HOULTON — On the surface anyway, local candidates for seats on the Town Council were friendly, if not downright jovial, Thursday night during a two-hour televised forum.
The five candidates — two incumbents and three challengers — laughed and joked with one another as they answered questions that were phoned in by viewers.
The program featured incumbent Dorothy L. Donahue, a librarian at Houlton High School and Stephen Smith, a businessman who operates a plumbing firm.
Other participants were Halston R. Britton, manager of the Houlton branch of Tech Med I.V. Inc., a medical equipment and supplies company; Paul Cleary, a self-employed businessman who runs Cleary Professional Services, an Internet marketing firm; and David McDonald.
Due to a previous commitment, Donahue was unavailable for the first hour of the forum.
There are three openings for three-year terms on the council to be filled during the Nov. 2 election.
Each of the candidates was asked to tell what they felt was the main issue facing the town. All four of the candidates present cited the need for some form of improved economic development.
McDonald called for increased efforts for more jobs. “Let’s make this town alive once again,” for people of all ages, he said.
Britton said the town council must take greater interest in its employees to improve the town’s working climate. “There’s friction; there’s dissension,” he said. “That needs to change.”
It was Cleary’s opinion that the town should not just woo outside firms to Houlton, but also do everything possible to help the businesses that are already in town. “We need to support our local businesses,” he said.
Smith felt it was important for council members to act as advocates of the town. “Let’s see how much we can accomplish sitting here around this table twice a month,” he said.
The candidates also were asked about lowering property taxes.
Cleary said he did not want to increase taxes, but at the same time pointed out that big tax cuts could hurt municipal services.
“How are we benefiting anybody” by cutting taxes? he asked. “Let’s not ruin our services … because we want to lower taxes one or two mills.”
Smith pointed out that the town manager and council have worked to reduce taxes by one or two mills over the past several years, and added, “You can only go so far.”
McDonald urged a closer look at town spending to cut waste without affecting municipal services.
Britton took a similar stance and urged belt tightening, but not at the expense of services. “Buy what we need, not what we want,” he said.
All four candidates were opposed to the development of a commercial landfill in the neighboring town of Hammond.
The Southern Aroostook Solid Waste Disposal District, of which Houlton is a member, owns land in Hammond and is pursuing the private development of a landfill there.
The town’s cable television contract, which has been a topic of debate for more than a year, drew mixed responses.
McDonald opposed a two-tier offering, which he said could cost some customers more money.
Britton opposed the town interfering with private business, but also opposed the two-tier offering.
Cleary was opposed to the town telling a private company how to operate, but at the same time said a business that wants a monopoly should offer its customers choices.
Because they are presently on the council and involved in negotiations with Houlton Cable TV, neither Smith nor Donahue could provide any detailed comments.
Donahue, who heads the town’s cable committee, said she favored the two-tier channel-offering proposal.