SWAMPSCOTT — Over-development and high residential taxes were the biggest topics of conversation at the Board of Selectmen candidates’ forum Thursday evening.
Five of the six candidates, running for the two open seats, introduced themselves and answered an array of questions at Swampscott High School, sponsored by The Daily Item/itemlive.com and hosted by Swampscott Educational Access and high school media arts instructor Joseph Douillette’s labclass. The questions included one from forum moderator and Item Editorial Page Editor Thor Jourgensen, one submitted by a resident, and one from each candidate to a competitor of their choosing.
Andrea Calamita, Don Hause, Dina Maietta, Polly Titcomb and Stephen Williams were the candidates in attendance, while Rich Cassidy was out of the country and unable to attend.
“The last time there was six candidates for the Board of Selectmen was in 1991,” said Town Moderator Michael McClung as the event started.
The forum began with a two-minute introduction from the five candidates.
Calamita is a longtime resident and Lynn elementary school teacher, Hause is the incumbent with 17 years experience in Swampscott municipal government, Maietta is a longtime business owner and third-generation resident, Titcomb is a six-year resident with experience on the town’s Finance Committee, and Williams is a business entrepreneur with Swampscott family ties going back six decades.
Jourgensen: Why do you want to be a member of the Board of Selectmen?
“It is a way to effect meaningful change for the residents of the community,” said Hause, who noted that while the town has accomplished a lot over the last few years, there’s a lot more to do and he wants to continue having a role in it.
“I’m interested in having someone with more of a business background to help make things more conducive for the commercial community here in Swampscott,” said Williams.
“I’d bring a more welcoming atmosphere,” Maietta said. “I want to bring the community together again and dive deeper into the town budget and find out why our taxes are so high. We need to see if every dollar is being accounted for and allocated.”
“It feels like a natural next step for me after learning about every town department through my work on the budget,” said Titcomb. “With the administration right now, and the residents, there is a lot of energy. It’s a good time to be involved.”
“I would work with the seniors to grow their programs and work with small businesses,” Calamita said. “After talking with several small business owners, they told me it’s difficult to own one in town and they’re forced to pay fees that don’t exist in other communities.”
Resident: With all the talk of over-development and high taxes in town, how do you propose reducing taxes without further revenue from new developments?
“We have a zero-based budget, which allows some wiggle room,” said Calamita. “One thing to look at is there is a lot of money being spent on town staff and, while I understand the need for their services, it’s a lot more money than years past. We need to find out if we are being fiscally responsible with all these different services.”
“I don’t know if we can reduce taxes without further development,” Titcomb said. “I would focus on expanding commercial space with existing structures in town.”
“We have a lot of high pay raises in town and a lot of new hires,” said Maietta. “I have attended Finance Committee meetings for the last seven weeks and I always leave there shocked. We have the highest paying on safety, and while I’m all for police and fire, I’ve received no straight answer about why those numbers are so high.”
“Being more commercial friendly will welcome more businesses and bring in more revenue,” Williams said. “There is no more room for new developments in town, which is why I think the whole system needs to be re-thought.”
“We have high taxes because we’re a small community with low commercial space, but it’s important to note we’ve lowered them for the last two years in a row,” said Hause. “We need community appropriate developments and tax incentives that would allow two- or three-story buildings for sustainable retailers.”
Calamita to Hause: Why has there been no action or plans for fixing up our schools, historic buildings, and other town assets?
“We haven’t, but we are,” said Hause. “The Fish House is being renovated with money that is already allocated and plans for the new school are moving forward. We do have to be more proactive on town assets in general.”
Hause to Titcomb: If elected, how will your experience on the Finance Committee and within municipal government allow you to vote on a $65 million budget 28 days after being voted in?
“Knowing what I know now about the budget, it takes a lot of time to understand it,” Titcomb said. “I don’t think I would have ran for a selectmen seat if I didn’t serve on the Finance Committee.”
Maietta to Hause: Would you elect someone to the Board of Selectmen if you knew they would miss a fair share of meetings or they weren’t financially stable?
“I wouldn’t elect someone if they were not committed to town government,” said Hause. “Occasionally, members will miss meetings, but that’s because this seat is volunteer-based, is time-consuming, and is a lot of work. If I was a resident, I wouldn’t vote for someone who I thought was a nefarious character.”
Titcomb to Calamita: How, if at all, has your opposition to the rail trail been a part of your decision to run for Board of Selectmen?
“I’m not against the rail trail, I’m opposed to the way it has been projected and handled by the town,” Calamita said. “When it is built, I hope the town has appropriate relationships with the people the rail trail will affect most … It is absolutely one of the reasons I ran in this election because I wouldn’t want another decision handled the way that one was.”
Williams to Maietta: What is one major concern you have in town and how would you deal with it?
“Honestly, I feel we are divided as a community,” said Maietta. “When I came here 25 years ago, it was a tight-knit community. Now, when a neighbor doesn’t like your answer on a certain topic, they shut you down. And I feel like the current Board of Selectmen members play a huge part in that.”
Town Election will be April 30 for all town candidates.