Newly elected Norwich Republicans want to tackle major issues

Norwich — It was a “tax revolt” like Norwich hasn't seen since the Reagan years of the 1980s, with Republicans sweeping every possible elected seat — 11 Republican candidates on the ballot, all elected.

Democrats conceded the Republican team — led by former mayor, council candidate and Republican Town Committee Chairman Peter Nystrom — ran an effective campaign blaming incumbent Democrats for the 6 percent tax increase this year and an 11-mill increase two years ago, caused by property revaluation drop in real estate values.

Democrats never defended budget decisions or challenged accusations that they had planned to spread the central city fire tax citywide.

This year's tax rate is 40.9 mills citywide, plus 7.16 mills in the central city fire tax district and 0.49 mills in the five volunteer districts.

Nystrom said voters made it clear that they are hurting. He said one woman was nearly in tears for fear that she couldn't afford to retire in her longtime family home.

“We're breaking people's retirement dreams with this tax rate,” Nystrom said Wednesday. “People are being destroyed because of the cost of living here.”

Republican Alderwoman-elect Joanne Philbrick has been expressing those sentiments to the City Council for years as a retired resident.

“I am so excited,” the frequent city critic said Wednesday. “I have to tell you, I sort of feel vindicated. I have always been outspoken and oftentimes critical, and I know that sometimes irritates people, but I always talk from my heart.”

The council will have a 5-2 Republican majority on Dec. 1, leading Nystrom to call for postponement of the current Democratic-controlled council's plan to hire a new city manager before leaving office.

The council plans to interview candidates Nov. 21 and vote to hire a new city manager Nov. 25, Thanksgiving eve. Only two current council members — Democratic Mayor Deberey Hinchey and Republican Alderman William Nash — will be on the new council.

Hinchey said Wednesday she plans to talk to aldermen and city Human Resources Director Brigid Marks and have a decision on whether to postpone the vote within a few days.

Hinchey said she contacted search firm Colin Baenziger & Associates Wednesday to express assurance to the finalists that “they are not getting in the middle of a cat fight.”

Nystrom said Wednesday he regretted his strong statement on election night that the new council might consider revoking the departing council's city manager selection.

But he insisted that the new council has won the right and the responsibility to interview the finalists and hire the new city manager.

Baenziger said Wednesday his firm was involved in a similar situation in a county administrator search in North Carolina, when one Republican faction ousted incumbent Republicans in a primary.

The winners promised “decisive action,” Baenziger said, if the departing council hired new administrator.

But the selected administrator asked the new council to give her a chance, he said, and she remains in the position five years later.

“So that one worked out,” he said.

Baenziger said his firm would follow whatever schedule Norwich sets. The firm plans to recommend five finalists next week.

“All I can say is we're proceeding according to those plans and if we're told, we'll adjust,” Baenziger said. “We're doing our background checks and we've got some good candidates.”

There's no dispute that the new Norwich Board of Education will have the responsibility to finish the monumental task of studying and possibly restructuring the entire school system.

The School Facilities Study Committee has hired a consultant to recommend a possible overhaul in time for a possible referendum next November.

Democratic Alderman Mark Bettencourt, who lost his re-election bid, currently chairs the committee. Incumbent Republican school board members Angelo Yeitz and Dennis Slopak, both re-elected, sit on the study committee.

The new Board of Education will have a 5-4 Republican majority.

Incumbent Republican Aaron “Al” Daniels said he will seek the board chairman post and hopes to make improving relations with the City Council his top goal.

Republican candidates have pledged to make education a top priority as they pursue their pledge to cut taxes and spending.

All City Council, Board of Education and new city Treasurer-elect Michael Gualtieri will take office Dec. 1, and city officials hope for a joint swearing in ceremony to accompany the new City Council's first organizational meeting that night, Superintendent Abby Dolliver said.

c.bessette@theday.com

Twitter: @Bessettetheday

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