On the issues: Camden Select Board Candidate Marc Ratner

Mon, 05/22/2023 - 1:15pm

    On June 13, voters in Camden will elect two citizens from a slate of five candidates to serve on the Camden Select Board. There are two open seats this June, both three-year terms. Current board chair Robert Falciani is not running again, but incumbent Alison McKellar is seeking a third term on the board. She is joined by former Camden Select Board member Marc Ratner, who is hoping to return to the board. They are joined by Christopher Nolan, Raymond Andresen and Mary Beth Thomas, all hoping to represent the town.

    Penobscot Bay Pilot has posed questions to each candidate, providing the opportunity for the public to better understand their position on issues important to the town and region. Here, Marc Ratner discusses his position on various topics.

    Please provide a brief biography of yourself and explain why you decided to seek a seat on the Select Board.

    Brief? I always have trouble doing brief. In 1959, my father taught a summer class at the Skowhegan Art School and that began my lifelong love of Maine. Shortly thereafter we moved from Minnesota to Massachusetts and trips to Maine became more frequent.

    In the 70s I left for California and the music business – where among other jobs – I spent many years at Warner Bros. Records ending up as a promotion vice-president. At the same time after doing some serious mountaineering with the Sierra Club I became a reserve deputy with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Dept. in order to do search & rescue work. In time I became Captain of one of the department’s SAR teams. It was an amazing time.

    Monday thru Friday I’d spend the week on the road and get a thank you hug from Eddie Van Halen after a concert and then accompany Cher to the David Letterman show. Then on the weekend I’d repel out of the Air 5 rescue helicopter to help save someone. Doesn’t get better than that. Every year starting in 1981 I’d vacation with family in Camden and knew that someday I’d live here.

    In 2007, my wife and I with our 1 ½ year old son moved to Camden. I was then running my own music management / consulting company and we wanted our son to have a quality of life that L.A. couldn’t offer and also the opportunity to get a great education in the Camden area school system. It was a terrific decision.

    After my wife noticed an item in the local paper saying that the Camden Opera House was looking for citizens to join the opera house committee – I jumped in. After a few years I because Chair of that committee and also joined the town Energy Committee. I helped present opera house budgets to the budget committee and became fascinated with how town government worked and then spent most of two years attending almost all of the Select Board meetings as an observer.

    In 2016, I ran and was elected to a seat and spent six years on the board. This year I’m running again for a seat on the Select Board — for a number of reasons.

    In the past year I’ve watched all the meetings and it’s been very educational to step back and see the forest instead of the trees for a change. I realize that I’m not hearing about important issues that I think should be front and center in the meetings. I also find that the conversations between the board and the citizens seem more distant than they ever were before and I believe there should be more communication from the Select Board to the people of Camden.

    I enjoyed the work – as difficult as it can be at times – and I’ve always received much satisfaction from doing public service work. (Which is one of the reasons – I helped found and am a Maine certified rescue member of our local Coastal Mountain Search & Rescue team which works saving people in the Midcoast and wherever needed all over Maine as well).

    What are the three most pressing issues facing Camden today, and how would you like to see them resolved?

    On any day you could name three completely different issues. But today I would say housing, property tax and sea level rise.

    Sea Level rise – protecting the harbor is not so long term as it used to be. The town just finished a substantial rebuild of the boardwalk and that will help there but the entire harbor needs to be evaluated as a whole.

    With the increased severity of storms in combination with high tides – Camden has seen much damage around the harbor and we need to proactive in looking for solutions – both short term and long term. Fortunately there are grants available to help and the Select Board needs to make obtaining them a major priority for our town employees to pursue.

    Housing - in Camden - is impossible to find - especially mid-cost and low cost housing. The Select Board hasn’t much of an opportunity to build new housing as there is very little town owned land available to use (though we should renew a housing focus on the town owned Sagamore Farms acreage) but perhaps there is a way to improve the rental situation.

    It’s no secret that many houses in Camden have been purchased to provide Airbnb type rentals. Maybe there’s a compromise that might help move short term rentals into the long term market. Many areas around the country (and worldwide) have started requiring permits to rent short term and have limited the amount of those permits available.

    I don’t believe it would be fair to start permitting and take away the opportunity for current owners to rent as they’re entitled to now. However if current owners are grandfathered into short term rental permits – as they sell off their properties – new owners (if they are buying to rent) should have to apply for a limited available amount of short term rental permits. Hopefully such a program would bring to Camden – landlords interested in long term rentals — and families interested in year round homes.

    Property Tax – This is as tough a situation for residents of Camden as exists. So many of our residents have chosen this wonderful town for their forever retirement home and now rising expenses – especially now – are creating a hardship for so many.

    Unfortunately there’s good news and bad news here regarding the ability of the Select Board to bring down property taxes. We can’t change the ebb and flow of real estate values and property taxes values are mandated by state law. It’s funny – our houses are worth more than ever – but if you’re here to stay – that increased value does not help at all. So what can be done?

    First – we all need to work with our state elected officials to focus on bringing all the additional monies pouring into the state coffers back to the towns. We need more state funding for schooling, municipal services, emergency services – police and fire – and especially EMS – which is in dire need of support.

