As RTC Nominates, Longtime Councilor Retires
WETHERSFIELD - A heartfelt farewell to veteran Councilor and former Mayor Donna Hemmann-who opted not to run- marked the Republican Town Committee caucus, which saw a mix of new and old faces garner the unanimous nomination for the Council and Board of Education slates.

       Council incumbents Mike Hurley, Mike Rell, and Jodie Latina were nominated for another run during the RTC’s caucus last week, while former Councilor Stathis Manousos was made a return to the lineup. Joining them is Mary Pelletier-a former attorney to the George W. Bush Justice Department-and longtime resident Tom Mazzarella.

       Previous Board Chair John Cascio is seeking another four year term, while former Board member Charles Carey returns to the slate on the two year ticket. Lou Michaels-a former Berlin resident who was elected to their Board at age 23-was also nominated for a four year spot, while newcomer Chris Healy joins the two year candidates.

       Candidates heaped praise on Hemmann, who first became involved in local politics when she joined the RTC in 1987. Her tenure saw her serve on both the Board-which she chaired for one year-and Council. She was mayor for four years.

       “She’s probably told me about ten times over the years she doesn’t want to run again,” said RTC Chair Rich Roberts to laughs from the Committee members. “I beg. I plead. I put her name on the list without her knowing.”

       But this time Hemmann, who is caring for her father while expecting a second grandchild this fall, said she simply would not have the time.

       “The last few months have made it clear I’m needed elsewhere,” she said. “Life moves on. Things change. It’s been a good ride. It’s been a great team all along.”

       She’s been on many versions of it, and she expressed confidence in this one.

       “I like when new faces step up, because we can all benefit from new ideas,” Hemmann said.

       Mazzarella isn’t an entirely new face-a regular Council meeting attendee, he has spoken publicly numerous times about what he feels is a need to curb spending.

       “I didn’t like the direction the town was headed and I’d like to make some changes,” he said.

       The issue was a prevalent theme throughout the night, with candidates pointing to the lingering state budget uncertainty and less than optimistic outlook concerning levels of municipal aid.

       “We have to keep spending in check, and the Majority Party has not done that over the past four years,” Rell said.

       Opinions differ on what constitutes “reasonable” tax increases, but Mayor Paul Montinieri said during deliberations this past cycle that the town has typically fallen between 3 and 3.5 percent. This year’s budget sits at 2.9 percent-thanks the exclusion of prospective teacher pension costs and other savings that include a $500,000 reduction from the Board of Education request-but Republicans expressed during workshops that they thought the number could have come in lower.

       Last year, the overall budget increase came in at 1.9 percent. In pure spending increases, the Democratic Majority oversaw inflation of 3.2, 3.6, and 3.9 percent going back to 2015, according to the 2017-2018 fiscal year budget packet compiled by Town Manager Jeff Bridges.

       While the Republicans started their four years in the majority with a 0.19 percent increase, they saw 2.3, 3.5, and 2.69 percent bumps in the years after, according to the document.

       “When we first moved to Wethersfield, the Mill Rate was around 30,” Pelletier said. “In my 8 years, it’s skyrocketed to almost 40. The town is on an unsustainable path.”

       In a follow up phone call Monday, Montinieri defended his party’s record on spending over the past four years, stating that the increases reflected an effort to balance contractually fixed inflation with what he feels is a need for continued investment in education and other services in order to make the town attractive to prospective homeowners. He noted that the Board’s $500,000 cut was made without a reduction to staff or existing programs.

       “That’s probably where we differ,” Montinieri said, while giving credit to both sides of the aisle in working to tackle what he described as challenging budget cycles over the years. “We cut a premium on education and services, and Republicans are not willing to draw that line in the sand.”

       But Republicans would like to avoid reducing staff-they would just prefer to cut closer to it, Hurley said over the phone.

       “We can work with them [the Board] to push another half million dollars out,” Hurley said. “I think there are ways to get more efficiency without reducing staff.”

       During the caucus’s closing moments, RTC Chair Rich Roberts cited stated achievements from his party’s last time in the majority: a separate tax levy for pay as you go road projects, a switchover to a 401K benefit plan for new employees, the leveling off of bonded debt in time for the high school renovation project, and the $2 million sale of the northeast utility building to CREC.

       “The Democrats have been coasting blindly over the past four years on the foundation we set,” Roberts said.

       On Monday, Montinieri had a different take. He cited the road levy as a point of contention between the two parties, expressing a desire to fund related projects through bonding for the purpose of a larger investment and potentially lengthened lifespan to any repairs.

       On the CREC sale, he says he wished the property-abandoned before the sale-had had more of a chance to remain on the town’s tax rolls.