This is part two of a three part series.
NEW BRITAIN - Candidates for the five at-large Common Council seats answered a slew of questions at the League of Women Voters’ Common Council and Mayoral Candidate Forum Saturday at Trinity-on-Main.
Here’s how each candidate responded on each issue:
Democrat Chris Anderson urged New Britain to participate in regional collaboration through shared services, which can help reduce costs for the city. Collaborating with neighboring towns can also improve education, Anderson said.
“New Britain students are funded near the bottom of the state while our neighboring towns see three, four, five thousand more dollars per student,” he added.
Republican incumbent Daniel Salerno added that the city has been actively involved in regional collaboration in transportation.
“There’s a history in terms of our efforts for collaboration. We’ve been very, very proactive,” he said, adding that the city has also collaborated on things like water, housing and other development.
Republican Sharon Beloin-Saavedra jumped in to add that Mayor Erin Stewart is also involved in a regional effort to end homelessness.
Beloin-Saavedra pointed out that when it comes to city budgeting, it’s important to weigh the worth of services against the benefit of saving money. Funding education, for example, is extremely important, she said.
“Who would want to cut the senior center to save a miniscule amount of taxes when we have elderly people who have that as their only form of socialization?” she asked.
Anderson said he decided to run for office because he believes the city has a crisis of high taxes. New Britain has the fourth highest taxes in the state, he said, and taxes have risen every year during Stewart’s administration. He also added that many of the city services are underfunded.
“It’s no easy answer to figure out should we raise taxes or lower services,” Anderson said. “But we are going to have to make some hard decisions as we move forward.”
Anderson said the city spent a lot of money on beautification projects and festivals. He questioned if those two things should be priorities over something like education.
Salerno retorted with pointing out that all municipalities are struggling with raising taxes, not just New Britain. He wants to explore new sources of revenue.
“We cannot be sustainable on the backs of property owners in the City of New Britain in the terms of revenue,” he said.
“Right now we’re seeing an ever-growing number of people who are succumbing to opioids,” said Democratic incumbent Katie Breslin.
Breslin said government needs to be proactive and meet people where they are, as opposed to expecting people to come seek services. She also emphasized the need of making sure people are equipped with Narcan, a drug that can reverse an overdose.
Republican Peter Scirpo, a member of the police department, praised the mayor for her program that allows people addicted to drugs or alcohol to go to the hospital in lieu of arrest. That encourages more people to come to the police for help and seek treatment, he said.
He hopes the program can be improved upon and expanded.
Scirpo aims to focus on safety, such as bike safety and safely using a crosswalk. He said police have stopped people to educate them about being safe on the road. He praised the mayor for securing federal grant money to improve streetlights, traffic signs and the hiring of police officers and firefighters to work overtime to educate people on safety.
Anderson said New Britain now has a great transportation system with CTfastrak, but said the city needs to improve “the first and last mile.”
“It’s hard for some people to get to those fastrak stations and so we really need to make sure that we have other resources in New Britain to get residents there,” he said. Anderson added that roads and sidewalks also need work.
Beloin-Saavedra highlighted some recent successes with transportation.
“The point of the streetscape project and the beehive bridge is to make pedestrian friendly spaces available downtown,” she said, which will drive business, she added.
Inclusion and diversity
“New Britain has a wealth of diversity,” said Breslin, and she said she hopes government can attract more of that diversity.
Anderson agreed with her, saying it’s really important for the school district, police force and City Council to represent the community so everyone has their voice heard.
“There’s so much great opportunity out there for diversity to increase within our own city,” said Republican Lauren Gonzalez.
Candidates answered questions set forward by the league and also from the audience. The event was moderated by Deb Polun.
Michelle Jalbert can be reached at email@example.com.