for government to function properly and efficiently, it is important to work together, put politics aside and work for the people.
Unfortunately, when the Democratic members of the Town Council offered real cuts this year of over $700,000 to the budget, every suggestion and motion was defeated. There was no effort to work together by the Republicans.
Over the last several years, the high increase in car taxes are hurting families, sewer bills have become unaffordable, and taxes on your home have created real challenges for residents. The elderly and fixed income taxpayers are being squeezed every day. That is why I supported real reductions in spending.
In 2014, I proposed expanding the veteran tax exemptions, helping more veterans to qualify for tax savings on their property. With our senior population increasing, the town must broaden options to seniors to help with their tax bill. Many seniors cannot afford these tax increases. Their fixed income makes it very hard to pay these increased taxes.
2) Cutting back debt. The biggest issue ahead for our town is the massive amount of debt that the taxpayers will have to pay back over the next decade.
Today’s debt, including the credit card borrowing that has been authorized but unissued, is $124,485,620. When the Republicans took over in 2009, the town had debt of $59,584,000. If the upcoming referendums pass this year, the total debt will be $135,885,620.
As one can see, the Republican majority, much like the politicians in Washington D.C., are increasing the government credit card at a very fast pace. This is the most pressing issue ahead for our town, because the interest and accumulation of debt will be a major factor in future budgets and the impact on taxpayers.
1) Town infrastructure. The most important issue was maintaining and updating the town’s infrastructure that had been severely neglected over the past four decades, and doing all the necessary work within the parameters of the budget.
Leveraging resources and collaboration across town departments was key to achieving the road preservation, LED light replacement throughout town, and upgrading sewer facility.
2) Financial responsibility. Maintaining thoughtful and responsible fiscal and strategic planning and data driven decisions around capital expenses. Promoting economic development to support our tax base.
Continuing to leverage resources across town departments—making fact based decisions and optimizing efficiencies.
Anthony E. D’Angelo
1) Government for the people. The famous quote by President Abraham Lincoln, “Government of the people, by the people, and for the people” has been largely disregarded in Southington during the past six years.
I have observed groups of residents attend board meetings and give testimony about such issues as chip sealing of roads, destruction of Hatton Meadow, as well as tax burdens and increased sewer rates just to name a few.
It took Democrats to halt chip sealing and initiate other types of road maintenance.
Sewer rates have doubled and tripled during the past two years, and taxes have increased more than 21 percent during the past six years. It has taken an ethics complaint and court intervention to determine whether or not to proceed with the destruction of Hatton Meadow.
The Democrats have tried unsuccessfully to maintain level spending with the school budget this past year while the Republicans voted to accept a school budget below level spending.
Many residents spoke in favor of maintaining level spending and again, it fell on deaf ears.
The present majority is not listening to the groups of people and, in turn, our budgets and bonding have been increasing at an unacceptable rate. Open government is not present in Southington today. This is evident by the lack of attendance at meetings by Southington residents. We have a culture of, “Why bother? The majority doesn’t listen, anyway.” Right now the leaders in the Republican Party are the sole arbiters of what happens in Southington.
2) A government that listens. A 10-year plan of conservation and development was developed for the Town of Southington as a requirement by the State of Connecticut. I have proudly served on the committee to develop the plan. The ultimate responsible body to develop the plan rests with the Planning and Zoning Commission. The implementation of the plan rests with all boards in Southington as well as resident support.
Edwin Stephen Leggett
1) Misuse of the 8-24 statute. As an alternate on the Planning and Zoning Commission, the most important challenge that I faced was centered on the use of the 8-24, a statute that was misused. The majority on the commission and the Town Council used this statute to circumvent the public hearing process, an insult to the concept of open government.
I voted against the use of the 8-24 in the town’s effort to force a large solar array into a residential neighborhood. I am a proponent of alternate energy sources, but more importantly, I’m a proponent of a process that is open and welcoming to public hearings and input.
2) Open government. Open government is critical to the successful attainment of all other goals. By dealing truthfully with our fiscal challenges, we can prioritize expenditures. As an example we can look at the fact that the town has raised taxes and significantly increased sewer bills over the past several years. I doubt if many in the general public can explain why these costs have escalated so dramatically. Open government demands an explanation of this escalation.
I also suggest that we examine the so-called “bid” process. The carte blanche use of the 8-24 statute has to be stopped, and a detailed, rigorous bid process must be incorporated for all major expenditures.
As an example, the majority on the Town Council utilized a sketchy “bid” process for the procurement of solar arrays, and expanded this to determine our “solar partner.” Then the town signed a 20-year agreement, worth millions of dollars, that obligates us to a vendor and a technology that is fast losing favor in the energy world. Open government decries such behavior.
