Friday, February 24, 2006

This ain't no horse race

Local political races can be so refreshing. No attack ads. No mud-slinging. No campaign fund-raising. Just normal people — your neighbors — talking about community issues.

And if you stopped by the Stowe Reporter's first annual "Meet the Candidates" forum last night, Thursday, you might have gotten some free pretzels and water out of it, too. Held at the Stowe Free Library's Community Room, the forum was a chance for folks to ask the candidates about a range of town issues.

I'd say we had between 40 and 50 people in the community room from 5-6:15ish - a welcome sign that people are interested in the Stowe Select Board race: Five candidates running for two open seats. Running for a three-year term: Francis "Paco" Aumand and Joe Mooney. Running for a two-year term: Larry Lackey, Marie Duquette and Steve Chambers. For more information on the race and town meeting, check out the Reporter's coverage. Elections will be decided by ballot on Town Meeting Day, March 7.

A few interesting nuggets from last night:

Impact fees. These are levies placed on new development in town. The revenue would likely go into a targeted account with the specific purpose of paying for capital projects that are needed as a direct result of growth. What did the candidates have to say?

Marie Duquette: Not familiar with impact fees, but favors "anything that will alleviate the burden" on taxpayers.

Joe Mooney: Supports them also if they are a "way of lifting the burden off property taxes."

Francis "Paco" Aumand: Wants more study first. In general, though, he supports them so long as they're not used to pay for the town's operating budget.

Larry Lackey: "I think they're worth looking at," especially in funding things like highway improvements.

Steve Chambers: It's a "worthy concept," but most cost-savings will be found by having a "true zero-base budget strategy" in town government.

What's the most critical issue facing Stowe and how would you address it?

Paco Aumand: The tax burden, and by extension, allowing the people to vote the town budget by Australian ballot, if that's what they want. But his role as a selectman would be to "make every effort to further trim the operating budget."

Larry Lackey: A new public-safety facility for rescue, fire and police officials: "We can't afford to not give those agencies what they need ... it's time to settle on a building."

Steve Chambers: A town manager is needed to manage local government, instead of an administrator: "All in town would be better served by that structure."

Marie Duquette: She'd approach all issues with an open mind - cautious not to let issues become divisive: "The town is different than it used to be."

Joe Mooney: Town budget needs to be voted on Australian ballot: "It provides greater opportunity for voters to provide some direction to town government."

Other nuggets:

o A 1-percent local option tax is favored by all, though they differ on how the revenue should be spent.

o The $450,000 bond toward a conservation easement on the Adams Camp land. All except Duquette and Chambers were wholly supportive. Duquette said that, in general, conserving land with municipal funds might not be such a good idea, and Chambers said that he's voting "no" on the proposal at town meeting. Chambers said he and his wife disagree on the Adams Camp issue: "Our votes are canceling each other out."

o The Stowe Police Department. Aumand, Mooney and Lackey said they'd like to examine the department, which is the most costly in Stowe town government. Aumand: "I'm concerned with the amount of (police) vehicles." And Mooney: "The overtime (pay) issue needs to be looked at further." And Lackey: Starting this summer, the select board should further examine police services.

All in all, a very informative evening. Hopefully, voters thought so too. See you at the polls.
— Scott Monroe