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SOUTH PORTLAND — One week before voters cast ballots at the Community Center, three of four District 1 City Council candidates elaborated on their positions and personalities at a City Hall forum Tuesday night.
Planning Board member Rob Schreiber was unable to attend the forum hosted by the South Portland/Cape Elizabeth Community Chamber, leaving School Board Chairman Rick Carter, Energy and Recycling Committee member Robert Foster III and political newcomer Michael Pock to answer about 60 minutes of questions from chamber president Michael Vaillancourt.
Schreiber’s opening statement was read by Stefanie Veneziano, a friend who said she met Schreiber last fall.
Vaillancourt asked 13 questions of the candidates, who were allowed two-minute responses on matters of city finances, consolidation of city services, the prospect of tar sands oil being imported to the city and their support of a new facility for the city Public Works, Transportation and Parks and Recreation departments.
Carter, who has served on the school board for nine years, including four as board chairman, said his experience will be valuable if elected.
“None of these challenges have simple, one-line solutions,” he said. “I can step in and be effective immediately.”
Foster and Pock kidded each other about who is least known in the race, and set distinctive courses as outsiders coming in to council chambers.
“I will be reaching out to the citizens of this town for help to make these decisions,” Foster pledged.
Pock said his decisions will come after thoroughly reviewing facts at hand.
“We need to stop and look at every item instead of rushing into anything,” he said.
In agreeing the upcoming school and municipal budgets are the most immediate challenge facing the incoming councilor, there were divergent views on the state of city and school finances.
Carter said he wants to strike a balance between maintaining services and an affordable tax rate, but noted the council suggestion of a 2 percent property tax increase for city and school budgets, bond debt service and the city share of Cumberland County government is about half of what is needed to avoid layoffs and reductions.
“Our highest expense is people, it’s salaries, it’s benefits,” he said.
Foster said the 2 percent goal can be met, but not easily.
“Can it be done? Yes. Will there be pain? Yes,” Foster said.
Pock’s assessment is the city and school department have the reserve funds to meet revenue reductions from outside sources and said he will not support any property tax increase.
While Carter said he had not made up his mind about the potential piping of Canadian tar sands oil into the city, Pock and Foster expressed vehement opposition.
“I would be totally against it. (Tar sands) are very corrosive and hazardous to the environment,” Foster said.
Pock saw the issue vividly.
“Talk about juggling grenades, this is one of those grenades,” he said.
The candidates agreed on a need to find new energy sources and reduce the carbon footprint of the city, but Pock said city officials didn’t need to consider rising sea levels immediately.
“As far as sea level rise, I don’t think it is going to happen in our lifetime,” he said.
Carter held an opposite view, saying his drives through District 1 show areas that are already vulnerable to storm tides and flooding.
Foster has made reducing the carbon footprint of the city a focal point of his campaign and supports exploring alternative energy options as a way to mitigate effects of climate change.
District 1 covers the northeast section of the city including Willard Square and Ferry Village. The winner of the election will assume the remainder of the term, through November 2014. The seat opened after the Dec. 31 resignation of former Councilor Tom Coward, who is now a Cumberland County Commissioner.
The election is open to all city voters. Polling hours are from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday, March 12, at the Community Center, 21 Nelson Road.