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Differences emerge in debate between Falmouth candidates

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Differences emerge in debate between Falmouth candidates

FALMOUTH — Candidates for Town council and School Board came out for a lively debate May 26 at Town Hall.

The debate, sponsored by The Forecaster and moderated by attorney Andrew Sparks, began with opening statements from council candidates Barbara DiBiase, David Murray, Faith Varney and incumbent Councilor Bonny Rodden. Sparks read a statement from incumbent Councilor Tony Payne, who could not attend due to a family obligation.

Sparks then asked the candidates to respond to several questions on white wipe-off boards. The questions ranged from knowing the Falmouth school sports nickname (the Yachtsmen) to a fill-in-the-blank: "I wish Falmouth had more (blank) and less (blank)."

Varney said the school's nickname is the Boaters, DiBiase said she wished the town had more business taxpayers, Rodden said she wished the town had fewer power lines and Murray said he wished the town had more warm weather.

When asked how they felt about the METRO bus service, the candidates were starkly divided.

Murray and Varney both spoke out against the bus service. Varney said she would like to see businesses that rely on the bus for patrons and employees pay to help support it. Murray said that if the town is turning off street lights to save money, paying $100,000 for an empty bus is unacceptable.

DiBiase and Rodden spoke in favor of the service, both citing the same Federal Transportation Administration statistics that public transportation ridership must grow 1.9 percent each year to be considered a success. Rodden said the Falmouth Flyer grew 3.5 percent last year. DiBiase brought up grant money made available to towns that support public transportation.

Sparks then asked the candidates to comment on the role the council should play in business development, including the Falmouth Shopping Center and the Route 1 corridor.

Varney said she felt the Route 1 development was moving along nicely and that the council should support it.

DiBiase said she supports long-range development, including more pedestrian-friendly shopping centers and businesses that Falmouth residents will utilize.

Murray said the council should stay out of the way of developers and let the businesses grow and prosper on their own. He said the charette process slows business development.

Rodden said the charette and planning process is exactly what the town needs to be doing because it allows for an exchange of ideas between the business owners and residents.

Sparks then asked for responses on the wipe-off boards regarding predicted budget cuts and where the candidates would like to make those reductions.

The candidates agreed unanimously that they would advocate town employee wage freezes and increasing user fees, and agreed unanimously that they did not support cutting services for the elderly or raising property taxes.

They disagreed on several other cuts, with Murray the only candidate who advocated an employee wage cut, Rodden the only one who would not advocate cutting School Department personnel or decreasing the school budget, DiBiase the only one who would not advocate reducing the number of town employees, and Varney the only one who listed anything as untouchable: school and library funding.

When asked about the vernal pool and natural resources ordinance amendment, the candidates were quite divided.

Sparks asked if they supported going beyond state standards, requiring property owners to reimburse the town for disturbed vernal pools and having the town pay property owners not to disturb the pools.

Murray said no, no and no. He said southern Maine is one big swamp and that the whole issue has been blown out of proportion.

Rodden said she supports the ordinance amendment and cited Falmouth's proximity to Portland as the need for more protection. She said property owners who destroy vernal pools should pay and that the town should not compensate those with pools on their property, citing the shoreland zoning ordinance as an example of similar regulation.

Varney said she does not support going beyond the state standards and that she does not think there should be a fine for filling the pools. She also said she doesn't think the town should compensate landowners.

DiBiase said she is in favor of the ordinance amendment because vernal pools, as insignificant as they may seem, are vital to the food chain. She said she does not support compensating property owners, also citing the shoreland zoning ordinance and past practices of building up to the shoreline and dumping sewage into water bodies as examples of society's progress.

The discussion, which was broadcast live on Falmouth's cable access channel, will be rebroadcast regularly on Channel 2 until the election on June 8. It is also available on the town website at http://bit.ly/bP9K0i.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net