On the issues: Rockport Select Board Candidate Debra Hall

Wed, 06/06/2018 - 8:45am

Penobscot Bay Pilot has posed questions to each candidate running for the Rockport Select Board, providing the opportunity for the public to better understand their position on issues important to the town and region. The candidate responses are posted as they are returned, and are collected on the Pilot’s June Town Meeting/Elections Resource Page.


 

1) Please provide a concise biography of yourself, including where you grew up, schooling and professional experience.

I grew up in Illinois and have lived in Rockport for nearly 20 years with my husband, a Maine native, and our two yellow labradors. With a law degree and 35 years of international experience in financial services, business, government regulation and executive management, I am currently a reinsurance industry arbitrator and expert witness. I also co-own a software technology business which developed patented software which is being pursued in the areas of education, finance, ministry and senior living. 

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

In addition to resolving and moving forward with the longstanding “library issue,” I believe that economic development of Rockport and surrounding areas is of utmost importance.

Given the ever-increasing tax burden we face, long-time residents, retired people and working people are finding it more difficult to live in Rockport. We need to expand the tax base and find new and innovative ways to bring revenue to our area.

Though the 2004 Comprehensive Plan recommended the appointment of a committee focused on this task, one has never been established. Secondly, we need to understand how to keep our young people here.

With a steadily aging population we need to listen and better understand what our young people want to see to make Rockport a desirable, vital place to live.

And thirdly, we should be exploring the options of bringing improved technology to Rockport — not at an even greater cost to taxpayers already burdened with too much tax — but through grants and other innovative measures that will actually lower residents’ cash outflow while expanding economic growth, keeping young people here and assisting seniors with access to healthcare and monitoring in their own homes.

3) How will you protect the taxpayer as you shape and govern a municipal budget, and juggle various interests that request municipal funding throughout the year?
The budget preparation for the 2018-2019 fiscal year was somewhat painful from the perspectives of the Budget Committee and the Select Board, as anyone who attended the meetings or watched the livestream meetings, as I did, readily knows.

Participants believe that the process needs to start much earlier in the fiscal year, a notion I support, and significant issues determined earlier, such as whether budget caps (i.e. often discussed as LD-1) should be adhered to and major goals identified. We should develop ways to more easily gauge the view of voters and their priorities at no cost to the Town, including online surveys.

The Select Board should stay close to the services that a municipality should be providing as opposed to being all things to all people. Planning and reserving for anticipated and unanticipated are key to the process.

Penobscot Bay Pilot has posed questions to each candidate running for the Rockport Select Board, providing the opportunity for the public to better understand their position on issues important to the town and region.

There are three seats available on the Select Board: two three-year terms currently held by Owen Casas and Ken McKinley.

There is also a one two-year seat available, following the resignation of Tom Gray last winter.

Ken McKinley is seeking that seat.

The candidates are responding with their individual written answers.

John Alexander

Jeff Hamilton

Debra Hall

4) Do you support the construction of a new public library at 1 Limerock Street?
Yes. The location has been decided by the Select Board, the current architectural plans have received widespread and enthusiastic support and the Select Board is, and should continue to be, steadfast in holding to the $1.5 million bond previously supported by the majority of those responding to the Town survey.

Private fundraising activities are underway and should fund the gap between the bond and the actual cost, not the taxpayers. 

5) Should Rockport invest in a municipally owned fiber network so that all residents have access to high-speed internet?
I led a successful effort in the past to bring fiber optic to 541 homes and those residents are universally supportive of that undertaking having now experienced the results. As noted above, high-speed internet is important to economic development, creation of jobs, retention of our young people, expanding educational opportunities and improving life for everyone, including tele-health for our seniors who face transportation obstacles.

That said, in everything the Town does, the question must be raised “ At what cost?”

The Town should explore, in consultation and coordination with their residents, available options for delivering high speed internet access that will result in lower monthly cash expenditures, not increased cost. These models exist. But the elected officials need to not get ahead of the voters or dictate to the voters on this or any other issue.

