Candidates Square Off During Islander Forum

BAR HARBOR — Seven candidates for three open seats on the town council shared their views on taxes, the current council and the future of the town at the Mount Desert Islander’s annual candidate’s night forum on Tuesday.

A dozen people attended the event at the municipal building, and the proceedings were broadcast live on local cable television.

Through a series of questions posed by moderator Jill Goldthwait, the candidates worked to distinguish themselves from one another. Several differences came to light as candidates discussed the role of the council and the performance of those currently on the body.

Candidates Bob Garland and Barbara Fenderson said that the council has become too involved in writing land use ordinances, while candidate Vicki Hall said that the council should continue to weigh in, but to do so more respectfully. Council chairman Ruth Eveland supported the council’s role in crafting ordinances, but said perhaps questions should go to the voters in two versions when there is a split.

On the issue of taxes, only candidate Christopher Walsh said they were too high. He proposed putting in a seasonal, paid parking system downtown to raise revenues and lower the property tax rate.

Sandy McFarland and Ms. Fenderson said that nonprofits in the area should be paying property taxes, which would raise revenues for the town. State law exempts the institutions from property tax. Mr. McFarland said the law should be changed.

Others agreed that revenues are a problem to be looked at. Ms. Hall said she would look for efficiencies in town administration, while Mr. Garland supported a local options sales tax, which also is controlled by state government and is not currently allowed.

Candidate Mike McCadden was silent throughout much of the debate, choosing not to answer a majority of the questions.

As far as what could be changed about the town, Mr. Walsh ventured that the council needs to listen to the citizens more. “We really need to not only honor what voters vote for, but we need to focus on the environment a little more,” he said.

Ms. Eveland said that she would bring more people into the political process if she could change anything. Mr. McFarland touted collaboration with other towns as a way forward. “I think we need a new paradigm where we just look at the island as the community,” he said.

Mr. Garland said that the town should be charging fees to cruise ship passengers, and that an opportunity to start doing so several years ago should have been taken. Mr. McFarland corrected him, saying that the town did choose to charge such fees, and now brings in money from them each year.

Mr. Garland then said he meant that the town should have started landing cruise tenders at the town pier and collect additional fees, and should still consider doing so.

The motivations of town councilors also was raised. Responding to a question on the subject, Ms. Eveland agreed that “there are people that are convinced there are some town council members … who are beholden to a variety of businesses,” but, she said, that those people basically are wrong.

Mr. Walsh said that there are actions that the council has taken that have benefited specific councilors. Ms. Fenderson said in general that the council is not listening enough.

“I don’t think citizens should have to hire attorneys to be heard,” she said.

Ms. Hall sided with Ms. Eveland, stating that the town’s ethics ordinance protects citizens from special interests, and that the size of the council provides a good balance.

“There’s a whole panel of people weighing in on issues,” she said.

Ms. Eveland distinguished herself as an equitable leader of the town council for three of the six years she has been on it and said she would remain effective through a third term. Ms. Hall touted her “big picture” thinking and skills working with others as reasons for her election, while Mr. Walsh said it was time for a regular citizen such as himself to be on the council.

Mr. Garland said he would bring a voice of moderation to the government, while Ms. Fenderson said her background as a business owner, educator, finance expert and Cobol programmer made her a ready candidate.

Mr. McFarland said he would continue to work toward a balance between tourism and year-round quality of life issues, while Mr. McCadden said he is a supporter of property rights and believes in responsible spending.

Town elections are scheduled for Tuesday, June 14, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., in the municipal building auditorium. Watch for a summary of proposed land use changes and interviews with candidates for the Mount Desert Island High School board of trustees in next week’s Mount Desert Islander.

For more political news, pick up a copy of the Mount Desert Islander.

Robert Levin

Robert Levin

Former reporter Robert Levin covered the people, businesses, governmental and nonprofit agencies of Bar Harbor. [email protected]