12 people seek spot on New London City Council

New London — Economic development, taxes, charter revision and consolidation of services are on the minds of candidates seeking a spot this year on the New London City Council.  

Seven Democrats will face off against five Republicans for seven seats that are all now held by Democrats.

Here are the candidates:

Democrat Efrain Dominguez, 44, is an incumbent seeking his third term in office. An educator for the past 20 years, he teaches social studies at the Dual Language and Arts Magnet School.

“I think for me the main issue is really looking for new revenue to help lessen the burden on the taxpayers,” Dominguez said. “We’ve got to find different ways to do it or it’s a cycle and we’ll keep going back to the same pockets. It’s frustrating. There’s got to be a way to attract more business owners to downtown.”

Dominguez said the state budget crisis has set the city and school district on path toward better cooperation when it comes to fiscal matters.

“I know we are two separate entities but we’re in one city and have the same goal. In the past I don’t think there has been clear communication,” he said.

Dominguez said he hopes to counter some of the negativity that seems to be a constant when it comes to certain issues.

“I’m an optimist. I’m hopeful this will change. You always have to look at the bright side. Look at what our city has and others do not — educate the people of New London. As councilors, we need to do more of that.”

Republican Kat Goulart, 37, is seeking her first term to elected office. She is a member of the Economic Development Commission, the former owner of a bail bond business and working as an independent contractor for AdvoCare.

With a campaign slogan of “Make New London Affordable,” Goulart said one of her major focuses is not only helping to lower taxes but transparency and ethics in local government.

“People feel very much like they’re not being listened to and end up saying, ‘why waste my breath,’” she said. “I believe our elected representatives need not only to be accessible and available but need to reflect what our opinions are. You can’t make everyone happy all of the time but we have a disconnect when the decisions of our representatives are in direct opposition to ours.”

Goulart is in favor of charter revision that would allow for minority representation on the City Council. New London is among only a handful of cities in the state that allows a board to be composed of members of just one party.

“For too long the city of New London has suffered under the Democrats one-party rule. Like Dan Malloy and state Democrats, the New London Democrats have no plan other than to raise our taxes.”

Republican Michael Fred Hudson, 57, is seeking his first term to elected office. Hudson is a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission and a retired federal employee who worked at the U.S. Naval Submarine Base in Groton.

Hudson said voters are looking for a more transparent council that includes more than one party.

“With a one-party system, you don’t have to answer to anyone. When the mayor and council are one party, the mayor submits a budget and the council rubber-stamps it. That’s what’s happening,” he said.

Hudson said the city also is in dire need of a charter “rewrite” to curb what he said are abuses by the current administration and to “get rid of the ambiguities that have let the Democratic Party run down the rabbit hole of fiscal irresponsibility.”

Hudson said all the city department heads are supposed to live within the city limits and yet they don’t and there are no ramifications. He said a petition by voters to send a budget to referendum was mostly ignored by the City Council.

Democrat Martha Marx, 54, a mother of four, works as a registered nurse with the Visiting Nurses Association of Southeastern Connecticut and is an incumbent seeking her second term on the council.

Marx is the chairwoman of the council’s Finance Committee that recently finished a drawn-out series of budget deliberations. She said she thinks the major task ahead is the council's need to balance tax rate increases in the face of declining state revenues while “allowing the city to be able to grow.”

The city and its revenue review board need to come up with ways obtain the funding to better market the city, she said. One of the keys to increased revenue, she said, is the continued partnership with the city’s development arm, the Renaissance City Development Association.

One of her ongoing goals is to be able to work better and consolidate services with the school board.

“We don’t work well with the Board of Education now. We need a better relationship to ensure that this school construction project stays on track,” she said.

Democrat Alma Nartatez, 49, is making her first run for an elected office. She is an alternate member of the Planning and Zoning Commission. She started her career as a professional firefighter in California and has spent more than 20 years in the environmental health and safety compliance field. She works for the Bard Corporation as a national environmental health and safety compliance program leader.

Nartatez said she wants to bring a fresh perspective to the council and said she disagrees with the notion that only people that were born and raised in New London make effective leaders here.

“I think I bring value. I’m a professional effective leader and I think those skills can be used on the council. I want to help the city that I live in and love," she said.

She said the city should grow its grand list and develop solid zoning regulations that are smart for the city and also are welcoming to developers. She said economic development is tied directly to “the city being less dependent on the state and more sustainable.”

Democrat Anthony Nolan, 50, a father of two children is running for his fourth term on the City Council. He currently serves as council president. He is a U.S. Navy veteran, a 17-year veteran of the New London Police Department, a youth program advocate and a deacon at Shiloh Baptist Church.

Nolan said he will continue to push for better fiscal responsibility and transparency in government and had taken early steps during budget deliberations this year to curb costs.

“We are making progress trying to get our city to a point that’s going to make people really happy. I’m here to do my best to try and make this a better place to live," he said.

Nolan said he is an advocate for consolidation of city and school district departments where possible and said the city already is working to share an information technology director.

