MERIDEN — The Republican and Democratic candidates running for City Council in Area 4 have different views on a number of high profile projects.
In the past year, the council has voted to authorize bonding $2.2 million for new tracks and turf fields at Platt and Maloney high schools, $7.8 million for public library renovations, about $2 million for new aircraft hangars at the municipal airport and $875,000 for a new banquet hall at the municipal golf course, a project that has since been put on hold.
Democratic incumbent Cathy Battista, who voted to approve each project, says they are necessary investments in city-owned property and assets that will attract people in years to come.
“Economic development is not the only thing that attracts people, city facilities is another thing that attracts people, and we need the public to understand the importance of investing in our city,” she said. “We can’t just sit back and say we’re not going to raise taxes, we’re not going to invest.”
Battista’s opponent, Republican Michael Carabetta, spearheaded last year’s historic budget referendum in which 5,999 voters rejected the City Council’s adopted 2018-19 budget. It was seen as a signal to curb spending and lower the budget’s 4.6 percent tax increase.
Carabetta, seeking his first elected office, plans to thoroughly scrutinize spending requests as a councilor.
“Nothing is personal with me and Cathy … I just don’t see eye-to-eye with her decisions” to spend money, Carabetta said.
“Her track record is more of a ‘yes to spending,’ and not, ‘let’s weigh out the decision,’” he added.
Decisions to fund the projects, Battista countered, were not made “willy nilly,” and she said critics often fail to suggest alternatives.
“I don’t think my opponent and many people have the correct information,” she said. “I think they see things in black and white and it’s all about ‘stop spending money.’”
Carabetta said he doesn’t intend to oppose all spending.
“I’m not just going to be a person that says ‘no’ to everything,” he said. “I’m going to weigh out a decision on everything that comes up and make a decision on what I believe is best. Sometimes it’s going to be ‘no’ and sometimes it’s going to be a ‘yes.’”
Priorities for Battista
Battista, 68, is seeking her third four-year term in Area 4, which covers the western and southwestern portions of the city, including South Meriden. Battista is one of two deputy majority leaders on the council and chairs the council’s Parks and Recreation and Public Works Committee.
“I love what I do, as corny as it sounds,” Battista said. “I love the interaction with the public and helping them solve problems. I can’t solve everything but just to be a sounding board for the public is important for them. It isn’t always fixing a problem, sometimes it’s just listening to them.”
Battista listed a number of projects and initiatives she hopes to pursue if re-elected, including working with the city administration to create a “ comprehensive access point for retired and active-duty military members.” At the request of a constituent, Battista is also working on creating an area of reflection for victims of domestic violence.
Battista, who directs the school district’s Family Resource Center, also wants to use her platform to expand family outreach efforts and better screen young kids for social and emotional issues.
“One of my biggest things is families and children because that’s my full-time job,” she said. “With the social-emotional (issues) going on in our country, I believe everything should start young and behavioral needs should be addressed right away.”
Carabetta feels spark
Carabetta, 41, is a city native and works as an executive general manager for a franchisee of Red Robin restaurants. He began to get involved in politics about five years ago by joining the Republican Town Committee and serving on a few local boards. Carabetta initially planned to remain behind the scenes for a while and “maybe run (for council) one day” until last year’s referendum “sparked an energy” in him.
“I feel a sense of urgency and that I can help right now,” he said.
While the July 2018 referendum led the council to revisit its budget and ultimately make over $1 million in cuts, Carabetta fears the council undid that progress by voting to essentially reverse some of those cuts, bonding the aforementioned projects, and using a portion of the $3.4 million “Eversource money” on expenses in last year and this year’s budget.
The city used the $3.4 million, which Eversource paid after the city discovered it under taxed the utility’s personal property, to offset costs in this year’s budget, ultimately allowing the city to lower taxes by .44 percent over last year. But Carabetta argues using the one-time revenue to lower taxes is only a short-term fix. The city is looking at a tax increase for the next fiscal year if expenses aren’t cut, he added.
“I want to create a budget that is tough but achievable,” he said.
Over the last year, Carabetta has criticized the council for “not listening” to the referendum’s message by approving the aforementioned projects. But Battista says that Carabetta “misunderstood” the referendum's consequences. The passage of the referendum, she said, only required the council to revisit its budget, not cut a certain dollar amount or any additional action.
“I think the fact that they did it was good,” Battista said of the referendum. “But I think they have to accept the fact that when there is a referendum, it may not come out what they wanted. I think my opponent thought (the referendum meant) you have to do this, this, and this … You didn't accomplish anything except having the referendum.”
Carabetta is hopeful that turnout for the referendum, which drew voters from many parties, is a good sign for his campaign.
“I’d like to see a big voter turnout. I feel like we've opened eyes since the referendum,” he said. “Getting people more involved was always the goal.”