Economic development must be addressed. As our residential growth increases dramatically, our industrial or commercial growth languishes. We need to know what our direction is, and what we are doing to correct this dangerous trend. We need to be open about this.
In order to accomplish open government, we need leadership that is open to suggestions from the public. No decisions should be made in a vacuum. As an example we can examine the notable public commentary relating to the Calendar House enhancement, a program that I support. All major projects should be handled with this type of input.
In summary, open government is my priority. It has a waterfall effect on all other issues. I’ve shown my belief in this area, and this belief has been vindicated by the Ethics Commission and the Connecticut Superior Court. I ask for your vote in November to continue this quest.
1) Debt/ Infrastructure. Southington is facing a major challenge in that our infrastructure needs updating. We have older buildings, roads, and sewer systems.
In order to update our infrastructure, the town has taken advantage of very low interest rates, allowing us to bond money for necessary projects. This is a proactive step to update our assets and save the taxpayers money in the long run.
The town has taken new measures to update and monitor our assets. The proactive approach may go unnoticed to some, but the reality is our focus on infrastructure is a cost savings approach that benefits the residents of today and tomorrow.
2) Economics. There is nothing more important than maintaining our financial stability and positive economical growth.
A reality that we all must realize is that Connecticut is facing economic challenges never seen before. The issues at the state level impact Southington. We must always strive to be fiscally responsible and able to meet the challenges that our community will face.
Without a strong financial position, it is very difficult to invest in our future. We cannot act like the federal and state government by spending funds we do not have. The town needs to run a balanced budget each year, which means the burden falls on the taxpayers. We must invest in our town while also planning for the future. Connecticut is a difficult place for businesses to strive, so the town must create an environment that is business friendly and enhances the vibrancy of our community.
We are a major point with the development possibilities in our downtown area. Job creation is the nucleus to our local economy, and I want to see Southington as the best local economy in the state. We must work collaboratively and creatively with all stakeholders to ensure that possible development creates a vibrant, thriving downtown district for our future.
1) Infrastructure, economic development, and ensuring minimal tax increases. There were three important issues this council worked on, and each issue had ramifications for the others.
The first was to continue to upgrade our infrastructure—a challenging task because it has been neglected for so long. This resulted in continuing to pave our roads, putting significant emphasis on upgrading the sewer plant and sewer system, and upgrading the two junior high schools.
Each project was major, expensive, and took extensive research, planning, and proficient people.
The second issue was to continue to focus on economic development—the right economic development for our town. This shifts the tax burden solely from the home owner.
And finally, ensuring a minimal tax increase, which could only be done by prioritizing, monitoring budgets, and growing the grand list. I’m proud to say that Southington’s tax increase is significantly below our neighbors’, and our grand list continues to grow, even in Connecticut’s poor economy.
2) Upgrade infrastructure, economic development. In the upcoming two years, we must complete what we’ve started regarding upgrading our infrastructure. We must continue to focus on economic development, and we must continue to look for ways to do things more efficiently and as cost effectively as possible.
Southington is already ahead of our neighbors with our Green Initiative which saves us money and improves our environment. We need to continue to purchase open space and improve our senior center.
Over 30 percent of Southington residents are seniors, but our senior facility is outdated and outgrown. Connecticut’s state finances are in terrible shape, and we’ve already seen less money coming to towns and more mandates which cost the towns money.
In this financial environment we must prioritize, plan, and spend carefully.
Dawn A. Miceli
1) The potential closing of Bradley Hospital, the restructuring of sewer rates, and the use of chip sealing on our roads.
With regard to Bradley, I felt it was imperative to fight to keep the emergency room open and operating at full capacity. With a population of 43,000, I believe we can sustain such a facility, and I worked across the board with my fellow councilors and the grass-roots group that formed to save the hospital. Additionally, I worked to tackle the issue at the state level.
The sewer issue was frustrating because it seems that during my tenure we have repeatedly sought answers to perpetual problems at that facility. This time around it was billing and the equanimity of water usage. We were told we had an emergency situation and as such had to act promptly.
Residents would be encouraged to purchase second meters to reduce expected high costs for those who irrigate. To make that solution palatable, the town was to research a bulk pricing program so residents could purchase water meters at affordable rates. Additionally, local installers would be contacted for reasonable installation costs.
Unfortunately, this solution never manifested and certainly wasn’t in place by the time we were required to vote. I believed the correct course of action was to borrow monies from our “rainy day fund” to properly and effectively “fix” the problem without the need to double bill sewer users. We could stem the bleeding, so to speak, but give ourselves time to properly research and implement best practices. Once proper billing was executed, we could have “paid back” our rainy day fund.