Republican Martin Olsen, 63, is a father of two, a member of the Water & Water Pollution Control Authority and an alternate on the Planning and Zoning Commission. He served five terms on the council, his most recent from 2013 to 2015. He lost his bid at re-election in 2015 by three votes.

Olsen said the current council needs some balance — someone like himself who is fiscally responsible and represents a voice outside of the dominant Democratic party.

“The rather stiff increase in taxes has been breathtaking this year and I think it is choking people. People are angry,” Olsen said. “This particular council seems to be tone deaf to that.”

Olsen said there needs to be an analysis performed on the health of city government and whether the city’s move from a town manager to an elected mayor form of government six years ago is working. He said the form of government and other possible charter revisions are due for a “good healthy discussion.”

Olsen said that the council, instead of looking for short-term fixes to generate more revenues, should be focused on limiting spending.

“The budget deliberations started in May and (the City Council) only starting to look at this. To me this is absurd — a panic move,” he said.

Republican John Russell, 67, who said he is “really not a party guy,” previously served a term on the council from 2009 to 2011 when he was a Green Party member cross-endorsed by Republicans.

A Navy veteran who owned and operated Russell’s Ribs, he helped to establish the city’s homeless hospitality center and opened Homeward Bound Treasures thrift shop in 2008. The store, a taxpaying entity, provides jobs for the homeless and its proceeds go to homeless services. He serves as vice chairman of the Water & Water Pollution Control Authority.

Russell said New London must cut expenditures and raise revenues and “figure out a way to run things better” to be able to turn around what he called a “perception problem.”

“People from outside New London don’t see us in a good light,” Russell said. “The way that gets changed is you have to market. You have to give people a reason to come here and see what we have. We have to market this city.”

Because of the growing tax rate, Russell said the council is in need of someone like himself who has some business acumen and has balanced a budget. “Business owners know how to squeeze a nickel,” he said.

Republican Tim Ryan, 36, a father of two and an Electric Boat employee, is seeking his first term to elected office. Ryan is member of the Charter Review Board and the former vice chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission.

In an effort to cut costs of running the city in the face of shrinking revenues, Ryan said he would make it a priority to consolidate like departments.

“We have a lot shared resource approaches that could be implemented within the city. It’s a step towards regionalization for the entire southeastern Connecticut area that I believe is the key to fiscal salvation,” Ryan said.

Specifically, in New London, Ryan said there are opportunities to merge the city and school district finance, information technology and perhaps personnel departments.

He also has called for improved procedural and fiscal transparency and a more strategic and proactive method of budgeting, rather than what he called the “reactionary” style evident during this year’s budget deliberations.

John Satti, 61, a father of five, is seeking his second term on the council. Satti is the chairman of the School Building and Maintenance Committee and previously has served on the Board of Education. He is a retired state probation officer and a volunteer in youth sports who runs his own lawncare business.

“The most important issue for me is financial stability of the city. I just think that the budgets have been mismanaged over the years in that it seems as though there are a lot of people making a lot more money than they need to be,” he said. “I think the city and school board really need to take a hard look at merging finance, personnel and technology."

Satti said the current site of the Thames River Apartments is a possible future source of tax revenue for the city once the residents there are relocated.

“I think Crystal Avenue should be put out to bid make it a taxpaying entity. I believe the buildings, the way they stand, are worth $20 (million) to $40 million fully redeveloped,” Satti said. “That amount would pay a lot of property taxes.”

Michael Tranchida, 64, is seeking his third term on the council. He is the council liaison and technical representative to the Charter Review Board. He is a retired city employee who worked 26 years and retired as city clerk.

Tranchida has called for staggered three-year terms for both the City Council and Board of Education and said a balanced budget is the issue that will continue to be the priority for the upcoming council.

“We have so many fixed costs that really drive the budget: debt service, insurance, pension obligations, payroll and everyday bills the municipality faces,” Tranchida said. “We need to keep an eye on that.”

In the upcoming year, Tranchida said the council will be dealing with an additional $3 million payment to the state for the fire department’s pension, along with an increase in debt payments.

On the positive side, he said there are several housing developments in the works that eventually will help to increase the grand list and lessen the burden on taxpayers.

“Sometimes people think economic development is slow or nonexistent. We do have a couple positive things moving along but you don’t see instant results," he said. "I think some voters lose sight of that. Some things can take three to five years before they materialize.”

Democrat Don Venditto, 55, a father of two, is seeking his second term in office. Venditto presently serves as the council’s president pro tempore and chairman of the Economic Development Committee. Venditto has worked for the past two decades at Sonalysts Inc. in Waterford, where he is a vice president and corporate officer.

Venditto said he plans to continue to help push for measures “that help move New London forward without breaking the backs of taxpayers.”

He said that the long-term solution to fiscal problems is to grow the grand list with the help of the Renaissance City Development Association, which he said has several major tax-generating projects in the works.

More immediately, Venditto said the city needs to directly address the expansive number of nontaxable properties to collect more revenue in the form of payments in lieu of taxes from nonprofits. As an example, Venditto said, “I really think we need to pressure Connecticut College more than we have.”

Nonprofits "all should pay something proportionately based on what they provide for the community and how much they rely on city services,” Venditto said.

g.smith@theday.com

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