SCARBOROUGH — Candidates for the Town Council agreed about most issues during a public forum Wednesday night, particularly that the annual budget process has to change.
The five-person race for two available Town Council seats is the only contested election voters will find on the November ballot.
All four candidates running for the School Board and one of two candidates for the Sanitary District Board of Trustees also participated.
The event was hosted at the Municipal Building by the Scarborough Community Chamber of Commerce and moderated by chamber past President Kevin Freeman. Questions were asked by reporters from The Forecaster and Scarborough Leader.
The two available council seats are held by Chairwoman Jessica Holbrook and Councilor Ed Blaise, neither of whom are seeking re-election.
The five candidates are former Councilor James Benedict, of Burnham Road; current School Board member Chris Caiazzo, of Elmwood Avenue; Robert Rowan, of Bonneygrove Drive; Liam Somers, of Holmes Road, and Michael Turek, of Bayberry Lane.
Rowan, a resident of Scarborough since 2009 and the only candidate not to have previously held or run for municipal office, said he is running “because Scarborough needs an open perspective on the Town Council. I’m not going to come in here with my mind made up.”
Benedict, a councilor from 2011-2014, unsuccessfully sought a second term last November, when Somers also ran unsuccessfully for a vacant seat.
Turek ran unsuccessfully last year as a School Board write-in candidate.
Caiazzo will complete his first three-year term on the School Board at the end of this year.
All the candidates said they want to prevent a repeat of this year’s acrimonious budget discussions.
“I strongly believe in a transparent form of government,” Caiazzo said. “I want to put an end to the divisive environment surrounding our town.”
The council needs to regain the trust of residents, he said: “If you improve that, you’re less likely to be polarizing. It’s transparency, it’s openness, it’s involvement in the process.”
Turek, who was an outspoken opponent of the School Board’s budget this year, said he wants to see “a prosperous town that enjoys sustainable, affordable growth.”
“Rather than go through the annual budget angst, why can’t we through a two-year cycle like the state?,” Turek said.
“I’m not anti-education. What I am ‘anti’ is a school budget whose first proposal is a 12 percent raise and then we have to work down from that. I’m for education, but let’s be reasonable with the money.”
Somers said a way to begin to fix the problem would be to spend an adequate amount of time on issues of substance, like the budget.
“Perception is reality, and the perception of time spent on things of lesser value is there,” he said. “I think it is absolutely critical that we spend time solving issues that we have had with our budget.”
“Yet we’re spending time on issues like parking over at Higgins Beach and letting that occupy council time disproportionately,” Somers continued. “I would want to make certain that our time was councilors was spent on things that really return value to the town as a whole.”
Council candidates also agreed that Scarborough needs more affordable housing.
“Affordable housing is a problem everywhere,” Benedict said. “I think Scarborough needs to have more affordable housing because otherwise you’re going to limit yourself with the type of people you have in town.”
Somers said affordable housing is needed for both senior citizens and younger citizens who can’t yet afford a down payment on a home. “It allows folks to live there and contribute to your town in ways that they wouldn’t be able to if they didn’t live there,” he said.
Caiazzo said he thinks the public and private sectors need to partner to develop more low-income housing, and the effort to bring more housing to Scarborough needs to be a part of the town’s Comprehensive Plan.
“Quite honestly, we don’t have a lot of real estate in Scarborough that is affordable to younger workers,” Rowan said. “Affordable housing is the sub-market rate, but it’s also some of the more modest starter homes. We need more of both.”
On the topic of parking at Higgins Beach, all five agreed that the suggestion to reduce parking time along Bayview Avenue from one hour to 30 minutes was either unnecessary or won’t solve any problems.
Rowan said this issue is a “perfect example (of) where we’re talking past each other.”
Somers said he didn’t think it was a good solution.
“By inviting twice as many cars to come and go, it seems counterproductive to that problem,” he said. “I don’t understand why Higgins Beach has so much issue each year with access to that neighborhood.”
The issue is enforcement, not a change in ordinance, Caiazzo said.
“If we’ve got ordinances on the books for those types of things and they’re not being enforced, changing ordinances doesn’t solve the problem, it just shifts the problem to another area,” he said.
Chairwoman Donna Beeley and member Jacquelyn Perry are seeking re-election to three-year terms on the School Board.
Kathryn Miles, of Sandy Point Road, is seekin the seat now occupied by Caiazzo. Cari Lyford is running to fill the last year of a three-year term left vacant by Jane Leng, who resigned in June.
Miles, who is a former associate professor of English at Unity College, said she thinks the board and the town need “to get rid of the idea that the school budget is separate from the town budget. As a town we need very holistic thinking in terms of expenditures.”
Lyford, who has a master’s degree in education from Bennington College in Vermont and is a former elementary school teacher, said, “I really believe strongly in the power of education.”
She said one of her strong suits will be bringing “the understanding from an educator’s point of view and a parent’s point of view.”
Early voting at Town Hall begins Monday, Oct. 5. Ballots will be available in the town clerk’s office.
The annual Scarborough Candidates Night was held Wednesday, Sept. 30, at the Scarborough Municipal Building.