The only Town Council contest in Johnston is gearing up for the final stretch as incumbent two-term District 5 representative Robert Civetti and independent challenger Jim Florio Jr. head into the last week before Election Day.
Both candidates are still trying to get their message out, with Civetti distributing mailings and Florio placing brochures on top of mailboxes. The latter announced a couple weeks ago that he was ceasing all door-to-door campaigning because of his work as the director of psychiatry operations and business development at Lifespan Adult Psychiatry, which puts him on the front lines of the pandemic.
“It’s been pretty busy,” Florio said of the final week. “Between work with the surge in COVID, we’re preparing for scaling back our practices, but on the election front I’m trying to go out there and walk the neighborhoods and leave a brochure on everyone’s mailbox. That’s been challenging, but it’s certainly been also a good experience.”
Civetti has been reiterating his commitment to stand “side by side” with constituents and stabilize taxes “today and in the future.”
“We have some legacy costs out there that union leaders, working with the administration and the council on those negotiations, we’re dealing with some of those issues, but these are costs that were created back in the ’80s and the ’90s, long before any of us were there, but they do have an impact on the financial situation of the town going forward,” Civetti said. “Continue to deal with those items to ensure that future generations in the town are not burdened with high, cumbersome taxes.”
Civetti said continued alleviation of those legacy costs would be a central focus of his next term, saying Mayor Joseph Polisena’s administration is assembling a funding improvement plan to fully fund pensions over the next 20 years.
He said the town will increase its contributions to pensions, citing an other post-employment benefits, or OPEB, trust fund.
“We did set up a trust fund probably three or four years ago now, where the initial contribution was $2 million that went into that fund that we do continue to put money aside annually,” Civetti said. “I mentioned taking some of the money that we have in a health care internal service fund right now, and putting some of that into the trust fund as well so we can have the money in investments, and there’s no certainty in the market but at least history shows investing in the stock market hasn’t increased long-term.”
Civetti noted he’s heard murmurs of landfill closure within the next 15 years, saying, “I don’t know if that’s likely,” but it would deliver a seismic revenue hit to the town.
“So if that were to close, how do we make up some of that revenue?” he said. “We need to be prudent and we have to be smart in how we’re saving our resources and setting up some stabilization funds so that we do have some stability and we don’t go through what we did with previous administrations where we had to have significant tax increases because it was just overspending and improper planning.”
Florio emphasized a desire for unity, bringing together a residential committee that includes every neighborhood in the sprawling district. He said the board will include constituents who understand the issues facing the area, working toward continued improvement together.
“I’d make sure we were well represented throughout the district. We’d have to cover each neighborhood,” Florio said. “The unfortunate part of District 5 is its so large geographically, so in that case we need more representation. We need to make sure that we’re well-represented on this committee, and it would be their responsibility, as well as mine, to go back and make sure all the neighborhoods receive communication.”
Florio said that residential committee, and the district coming together to build stronger, are main tenets of his closing message.
“It’s about unity,” Florio said. “I certainly would advocate on behalf of all residents to come together [in] unity and identify those opportunities for improvement. That’s my platform from day one, establishing a residential committee that’s comprised of residents in each of the neighborhoods. I think that’s really important.”
Civetti said his last pitch is that he’s a “man of integrity,” and District 5 residents always know where to reach him. In his profile with the Sun Rise last week, Civetti noted that he has worked to prevent zone changes in the area that would allow for increased development.
“People that know me and people that see me in District 5 and throughout the town, because I stand for all the residents in the town, know that I’m the people’s politician because I stand by them and support them and I’ll go to battle with the taxpayers to do what’s right for all taxpayers, not just the select few,” Civetti said.