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YARMOUTH — Candidates for Town Council and House District 47 discussed a wide range of topics in a candidates forum hosted Monday by the Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce.
The event was held in the Log Cabin and questions were asked by Carolyn Schuster, the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce.
Council candidates Joan Dollarhite and Rob Waeldner participated in the first round of discussion. Both candidates would be first-time councilors if elected. They are seeking the seat vacated by Steve Woods when he resigned in June.
When discussing the recent Planapalooza event, both candidates talked about the character-based development code. Waeldner said it could help keep businesses in town.
“I think our Main Street does need to be more vibrant,” Waeldner said. “Businesses do have issues and are questioned because they are continually changing … because businesses keep changing, it’s a sign that they’re not succeeding.”
Dollarhite said the new zoning can help make downtown a central gathering place because it will require businesses to stay within the character of the town.
“As much as people don’t like the idea of chains, it could be a Dunkin’ Donuts or McDonald’s, but it’ll look like a classic New England town that we love,” Dollarhite said.
This topic segued into whether candidates think the Route 1 bridge over Main Street should be renovated or torn down. The candidates differed in their thoughts.
Dollarhite said she supports taking the bridge down because she believes it will create a more cohesive community between Route 1 and Main Street.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that we have to take control of Route 1, to make it part of our town, instead of a bypass,” Dollarhite said.
She said she knows this would be the more expensive option, but that it would be an investment the town should make. She said taking the bridge down would “make Main Street more vibrant and commercially diverse.”
Waeldner said he has not decided what should be done. He said there are many financial factors to consider, but he’s also aware that whichever decision is made will have a lasting impact.
“I’ve learned that we need to improve the vibrancy of businesses on Main Street, so maybe bringing Route 1 in could make a difference,” he said.
Waeldner said he is “skeptical that we can achieve that plan in a cost-effective way.”
The candidates were also asked about their stance on railroad quiet zones in town. The issue was recently brought to the Town Council again by residents who live near railroad crossings and are affected by whistle noise.
Waeldner said he is not sure what should be done about the problem, but that he believes the town has a responsibility to carefully consider the different options.
“We’ve heard from various community members that the whistles are a nuisance for them and many members of the community, so I don’t think their situation can be ignored any longer,” he said.
He also said that aside from noise, he doesn’t think the crossings are safe as they now exist. Waeldner said until exact costs are known, he doesn’t know how this should be remedied.
Dollarhite also said she was concerned about paying for quiet zones.
“I lean strongly away from spending any money to reduce or to eliminate the train whistle,” she said. “I think it’s a lot of money to spend … and it’s not to minimize the concerns that (the nearby residents) have or the quality of life issues, but it is a small percentage of the people in our town who are bothered by train whistles.”
The House candidates, incumbent Democratic state Rep. Janice Cooper and Republican Rick Snow, also answered a variety of questions.
When asked if they support increasing the minimum wage, the two gave completely opposite responses, with Cooper saying yes and Snow saying no.
“It is currently impossible to support yourself adequately in the most basic way, and let alone support a family on the current minimum wage,” Cooper said.
She said raising the minimum wage wouldn’t lead to a loss of jobs.
Snow said he believes it would. He said small businesses wouldn’t be able to afford to pay their employees if the minimum wage is raised.
“It will have a negative impact on the actual employment levels of the people who desperately need those jobs,” Snow said.
The candidates also expressed opposite views on health care.
“I’m very much opposed to the expansion of the Medicare program,” Snow said.
He said he expects more people will need Medicare than is projected, thus costing more money.
Cooper said she supports the expansion of Medicaid for moral and financial reasons.
“It is simply incomprehensible to me that we would turn away people with serious illnesses and not provide them medical care,” Cooper said.
She said people without health insurance receive some care in the emergency room, but that taxpayers are already paying for this. She cited this as a reason why Medicaid should be expanded.
“You are already paying for these people and paying for it inefficiently and expensively,” Cooper said.
The candidates also talked about their plans for improving job prospects in the state. Snow said “tax reform is key” and that many businesses leave because of taxes.
“The way we work with businesses in the state of Maine is actually driving them away and we need to bring them back,” he said. “We need to allow them to stay here.”
Cooper said more small businesses have to be created in Maine.
“We do need to put more effort into creating good jobs,” Cooper said. “Jobs that can support a family, that we can hold with pride, and that have a future for them.”
Election Day is Nov. 4.