Economic development, the budget and education central in Groton Town Council race

Groton — Candidates running for Groton Town Council cited economic development, budgeting and education as central issues in the race among the full slate of Democrats and Republicans seeking seats on the nine-member council.

Democrats endorsed Richard Moravsik, the town councilor who took over after state Rep. Joseph de la Cruz was elected to the legislature; Lian Obrey, a Representative Town Meeting member; Rita Schmidt, a former town councilor; David Atwater, a former selectman in Maine who moved to Groton; Patrice Granatosky, a former town councilor; Rachael Franco, a resident of Mystic and business manager at Norwich Family Dental Associates; Conrad Heede, a Groton City councilor; Juliette Parker, a member of the RTM, and Joe Zeppieri, a lawyer, for the seats.

Republicans endorsed incumbent Councilors Karen Morton, Diane Barber, Bonnie Nault, Bruce Flax, Deborah Peruzzotti, Harry Watson and Dean Antipas, along with former state Rep. John Scott and Scott Aument, an employee at Millstone Power Station and member of the Groton Charter Revision Commission.

Moravsik, 72, a Democratic town councilor, said Groton must make smart funding decisions in the future and not cut education any more than it has. The pain of cuts must be shared by taxpayers, town staff and town services, he said.

Moravsik, a father of two and retired from project management at Arabian American Oil Co., also said Groton must maintain its reserve to protect its bond rating and explore ways to use old schools. "Every time I go up to Groton Heights, I feel so sad. (It's a) beautiful building. We've got to get our hands around this," he said.

Morton, 67, a Republican town councilor, said she believes growing the tax base and attracting new business is the most critical issue facing the town. The town started an aggressive program to promote economic development and she wants to see it through, she said.

The mother of two and a retired human resources director in Ledyard also said it's become clear the state is in trouble, future cuts will occur and municipalities must cut back their operations and economize.  "I think we've got to cut back on our reliance on state funding because it's going to evaporate," she said.

Obrey, 74, a Democrat and real estate broker, said she was disappointed by some decisions by the current council, including the threat not to renew the lease of the Par 4 Restaurant at Shennecossett Golf Course this year. "To me, that meant they did not understand or value a small business," she said.

Obrey, a mother of three who has served on Representative Town Meeting and the Economic Development Commission, also said the Town Council must work more cooperatively with Groton City and Groton Long Point.

Barber, 60, a Republican town councilor, said she wants to see the town follow through with the changes to Groton's government proposed by the Charter Revision Commission by sending them to the voters. "I don't think it's up to the councilors to decide if it should be changed. It's up to the residents," she said.

Barber, who has two children and is assistant casino shift manager at Foxwoods Resort Casino, said Groton also must watch to make sure the state comes through with funding for the school construction plan.

Schmidt, 87, a Democrat and former town councilor, said she wants to continue economic development efforts started two years ago with funding of a market study, and see that work carried through.

Schmidt, retired president of Mystic Schooner Cruises Inc., also wants to ensure that Groton maintains the basic services and obligations of government, including police, education and social services. The town can't ignore the basic needs of residents, she said. "Social services are more vital today than they've ever been," she said.

Scott, 48, a Republican, said he wants to keep a close eye on the town budget, and believes his experience and relationships built in Hartford will be useful in defending the town against future draconian budget cuts.

Scott, president of Bailey Agencies Insurance and a former state representative and town councilor, also said he wants continue to pursue economic development. "I think if you had some form of an economic development commission given very specific tasks, whether to focus on a specific street (or) project, that would be helpful," he said.

Atwater, 76, a Democrat who served as a selectman in Maine for six years, said he believes local politics have become too partisan. "We're not Washington, D.C., or Hartford. We're local. And I do think that working together is important. There's too much bickering and fighting and all of the rest of it," he said.

Atwater, who retired from the financial services industry and is a father of two, said government also must be fiscally responsible, which to him means spending wisely. He grew up in Litchfield, left the state and moved back to a different Connecticut last year after being gone from the state for 52 years, he said.

Nault, 62, a Republican town councilor, said she's running on a platform of fiscal constraint and financial discipline. "We have to keep from spending money we don't have," said Nault, a Realtor and a retired Navy captain.