    We need additional support for our infrastructure. Every dollar returned to us by the state is a dollar less needed from our local budget.

    What the Select Board also can do is make sure that the town focuses on alternate revenues. Are our fees appropriate for the services we provide? One of the newest sources of income that the town has been receiving is from the parking test at the town landing.

    I am not a supporter of paid parking but I have seen that the test has produced revenues and helped manage parking at the harbor. I would be willing to compromise and continue the paid parking at the landing – which is a beacon parking area for tourists and less so for citizens and not have paid parking on the parking places on the streets which is of more importance for residents of Camden.

    By focusing this way – our municipal needs will be funded in other ways than just property taxes. Additional revenues lower the town budget!

    How will you protect the Camden taxpayer as you govern a municipal budget and juggle various interests that request municipal funding throughout the year?

    Experience counts. The six years I spent on the Select Board and the additional years I spent on committees have given me an education about how town government works and an institutional in depth knowledge about what’s needed and what is not needed – what can we postpone spending on until such time as other long term expenses have fallen off the budget. There are always short term emergencies but if you take a long term view on the budget you can always be prepared for both long and short expenses without having to create havoc when stuff happens. (Also refer to my answer to # 2 above).

    What is your opinion of the Megunticook River restoration project and what do you envision as the future of the Montgomery Dam?

    It’s no secret that in Maine (and nationwide) there has been much success in removing dams and restoring rivers. The recent news articles about the success of dam removal and the restoration of the river leading into China Lake – and the incredible replenishment of the alewives and other species up to the spawning grounds in the lake that haven’t been seen for a century or more – show’s what a treasure restoration would be for the Megunticook River. That’s a no brainer.

    However there are some issues that need to be decided about the Montgomery Dam that aren’t so simple. Yes, removing it is the least expensive option for the town and that’s a consideration. But the integrity of the building supports (and the buildings themselves) are an issue as is the consideration that much of downtown (including our Public Safety building – where our fire department and police department are located – which means that Camden’s Emergency Operation Center can’t be located there and is situated in the basement of the Congregational Church – an awkward situation) is in a flood zone.

    We need to make a decision balancing all those issues. I spent some time examining the water flow under the buildings and over the dam the day after the recent heavy rains. It’s no secret that the part of the Smiling Cow building that is built under the main floor is flooded in storms like we just had. You can see it.

    I’ve looked at all the articles and information available about what contribution the Montgomery Dam makes to flooding downtown. It appears to me – from what I’ve seen so far – and I’m always interested in more science – that lowering the dam perhaps two feet (and building in a fish ladder) – would reduce flooding and yet retain the mill pond and protect the supports of the buildings.

    I understand that those supports need the water for protection against winter’s ravages. Freezing the uncovered supports would damage them. There’s more to learn about all of this and there’s a financial decision that needs to be made. It will require a town vote – and I hope when the vote is made – the citizens of Camden will have all the information they need to make an educated decision.

    How will you vote on the 2023 June Town Warrant Articles 3 and 4, the proposed amendments to the Code for Retail Adult Use and Medical Caregiver Cannabis?

    First – let me say – it’s against the principles of our country’s election procedures to ask someone how they’re going to vote. Instead of directly answering that question let me bring up some issues about the use of cannabis.

    It may be a fine line here but I think there is a difference between decriminalization and legalization. It’s no secret that harsh laws and enforcement have been unequally used over the years. Decriminalization is important but I don’t think people have had the education necessary to understand how complete legalization should be handled.

    In particular – from what I’ve learned (and observed) cannabis use can be dangerous – certainly up to the age of 25.

    Quoting here from a New York Times editorial (“Marijuana damages young brains” June, 16, 2019): “Numerous studies show that marijuana can have a deleterious impact on cognitive development in adolescents, impairing executive function, processing speed, memory, attention span and concentration…..The reason the adolescent brain is so vulnerable to the effect of drugs is that the brain – especially the prefrontal cortex, which controls decision making, judgment and impulsivity – is still developing in adolescents and young adults until age 25”.

    Do we need cannabis stores in Camden?

    The other day I drove up Route 1 in Bath and observed SIX stores selling cannabis in just a couple miles. There seems to a new cannabis store in Rockland opening about every other week. We don’t need stores in Camden – if you want to purchase cannabis it’s not hard to find. But I believe that having Camden as a cannabis retail-free zone is a good thing – especially as an example to our youth that society hasn’t learned all they need to about cannabis use and education and concern is more important than money.

    How do you see Camden positioned in the larger regional Midcoast economy?

    Camden is rich in beauty, quality of life and a great citizenry. What we don’t have is open unused available space, big business employers and a large worker population. I believe the future of major employment and economic strength in Camden is what’s been happening nationally especially as covid developed – the ability for advanced, well paid jobs that are performed from home or small satellite offices via the internet.

    To take full advantage of this Camden needs to focus and prioritize high speed fiber internet to all premises in the town. I hear at times that “we all have internet now that does the job – why do we need fiber?” Simply because what works today will be antiquated sooner than you expect. It wasn’t that long ago that we watched movies at home by renting vhs tapes at Blockbuster and getting dvds in the mail from Netflix. Blockbuster is gone, Netflix just this month announced the final shutdown of their DVD service.