Last time, there was one option on the table — municipally owned high speed internet — my view is that we need to keep our options open for all of the different ways to achieve what we, as a Town, decide are our goals.

6) How do you see Rockport positioned in the larger regional Midcoast economy?
Certain towns, including Rockport, are in a position to help facilitate and provide thought leadership in the development of the Midcoast economy.

As noted above, I believe this is one of the most important issues that we now face. We live in a desirable, wonderful place but the population is aging, the young people continue to leave and taxes are becoming, in many instances, an unsustainable burden. Rockland has remade itself into an arts-focused community.

Rockport should, as part of our economic initiatives, consider what “niche” we might occupy while maintaining our current identity as a charming coastal community. We need to make economic development in our area a major goal — if we don’t  then who will? 

7) Is Rockport’s zoning adequate enough to sustain economic vitality and quality of life?
My position is quite clear with respect to the need to focus on economic growth and make Rockport a vital community for young people, prospective residents and seniors alike. Whether Rockport’s zoning is an obstacle to achieving that result is something I am not prepared to opine on at this point.

This is an example of why we need to put into place the 2004 Comprehensive Plan recommendation to establish an economic development committee which will have but one goal — to focus on developing and sustaining economic vitality while improving and preserving our quality of life. Of course, zoning, like many other factors would be a part of that effort.

8) What municipal committee would you like to be a liaison to, and why?
For reasons I have expressed publicly and in this profile, I am very interested in economic development and would like to work with residents and businesses toward that goal. I have experience in a number of areas that can contribute to the library construction and high speed internet initiatives.

One of my career strengths is long-term planning and strategy so I am interested in the work on updating the Rockport Comprehensive Plan. I should also note that I believe that the Select Board should revisit the committee and liaison structure to make sure that we have the most efficient process that encourages community involvement and does not inhibit people from volunteering their time to be on the Select Board or part of the Town’s committees.

9) Camden and Rockport now share a police chief and an assessor. Are there other cost-sharing arrangements that Rockport could do, with Camden or other towns, to spread the staffing responsibilities; e.g., share a planner? Public works director?
I support cost-sharing initiates between Rockport and Camden or with other towns where it makes sense to do so. We need to find more ways to cooperate and share resources to ease the tax burden and deliver services efficiently and smartly.

I am not prepared at this point to identify any specific staffing responsibilities as more information needs to be available and examined.

10) How will you approach developing a vision and plan for the 4.5-acre RES site?
As noted above, there should be an active, no cost, process to gauge the views of Rockport residents like online surveys. I utilize resources like Survey Monkey on a regular basis in my business at little to no cost and Rockport can be nimble and expansive enough to do the same.

Other options include holding informal think tank evenings for people to submit ideas of what they would like to see at this very important site. Being very much engaged in “Deeper Learning” and “Project-based” education in my business, I would love to see Rockport students challenged with submitting ideas as well. This could be a project that could excite and invigorate the Town! I have my own ideas of what might be an exciting use which would be mixed residential (affordable housing) and business designed to add to the vitality of the community but I don’t want to be more specific until we undertake this effort in an inclusive way.

11) Free space for anything else you’d like voters to know about you and your positions on municipal issues!
I have contributed to the Town of Rockport on technology matters the past two years, have been President of a local charitable board of directors the past 8 years, and have provided pro bono (free) legal work to local individuals and organizations in all of the communities in which I have lived over the past 35 years. I have been president of large homeowner associations for more than a decade and was an elected, uncompensated Village Clerk in Long Grove Illinois. 

My husband, and my (87 and 92-year old) parents who live with us, love this community. We want to retain all that is good about this area but we also want to see Rockport vital, economically growing and sustainable for those who live, and want to live here. I have innovated solutions throughout my career, prepared and administered multi-million budgets and led teams that were outcome-focused. My strengths include strategic thinking, innovation, inclusiveness and analysis, listening to all sides — all things I do every day as an arbitrator —but the ability to make timely decisions and live with them.