The mother of one also said she wants to finish the Charter Revision Commission process. She believes the RTM is not useful in Groton and the town needs a board of finance to research financial issues and provide information to the council during budgeting.

Granatosky, 56, a Democrat who served ten terms on the RTM and a partial term on the Town Council, said she wants to work with the Board of Education. "We had to close one school already so I just want to make sure there are people on the council that are willing to work cooperatively with (the superintendent) and the board," she said.

Granatosky, a teacher at Ella T. Grasso Southeastern Technical High School, said the town must also diversify its economic base but do so in a smart way, by using existing space rather than encroaching on green space.

Flax, 53, a Republican and Groton Town mayor, said the challenge is balancing services with the tax rate. "We need to make sure that we don't cut into services and the quality of education but we have a responsibility to keep expenses down," said Flax, a father of five and director of ticket operations and entertainment marketing at Foxwoods Resort Casino.

Groton must look at cost sharing with the subdivisions, and continue economic development efforts by using all resources including tax increment financing, marketing existing properties like old schools and streamlining the development process, Flax said.

Franco, 48, a Democrat and a business manager in Norwich, also cited improving economic development and streamlining the development process as a central issue. "It should be a simple process if they're interested," she said. "The way the economy is right now, we should be rolling out the red carpet."

The mother of three also said Groton must deal with its closed schools. They should be used differently depending on the location, such as having those in neighborhoods like Groton Heights gutted and converted into housing, she said.

Peruzzotti, 46, a Republican town councilor, said one of Groton's biggest issues is its reliance on state and federal revenue. The town must focus on economic development, drawing in and keeping business, she said. If the town does that, "eventually that's going to plateau out and we will not rely so heavily on state and federal funding," she said.

Peruzzotti, a production manager for a medical device manufacturing company, also said the town needs a plan for all of its closed schools, whether it's to sell the properties, use them or make them open space.

Heede, 46, a Democrat, said the town needs economic development but must consider what's best for individual neighborhoods. "The town has to develop the town but it has to be something the neighborhoods want," he said. He cited the decision to create a community garden at the former Noank School as an example.

Heede, regional director of revenue management for a hotel and a current Groton City councilor, also said he's concerned about the town's financial stability. Groton must hold taxes down, but must also meet its financial obligations and funding liabilities.

Aument, 53, a Republican, Navy veteran and former RTM member, said he plans to improve economic development if elected. "We need to be more business-friendly and help small businesses get off the ground. This also means getting better help from Hartford in this matter," said Aument, a father of one.

Aument also said he wants to make the budget process easier and more transparent. He believes Groton has duplication and can provide the same services for less money by finding efficiencies and working together.

Juliette Parker, 44, a Democrat, said she views her role as rebuilding Groton to make the town a family-oriented community again. Parker, administrative assistant to the Groton City police chief and member of the RTM, said the town has lost important family-oriented businesses like a movie theater and miniature golf course.

The mother of two also wants to build upon successes in education, she said. "It's about education and rebuilding Groton and getting more businesses and being the community it used to be. I want it to be a family community again," she said.

Harry Watson, 68, a Republican and town councilor for 26 years, said Groton must build its grand list, and he supports efforts like enterprise zones to promote development. "We need to make it a little bit easier for that to happen," he said. "I mean, Benny's just left town. I was shocked. Those kinds of places we need to fill."

The retired Pfizer researcher and father of four also said the town must ensure that Groton's school construction plan stays on track, and look for efficiencies between the Board of Education and town, he said.

Zeppieri, 73, is a Democrat and retired orthopedic surgeon who now practices law. His posting on the Groton Town Democrats website said he's a proponent of education, public safety and investing in infrastructure.

A father of three, who also served in the Navy, Zeppieri said he wants to preserve town services and believes Groton has a responsibility to provide quality education, good roads, clean water and a public library. But he believes it can be done for less and there is waste in the budget, he said.

"It's incumbent upon those who are running government to do it as efficiently as we can," he said.

Antipas, 55, a Republican town councilor, said he believes an experienced council is important, since the town manager was recently hired. The lawyer and father of three also said building up goodwill between the town and city will be more productive than arguing to find efficiencies.

Consolidation would allow the town to tap into the talent of dedicated people in the subdivisions, but it's up to the residents, he said. Groton also needs to remember the positives it has and boost those, he said.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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