BANGOR, Maine — Five candidates seeking three City Council seats touched on a number of topics Tuesday, from plans for a new arena to proposed residency restrictions for sex offenders to the protracted search for a new city manager.
The candidates — incumbents Susan Hawes, 54, and Hal Wheeler, 73, along with Charles “Nick” Bearce, 65, Nelson Durgin, 73, and Charles Longo, 21 — participated in a public forum at City Hall that featured questions posed by a panel of media members.
Candidates were asked about a number of economic issues, including whether to look at fee increases, such as paying for trash bags, as a way to avoid property tax increases. All were supportive of a pay-per-bag fee, something the city has considered but has yet to pull the trigger on.
“We need to find ways to pay for services other than property tax,” Bearce said.
Durgin said a general discussion about user fees is a good idea but he cautioned against creating a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes program for nonprofits.
Hawes said user fees should be considered but argued that regionalization is a better strategy for saving money.
Longo said the city should find a way for the many nonresidents who work in Bangor to pick up more of their share of the cost of services.
“Whether it’s fees or taxes, it still comes out of our pockets,” said Wheeler, who concluded that user fees have been tried in the past with minimal success.
One question touched on an issue the current council is expected to vote on Wednesday night: whether to pass an ordinance that places restrictions on where sex offenders can live.
Hawes said she was leaning toward not supporting the ordinance amendment because she doesn’t believe it would make the community safer. Wheeler said he’s not sure how he’ll vote but also said whether the ordinance passes or not probably would not change Bangor.
Bearce, Durgin and Longo all indicated that the proposed ordinance would do little to protect residents.
Candidates were asked about the plans to build a new arena in Bangor and whether the ultimate decision should be made by the City Council or through a citizen referendum.
All said they supported the idea of a new arena, but each had reservations about the cost. Longo, Wheeler and Bearce said they supported a referendum. Durgin and Hawes said the city is not ready to send the matter to voters.
“We don’t have the right question to ask,” Durgin said.
Hawes added that the city needs more specific financial projections before it’s ready to dig a hole.
Opinions differed considerably when candidates were asked whether the process to find a new city manager has been handled well. Bangor has been without a permanent manager since Christmas.
Wheeler said it has been a daunting task but also said the council has been committed to finding the best candidate.
Hawes, too, defended the process and said the timeframe is not unusual.
“We can’t go any faster than we’re going without failing,” she said.
Durgin called the council’s decision last year to sever ties with longtime Manager Ed Barrett “awkward at best.”
Longo said the people deserve to know what’s going on behind the scenes.
“We need to publicly vet these people,” he said of potential manager candidates.
Bearce said he understood that most aspects of the search have been confidential but also said 10 months is too long without a leader.
“Something’s not quite right,” he said.
All five candidates said they supported the idea of combining Bangor police and fire dispatch services with Penobscot County, a topic that seems to come up every year with little movement.
In addition to questions, candidates were given a chance to deliver opening and closing statements.
Bearce used his final remarks to tout his experience, particularly in fiscal matters, but said he would not make any promises to cut or hold taxes.
Durgin also used his time to highlight his many years of experience and said he would keep the city fiscally accountable.
Hawes said she has been honored to serve the city for six years and wants to finish what she has started and make the community even stronger.
Longo said he’s a political newcomer but said he believes Bangor needs a voice for his generation.
Wheeler said being a city councilor is not about power but about being a servant of the people and said he takes every decision the council makes seriously.
One other candidate, Tim Lo, did not meet the deadline for nominations, but has mounted a write-in candidacy. He did not participate in Tuesday’s forum but did attend and pass out fliers.