Differences emerge in debate between Falmouth candidates

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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

Sidebar Elements

Busing among issues discussed by Falmouth School Board candidates

FALMOUTH — The four candidates running for two positions on the School Board participated in a debate on May 26, sponsored by the Forecaster and broadcast live on Channel 2.

After they each gave opening statements, moderator Andrew Sparks asked candidates Audrey Grassman, Marna Miller, Chris Murry Jr. and David Snow about a number of issues affecting the schools and quizzed them on some school trivia.

All the candidates were quite accurate in estimating the base salary range of Falmouth teachers ($40, 000 to $70,000), the percentage of school funding from local taxes (75 percent) and the size of the school budget ($24.6 million).

Sparks asked the candidates how they felt about parents driving their children to school and whether or not they supported requiring students to ride the bus.

Murry said he felt it is a safety risk to have so many parents driving their children to school and suggested requiring students of certain ages ride the bus.

Snow said students who drive themselves should pay for parking.

Grassman said the number of parents driving students should be reduced, but that she understood that some students are carrying band or athletic equipment that made riding the bus impossible. She said the buses are currently at 83 percent capacity.

Miller echoed Grassman’s capacity figures and said she did not think students should be required to ride the bus. She said her children had to be at school before the bus even arrived twice that week, which meant she had to drop them off.

Sparks asked how the candidates felt about merit-based pay for teachers.

While everyone agreed it was something that could be more closely investigated, Murry said education level of teachers do not always equal student results. Snow said he liked the idea, but recognized the difficulty of pushing it through the union. Grassman worried about factors outside the teachers’ control. Miller said she supported anything that encouraged examination of outcomes.

Sparks then asked what they thought of school consolidation and how they voted on the SAD 51/Falmouth consolidation in the past.

Grassman said she’d like to see the area schools share resources and cited a recent decision to align Falmouth and Yarmouth’s school calendars, making it easier for teachers and students to work together.

Miller said she voted against the consolidation because she was unnerved by the ambiguity of the numbers provided.

Murry said he voted no because he didn’t like the idea of giving up local control and because he wasn’t happy with the numbers that were provided.

Snow said he was in Cumberland at the time and that he voted for it. He said if he had been in Falmouth, he would have voted against it.

Sparks asked them if they felt Falmouth’s nickname, the Yachtsmen, is elitist and sexist, and whether or not it should be changed.

Murry said sailing is an important part of the community, but that it really wasn’t a very good name and that he’d be open to discussion.

Snow said he doesn’t have a yacht, but that he didn’t realize the name was an issue.

Grassman said there are more pressing matters the School Board should be taking on and that they should spend their energy elsewhere.

Miller said she also didn’t know it was an issue, but that if a change was proposed, she would be open to considering it.

— Emily Parkhurst