    We can either be part of the future or stuck in the past. I believe Camden is exceptionally positioned to be a leader in the future. We have a superior school system and investing in the future of the internet will benefit from that and allow employment for many of our well educated youth who then will be able to – choose to and afford to – stay in the Midcoast.

    What would you like to see for the future of the Tannery Park on Washington Street.

    As a long term SelectBoard member I attended many meetings of the last Tannery work group and heard and worked through many discussions about housing and business suggestions for the property. In the end – I felt that neither the housing or business deals were appropriate. The one thing that’s been consistent is the desire from many town citizens to keep the Tannery area as a permanent home for the Camden Farmers Market and as a people’s park. That would solve a problem for parents with young children that are not yet of school age.

    Camden does not have a park – outside of schools – that are closed to outsiders during the school year – for young children. I think it’s time to proceed with a park on the Tannery property and take this distraction off the table – where it’s consumed untold hours of citizen’s, select board member’s and town employee’s time that could be better spent elsewhere.

    Camden has a lack of workforce housing, as articulated by the current Select Board. Do you agree, and if so, what remedies would you suggest?

    I went into detail about my housing concerns above, as I feel it’s a major concern for ours and so many other towns in Maine (and nationwide). I wish I could use this space to come up with a quick, easy solution – especially for workforce housing – but I’m afraid there is no simple solution. And it’s a serious problem.

    Even town employees that have good well paid jobs, (our police and fire staffs for example), have a difficult time finding homes locally and often have substantial commutes. After a while one starts to wonder if the cost and time spent commuting is worth it. And for those that are looking at beginning wages that small businesses have to pay to survive – it’s a huge dilemma. I’m open to hearing any and all ideas and I have spent much time looking at other municipalities for any solutions that have surfaced elsewhere. This is certainly the hardest question to answer on the list.

    Camden has been governed by a five-member select board for decades (it once was a three-person board) but in recent years has informally discussed moving to a city council form of government. What is your opinion having a select board vs. a council form of government?

    I so appreciate the Select Board as opposed to a council form of government. Yes, it would be easier for the elected officials to operate as a council – and make many more decisions that the voters have no say in – but I appreciate that the Select Board helps manage the town but requires the voters to make so many final decisions. I believe in the people having the final say. However, in order for the process to work properly – the voters need to be well educated about what they’re voting on. If the town’s citizens aren’t interested in learning about the candidates, the initiatives and the issues – then let’s move to a town council where hopefully serious, involved and knowledgeable elected officials make hopefully excellent decisions.

    Once again – let the people decide – but I prefer the Select Board town management style of government – even though it makes the Select Board members’ jobs more difficult and complex. But that’s ok in my book.

     In 2013, Camden voters approved a $2 million bond to complement a $4.5 million private fundraising effort to fund a redevelopment project at the Camden Snow Bowl, including the construction of a new lodge. To date, a new lodge has not been constructed. Should a new lodge be built?

    When the town voted to authorized the Siemens company to work on fixing much of the town’s heating and cooling infrastructure (the work solved major problems at the library, the public service building and the town office / opera house building) we on the Select Board at the time also included installing a geothermal system for the lodge at the Snow Bowl as part of the proposal.

    The geothermal system installed certainly has made a major difference in the current lodge but was planned and built with the ability to supply heat and air-conditioning for a new lodge. We were thinking ahead. The unfortunate side of this is that when the redevelopment was done at the Snow Bowl (before my time on the board) major mistakes were made that ended up using funds that were hoped to be used for a new lodge.

    Now many years later as we deal with warmer winters and less snow I believe we need to focus on making the Snow Bowl a more active year-round attraction. A half dozen years ago there was an investigation about making the Snow Bowl a summer mountain biking park – adjusting the lifts to take both riders and bikes up the mountain & expanding bike trails – as has been done successfully in other New England ski areas. Once we can envision year round expanded uses of the property then we should realistically look at what kind and size of lodge makes sense…and build it!

    Where is your favorite place in Camden?

    I’ve answered this question before and my answer hasn’t changed. I love the harbor, main street, the Snow Bowl, Mt. Battie and so many other wonderful parts of Camden – but most of all – I love that my home is here. Home is my favorite place and I’m over the moon that my home is in Camden.

    Free space! Please add additional thoughts as you see fit.

    Becoming a Select Board member usually creates an unusual situation. Candidates that are elected for their first term have a very long education in learning the job and for such an important job come with no specific experience for it. I’m concerned that our current Select Board members not running in this election have 2 years, 1 year and 1 year on the job. Depending on this election we might not have any long term experienced members on the job. I’m the only person – on the board – or running for the board – that has worked with three different Camden town managers, and many different town directors and employees.

    I have long and varied business management experience that I bring to the job and many I feel would say that I brought a calming influence to the board when I previously served. From my answers above I hope it’s understood that I look at all sides of the issues, research them, and know that most often our situations do not have exact, simplistic answers and compromise is both necessary and the best solution for the majority of the citizens and the town itself.