May 07, 2021

Rockland council candidates debate

ROCKLAND — One of the oddest and perhaps toughest questions posed to four City Council candidates Thursday during a public debate was whether they possessed a valid library card.

Only two contenders could give quick, decisive answers.

Candidate David Ihrig, 54, a native of Pittsburgh, Pa., said he is such a frequent visitor to the Rockland Public Library that he does not even need to show identification.

Candidate Carol Maines, a native of Dayton, Ohio, said, “Yes,” and noted that she is secretary of the Rockland Public Library Endowment Association.

“How long are they on file?” candidate Rebecca Gamage asked. Gamage, a native of Rockland, said she has one, but has not used it in a long time.

Candidate Michael McNeil, a native of Lowell, Mass., said, “I believe I do,” but admitted to not using it for some time, too. He is a former Rockland councilor and mayor.

At the debate, sponsored by the Courier Gazette newspaper, resident Glenn Billington asked candidates what the No. 1 reason is people should vote for them and why they were better than their competitors.

Maines, who is a former city attorney, said that her role in that position provided her with the experience in thoroughly researching issues. In that position, she said, it was apparent to her that not all councilors study the issues before they vote. She will, she said.

Ihrig, a semiretired, former Main Street business owner, said there are many good choices this year for candidates and he did not consider that he was any better than the rest. He promised to listen to the people and not to voice his own opinion, unless the voters fail to tell him their desires.

Gamage, a Main Street business owner, said she brings years of business experience and being accountable for money. She will see that department heads handle the taxpayers’ money as if it were their own. She will research issues and has time to devote to the position, she said.

McNeil, a planning engineer for FMC Corp., pointed to his business experience and his ability to listen to the taxpayers. He said he wants to reduce the amount of the city’s current debt service.

Resident Paul Chartrand wanted to know if the candidates supported tax increment financing, which gives businesses tax breaks to stay in the city. He also asked if they supported TIFs going to a referendum vote.

Gamage would look at each case separately, but thought a public vote could be dangerous. If councilors do their job right, TIFs should not have to be decided by referendum, she said.

McNeil said there are other ways to entice business rather than TIFs and that a referendum vote is expensive.

Maines said it would depend on the situation, but she thinks it is not fair to smaller businesses. Small business is the heart of Rockland, she said, and many of the big businesses that get tax credits have the money to pay full taxes.

Ihrig said the amount of a tax break should directly relate to the amount of benefit to Rockland residents. He would not support a referendum because of the cost and the fact that there are several meetings at which residents can voice their opinion on tax credits before the council passes them.

A somewhat quirky question was whether candidates supported the $5 fee for police reports. Fees for copies are part of a city ordinance.

All of the candidates thought the charges were not that unreasonable.

Should department heads and board and committee members be residents?

Gamage said it depends on the position. The city manager should be a resident, and maybe the more visible department heads, she said. Residency requirements were needed for certain board and committee members, but nonresidents with a particular expertise may be appropriate in some cases.

McNeil said, “We should have the best person for the job,” when it comes to employees, but the city manager, clerk and attorney should live in Rockland. Board and committee members should be residents, he said.

Maines said the residency requirement has been selectively enforced and should be eliminated if it is not going to be consistently required. As far as boards and committees, it depends on the particular one, she said.

Ihrig said the reasons for having to live in the city are pride, residency and ownership, but that in today’s day and age, people put in their best effort no matter where they live. Ihrig said that sometimes there is a need for a nonresident with a certain expertise to serve on a board or committee.

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