The decision to chip seal some of our neighborhoods in lieu of the standard paving usually undertaken was a poor one at best. While I understand at first blush the purported savings of this type of road management system seem favorable, I don’t agree that chip sealing will significantly “add life” to our roads because of our harsh winter conditions.
After one winter, the asphalt chips in one trial neighborhood were already down to the subsurface and lying more in residents’ lawns and on sidewalks than on the road. Personally, I began to research the issue and what compromises we could employ in order to realize savings but not concede quality of life. Additionally, since this was the first time the town had applied this type of road surface in our community, I believe there should have been a better public awareness campaign to fully inform taxpayers of the new process.
2) The most important issue ahead of us is twofold: we need to facilitate economic development and growth for our community while safeguarding the charm and character of our town via open space preservation.
I am proud to serve on two council committees that tackle both of those issues—our Open Space and Land Acquisition Committee and our Economic STRIKE Committee.
Christopher J. Palmieri
1) Saving Bradley. One of the most important issues that our community faced this past year was the possible closure of our own Bradley Memorial Hospital.
I shared the concerns of many residents that we should have a fully functional hospital, centrally located in our town, to service the needs of residents of all ages. I believe we should have the comfort and convenience of the best quality healthcare close to home.
From the beginning I advocated for maintaining beds so patients could be admitted if needed. Aside from addressing this issue at Town Council meetings, I attended several forums and a rally to help save our hospital and ensure the appropriate support for our emergency room. I spoke to many concerned residents as well as some of the medical staff at Bradley.
I also reached out for assistance from our state delegation. In addition, I served as a member of an advisory committee that was formed to evaluate the medical needs of our community. I attended monthly meetings along with doctors, community leaders, and Southington citizens in order to work together to secure the future of our hospital.
I am very pleased that thanks to the synergy of all involved our hospital was saved, and I believe we preserved the wishes of the late Bradley H. Barnes.
2) Maintaining quality town services while making them affordable for all our residents is an important issue ahead of us.
We must actively plan for the best way to sustain or improve our infrastructure and make certain that Southington schools are among the best in the state, despite budget limitations.
It is essential to balance the needs of all Southington’s citizens while ensuring appropriate financial support for the town. One way to do this is by adhering to our comprehensive fiscal policy.
I would also like to continue to focus on economic development and explore additional sources of revenue in order to ease the burden on taxpayers. I would like to increase our business and industrial tax base. Currently we have 10 industrial sites listed for lease or sale in Southington, and it is important to diversify that rather than rely on any one industry.
In addition, there are over 50 commercial sites available in town now. I will continue to work with our state delegation, economic development coordinator, and the chamber of commerce to ensure we are doing all we can to support our local businesses.
I want to maximize our efficiency between town departments and ensure that our offices are business-friendly, as well as people-friendly. I fully support incentives to entice businesses to relocate in Southington, such as increasing or extending tax abatements.
Edward S. Pocock III
1) Seniors. Calendar House. Later in my submission here, I will talk about collaboration and its importance, but I think the Calendar House proposal needs to be discussed. I am immensely proud of the work this Town Council did to bring the needs of the Calendar House to the forefront.
Whether you are a new parent or a near empty nester like me, the day will come soon enough where you need a strong and vibrant senior center. That hub starts with the Calendar House and, thankfully, it is on for vote this November. I strongly encourage that same army of parents who made our middle school initiative a reality to please vote “yes” for the senior center; a vote that supports our town’s other vulnerable population, our seniors.
2) Effective teamwork. Effective collaboration. It would be easy to write about one subject, but as I put this together, it just didn’t seem like this presented the entire picture.
During my earlier term on the Town Council as Chairman, my team was confronted with a number of issues. No one issue was corrected alone, rather, it needed many and not just Town Council members. Here are a few examples of what I mean:
Let’s consider the middle schools for a moment. These two schools (Kennedy and DePaolo) were treated like relatives no one wanted to talk about for years. Everyone had a plan, and over the course of a decade, the only thing accomplished was an increase of hot gases released into the atmosphere.
Effective collaboration (parents and town leaders) ended that nightmare and finally addressed what the parents demanded… action. Those two schools are now shining examples of what we can accomplish together. We need to finish the job and create parity amongst all our schools and, simply put, that means addressing Kelly Elementary School, Flanders Elementary School, and Derynoski Elementary School.
Town Hall. Effective collaboration allowed us to combine the BOE offices with town offices at a refurbished school (North Center). It wasn’t the effort of a lone person or an exercise in political group thinking; it was a team effort that involved a lot of good folks who wanted to correct a long-standing problem.
The running of government. It’s the job of any opposition party to point out that the current folks don’t deserve your trust. While that may be their job, a statement requires something more than a sniping hit on Facebook or a snippet in The Observer.
