If you could change anything about Reading, what would you change? What’s the biggest challenge facing the town – and how would you address it?
The three candidates for two open seats on the Board of Selectmen faced a dozen questions, including those two, during an hour-long forum Monday night, organized and televised by Reading Community TV.
The candidates are Daniel Ensminger, Mark Jackson and Marsie West. Their names appear in that order on the April 2 town election ballot.
Neither Stephen Goldy nor Rick Schubert is running for reelection.
A summary of the candidates’ answers to some of the questions follows, in the order in which the candidates answered the questions.
The town’s biggest challenge?
Ensminger wants to maintain what retiring Town Manager Peter Hechenbleikner and the Board of Selectmen have accomplished, particularly, he said, in terms of revenue and spending and the sense of partnership in contract negotiations, while moving into customer service and coordinating board reviews of permit requests for the same projects.
Jackson wants town budgets cut so people get the same town services but get to keep some of their property tax money. To make it easier for existing or new-to-town business owners, Jackson recommends that the town hold information sessions maybe twice a year.
West wants to bring more revenue to town, growth with the least expenses to the town; to streamline town boards, committees and commissions and to have them work together; and to build relationships with businesses.
So how could the town raise revenue?
Bring business into town, said West, who said she initiated brainstorming sessions in 2008 on how to both raise revenue and save money. The town has pursued the sale of some real estate, she said; is considering selling lumber from Town Forest; and recommended allowing an electronic billboard in town. “People got alarmist,” she said, earlier this year about a proposal to place an electronic bulletin board on West Street, near Washington Street, in the town’s southwest corner. The billboard company withdrew its proposal.
Cut costs, said Jackson. The town doesn’t need more revenue, he said.
Look for more industrial growth, Ensminger said. Develop the Market Basket area.
Neither West nor Ensminger favors the development of affordable housing on north Main Street, near the Mattera Cabin. Jackson thinks the town should stay out of the developer’s way.
“Affordable housing was never a priority in this town,” he said.
And neither Ensminger nor West favors operational overrides. But some projects need to be funded, Ensminger said, by debt exclusions, where taxpayers pay for a specific item or project for a set number of years, while the town is borrowing the money to finance it.
Jackson opposes the override for the library project which will also be on the April 2 ballot. Referring to the proposed addition to the library, which he said he loves, other buildings contain rental space, he said.
As for changing the town, Jackson would want to bring back community spirit. In the 1970’s, everybody knew their neighbor, he said and Reading had lots of small stores, now gone.
Ensminger pointed to the lower number of town volunteers now.
West would try to change the way the public views government. Instead of issuer-of-penalties, town officials should look at how they can make things happen, she said.
In closing, Ensminger said he has served on several town boards, and as a town selectmen, can work with newly-named Town Manager Robert LeLacheur and is a good listener.
Jackson said he has a conservative view toward town revenue.
“It’s your money. You should keep it,” he said.
West, a member of the Reading Municipal Light Department Board of Commissioners, said she wants to continue to serve the town. At RMLD, she pushed to sell Renewable Energy Certificates, bringing ratepayers some $1 million, she said.
A panel comprising Kevin Vendt, Karen Sawyer and John Carpenter posed the questions to the candidates.
RCTV will hold a forum for candidates for the library board – three candidates – Richard Curtis and Cherrie DuBois, both incumbents and Elizabeth Shurland – for two seats -- Wednesday, starting at 7:30 p.m.
Forums were held for candidates for School Committee and light department commissioners. Three candidates are vying for two three-year terms on the RMLD board – Phillip Pacino, incumbent and David Mancuso and David Talbot. Two candidates, Harold Croft and Chuck Robinson, both incumbents, are looking to retain their seats on the School Committee.
The candidates’ forums will air until Election Day, according to Phil Rushworth, RCTV executive director. Check the RCTV program schedule at RCTV.org.