By Kaitlin Servant
Citizen Chronicle Writer
SOUTHBRIDGE – Thursday evening, several Town Council candidates and citizens gathered informally at Great Oak Pizza. The event was coordinated by Councilor Esteban Carrasco, Jr who is one of three candidates running for a single one-year seat.
In addition to Carrasco, Councilor Kristen Auclair and Councilor Rick Nash were also in attendance. Nash is not up for reelection but Auclair is running as an incumbent for a three-year seat. New candidates David Adams, John Daniel and Mike Marketti were also on hand to mingle and answer questions directly from citizens.
Carrasco says he held the event “to offer clarity to people on any rumors or false statements they may have been hearing” and to give voters the opportunity to meet with him and other candidates in person and ask any questions they may have.
Evelyn Velez was one of the voters who showed up to take part in the conversation. She said she watches almost all of the Council meetings when they are rebroadcast but often can’t attend in person to ask questions, so she really appreciated the opportunity to have one-on-one conversations.
Her main question to incumbents Carrasco and Auclair was “What do you plan on doing differently than you have done for the past three years?” She also wanted to hear directly from both incumbent and new candidates why they deserved her vote.
Velez pressed Councilors Auclair, Carrasco and Nash on tax increases. “The working people and families in town don’t get raises every year to cover the tax increases,” Velez said.
She urged them to consider the impact these increases have on average people and she expressed that residents often don’t understand where the money is going or why it’s needed.
The Councilors agreed that taxpayers don’t always have the full picture because so much budget work takes place in subcommittee meetings, which are not always televised. The candidates agreed to work on ways to make things more transparent and accessible to residents.
While some candidates who were not in attendance have been campaigning on a no new tax platform, many of the Councilors and candidates at the event claimed that this is an unrealistic position. Councilor Nash refuted the claim that new taxes wouldn’t be necessary in the years to come.
While tax increases were discussed extensively, Velez said her biggest concern is education.
“I wanted to know what are they doing to support the school system and turn things around,” remarked Velez.
Councilor Carrasco agreed that education is one of the biggest problems the town is facing. “Receivership depends on this election and how we work with the state going forward,” he commented.
The family-friendly event took place with less than a week to go before the election. All the candidates urged voters to make informed decisions and to remind their friends and family to vote as well.