Under Republican led government, we have kept taxes low. The proof is in the last six years, but even this answer is not the entire picture. What allowed the GOP to keep rates low is not the wisdom of this prior Chairman, John Dobbins or our current Chairman, Mike Riccio. It is the wisdom of our entire team of strong leaders.
We collaborate, we debate (and do we ever), and we get the job done as best we can.
I kindly ask for your vote on Nov. 3.
Michael A. Riccio
1) Fixing infrastructure. The most challenging issue faced by the Town Council over the last several years was how to replace and fix the aging infrastructure that had been ignored for so many years, while preventing a spike in taxes.
Most of our town buildings, including our schools, were built in the late ‘50s, ‘60s and early ‘70s. Our sewer plant hadn’t seen an upgrade to its original equipment since it was first constructed, and our hundreds of miles of roads had deteriorated to the point of where many were unrepairable.
After putting the proper team of professionals in place, we and our team of professionals set out to look at the best management practices for each challenge.
In our buildings, we value engineered them, we sought out state and federal grants, and we put forth proposals to our citizens that were practical and cost efficient. We did the same for our sewer plant and our sewer infrastructure.
For our road system, we employed a highly technical pavement management system that grades our roads on travel, age, condition, and other non-subjective attributes. Once we understood the condition of each road we set out to a) maintain them; b)repair them; or c)replace them, all in a very cost efficient and well thought out manner.
The money—We paired all of these initiatives with a highly aggressive budgetary savings plan across all departments. The town manager reeled in expenses, re-distributed work loads, and combined departments to save in upper level management costs.
All of our energy expenditures were looked at for cost savings, and we initiated things such as using free solar power and the hiring of an energy commodities manager to reduce energy expenditures.
Lastly and most importantly, we provided our economic development team with the proper tools and funding to allow them to market the Town of Southington across the globe. The fruits of that labor have been paying off in spades. We are seeing an unprecedented growth in local business, industry, and our tax base.
2) Managing our debt. The most important issue ahead of us goes hand-in-hand with the prior question, and that is managing our long-term and short-term debt. As we continue to modernize our buildings and infrastructure in a responsible manner, we have prioritized a list of the most important projects to the less critical projects.
It is our job and that of our professionals to watch our spending cap while trying to accomplish all that we have ahead of us. Even though our spending cap may be self imposed, it is very responsible when managing the “people’s” money.
With using best management practices, while reducing operating expenses, we can continue to pay cash for many projects—as we have done over the last two years—as opposed to borrowing money.
However tempting borrowing money may be to get larger projects completed, we must not lose sight of the fact that responsible spending caps are a must. They protect our future generations from piled up debt.
We can and will get all of our buildings and infrastructure modernized, but we will do it in an orderly, efficient, and responsible manner.
Christopher R. Robertson
1) Taxes. Over the past six years, our taxes have increased over 20 percent. We need to freeze administrative salaries, bring both small business and large business back to Southington, and make it easier for business owners to do business in Southington.
2) Senior tax cuts. We have many seniors on very fixed incomes. With medication, taxes, and rising food costs, I would like to see a five-year plan to freeze taxes for all seniors. I would like to see more programs from our town for seniors.
1) Saving Bradley. There were many challenges, but none, I believe, more serious to the town as the announcement that Hartford Healthcare (HHC) had decided to close Bradley Memorial Hospital.
This announcement caused so much pain and fear throughout our community. The sick and elderly would have to find alternative ways of receiving medical help, jobs would be lost, and the emergency room that we had come to rely on would be closed.
We had to put aside political rhetoric and personal agendas and join together to find a solution. We had to form a plan that would meet the needs of Southington, while understanding the concerns of HHC. It took courage to continue on at times, but we did.
I was so proud to be a part of this council at that moment. I must say that I saw each of our Town Councilors show great leadership. We knew we had to keep Bradley. Our citizens formed The “Save Bradley” group, and over 12,000 signatures appeared on a petition to keep Bradley open.
The Bradley Advisory Committee was initiated to explore options. We worked very hard to keep communication going between the hospital and our town. When the announcement finally came that Hartford Healthcare had committed to keeping our emergency room and providing 20 transitional beds for our people, I felt it was worth it all. It was not everything that we had hoped for but it was a solution that came through hard work and collaboration.
2) The biggest challenge for the next council will be to continue to encourage good clean business to come into town to help our tax base.
A more business-based tax structure makes for a more balanced approach to funding our needs. With that, we must continue to reduce our carbon footprint in our town. “Going Green” is not just the latest buzz word, it is a way of life that preserves all that we hold dear.
Open space, organic fuel programs, and, yes, solar energy, increases our ability to provide increased energy at lower costs and provides real dollar savings to our tax payers. We must look to our future and the legacy we leave our children.