May 23, 2019

Pocketbook issues dominate candidates’ forum

Give voters some politicians to question and talk will turn to money, as it did Thursday night when candidates for Bangor City Council were asked why residents had to pay for trash pickup or why teachers had a better benefit package than city employees.

The audience of 50 people at the Fruit Street School provided the liveliest question-and-answer session in several years of candidates’ forums sponsored by the Greater Bangor-Brewer League of Women Voters. The affair Thursday was co-sponsored by the school’s Parent Teacher Organization.

The Donald Rogerson trial figured in the first question. Fred Vardamis asked whether council candidates favored a city-wide ban on hunting with high-velocity rifles.

“I’m completely comfortable with the status quo,” said Councilor Patricia Blanchette, who is running for a second term. “And (the ordinance) wouldn’t fly anyway.”

Two first-time council candidates had similar responses. John Bragg said he had seen a deer dropped in a field within sight of outer Essex Street and Bruce MacGregor saw a deer killed on the golf course within sight of Route 202.

“I’m not sure total banning is the answer,” Bragg said.

“I agree that the laws on the books are sufficient,” MacGregor said.

Another question was asked of a topical subject that has stirred local public debate — fees for trash collection to offset rising costs and encourage recycling.

Citizens are upset with the thought of paying for trash collection, said Councilor Jane Saxl. During her introductory remarks, she said, “No community can absorb the increased costs (of waste disposal) without pain. Many decisions remain to be made. Reducing the size of the waste stream and thus its costs through recycling and composting is our best response.”

The process of encouraging recycling probably must be taken, said Albert Weymouth, who added that he had received several calls on the fees for trash collection issue. Educating the public is a long-term, delicate affair that should not be first foisted on citizens through the media.

Nearly a quarter of the audience consisted of unionized city employees from the Police, Fire, and Public Works departments. The city’s latest round of labor negotiations has resulted in a lot of ill will and the feeling that the unionized school employees have a better deal than their cohorts who work for the city.

Several questions revolved around the troubles.

Police officers and firefighters lay it on the line every shift and they are there for help whenever it’s nedded, said Irene Estabrook. “Give them what they want. And cut the salaries of those high-priced people in City Hall.”

One firefighter asked Garret Cole how he felt about the city’s labor relations, when Coles Express went to a non-union shop after a running battle with the Teamsters.

“Our situation was quite different,” he said. The nationwide contract called for wages and benefits that were out of line for the area, he said. “(The city) can’t afford to lose good people, union or non-union.”

The strongest statement by Marshall Frankel came in his opening remarks when he used his time to speak out against Question 10 on the municipal ballot, which would require that petitioners gather a total number of signatures equal to at least 20 percent of the number of votes cast in the last municipal election.

The proposed change would mean that it would be almost impossible to place a referendum or an initiative on the local ballot and, he said, “That’s not right.”

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