Six candidates running for a seat on the board of selectmen fielded questions on a wide-range of topics including wastewater, capital projects, and the farmers market at Wednesday night’s League of Women Voters candidate forum.
With the May 20 election just over a week away, the six selectmen and the three library trustee candidates met in front of a full house for over two hours at the Morse Pond School with Mindy Todd from WCAI as moderator.
Vying for the two open selectman seats are Bertha C. Manson of Pershing Drive; Marc P. Finneran of Trotting Park Road; Samuel H. Patterson Jr. of Grasmere Drive; Susan Lynn Moran of West Falmouth Highway; David Braga of Nancy Avenue; and Rebecca A. Putnam of John Parker Road.
The only other contested townwide race is for two seats on the library board of trustees. Lindsay M. Hopewood of Emmons Road and Mary Patricia Barry of Queen Street are running, and chairman Otis M. Porter Jr. of Siders Pond Road is up for reelection.
Ralph E. Herbst is running for planning board reelection and jokingly remarked, “My greatest fear is running unopposed and losing.”
In lieu of an opening statement, selectmen candidates spoke from prepared statements about their first-term goals.
Mr. Braga, a former Falmouth selectman and police officer, said he would work toward a townwide recycling program, implementing more renewable energies like using solar panels at the town landfill, and re-engaging the selectmen with the town committees.
Mr. Finneran cited government transparency and listening to the taxpayers as top priorities. He said he implored the current board to enact a public comment period at their selectmen meetings, which they have done. Mr. Finneran was in a close race for the board last year, but was 294 votes shy of Rebecca Moffitt’s votes.
Ms. Moran, president of the West Falmouth Village Association and a lawyer, said she would immediately implement a town ombudsman program with customer service staff trained to respond to citizens’ concerns and questions.
“What gets measured gets done,” said Mr. Patterson, who said that having a long-term plan and measuring the plan’s effectiveness are equally important. He was reelected for a sixth term to the school committee last May.
One of Ms. Putnam’s priorities is to hold open hours so residents could meet with selectmen one-on-one. She cited a situation where she recently met with a resident with brown water coming from her home’s faucets.
“This woman couldn’t get a response from town officials. I would change that,” she said.
Honesty and common sense when preparing the budget are a top priority, said Ms. Manson, a Seacoast Shores resident.
One of the prevalent themes of the evening was spending and planning for capital projects, including the proposed $49.8 million wastewater plan.
The candidates were split when asked if they would vote in favor of the plan, with Mr. Patterson, Ms. Moran and Mr. Braga in favor and Mr. Finneran, Ms. Manson and Ms. Putnam against the proposal.
“I would wait a year,” she said. If it fails on May 20, Ms. Putnam said, it would be because of the town’s “inadequate notice and dissemination of information to residents.”
“It doesn’t have to be all or nothing,” said Mr. Finneran, referring to the four projects in the wastewater plan.
“We have a habit of rushing into capital projects and having them fail. We should take some time to see if the alternative to sewering will work.” He said the wind turbines at the landfill and the recent renovation of Falmouth High School are examples of “haste makes waste” and suggested the money be spent on a new senior center and a Hatchville Fire Station.
Ms. Moran said the Little Pond neighborhood should connect to a sewer so we “don’t pass the problem on to Falmouth’s children.” She was, however, hopeful the alternative pilot projects, such as oysters and inlet widening, could be used down the road after they have been tested.
When asked about planning for capital projects, Mr. Braga warned against capital debt exclusions and called them unhealthy. He said selectmen should think outside the box when looking for funds, and used a personal example when he sought to use Casino/Messina Fund money to build a handicapped-accessible ramp at Falmouth Heights Beach.
All candidates agreed to prioritization and more public input, but Ms. Putnam and Mr. Finneran went a step further and said the town is too hasty and does not vet projects thoroughly enough.
Ms. Manson said the lack of another option is not acceptable.
“We need a plan B. Not everyone can afford plan A,” she said.
Recently, the board of selectmen granted the farmers market a partial waiver to the special event fee, which caused some waves in the community and with Main Street business owners who maintain the market causes a parking shortage.
“I’m a fan of the farmers market, but I think it’s hard to make exceptions [waiving the fee]. I would survey the current Main Street business owners to come up with a solution,”Ms. Moran said.
“I’m also a fan of the market, and I know traffic is congested, but when isn’t it? People aren’t aware of the work the farmers market staff did to receive the discount,” Mr. Braga said.
Earlier on in the evening, the public library trustee candidates spoke about what they would improve if elected.
Ms. Barry said a priority is extending library hours, especially to the East Falmouth branch that is open 19 hours per week. She also said it is in “desperate need of windows.”
Ms. Hopewood said the North Falmouth branch needs a facelift and the computer system is in need of updates.
Mr. Porter, an incumbent, said he is aware of the East Falmouth branch’s shortcomings and would like the opportunity to continue with the trustees’ five-year planning study.