On June 14, voters in Rockport will choose one of two candidates — Denise Munger and Jim Annis — to serve a three-year term on the Rockport Select Board. 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, incumbent Candidate Denise Munger discusses her position on various topics.
1) Please provide a biography of yourself and explain why you decided to seek a seat on the Select Board.
Having become empty nesters in 2015, my husband and I moved to Midcoast Maine, a place we had known and loved for over 30 years. I had recently retired from practicing environmental law. We raised our family in Colorado, with annual vacations in Midcoast Maine with grandparents; our daughter went to college in Maine, and our son now lives and works in Maine.
We chose Rockport for its beauty, small town feel and strong sense of community. I quickly became involved in community activities and Town committees. This included running for the open Select Board position in 2019. I have enjoyed working for the residents of Rockport these past three years and would like to continue that work, we have a number of complex projects looming for Rockport, that would benefit from continuity; the current Select Board works well together while representing diverse viewpoints within the community. My legal background involved working on contentious issues that were best resolved by negotiations and that has been helpful in addressing key issues for the Town.
I care about the quality of life in Rockport, I am a good listener and consider my role on the Select Board as one of being responsive to the residents – what do they want and how do we accomplish that? I also believe in fiscal responsibility and work hard to make sure Town expenses are only what is necessary to conduct the work of the Town, since we owe our residents a duty of being careful with their hard earned tax money.
2) What are the three most pressing issues facing Rockport today, and how would you like to see them resolved?
The first issue is the wastewater situation with Camden. This needs to be addressed, both on the financial front and the long term treatment issues. I discuss this in more detail below.
A second critical issue is the impacts of climate change, both from sea level rise and the impacts on our harbor area and important businesses that depend on our harbor, and increased stormwater flow from the more frequent violent rainstorms. We have rebuilt the seawalls, but at very high tides, seawater continues to wash into the harbor park area, so more remains to be done. Also, stormwater flow from more frequent violent rainstorms is doing damage, washing out roads and culverts with increasing frequency. We must work with local experts on how to ensure we are building and maintaining roads and stormwater flow systems to withstand these more frequent storms.
A third critical issue is addressing the change to our fire/EMS system presented by the aging out of our amazing volunteer firefighters and changes in local ambulance services. Rockport has been blessed by having a number of dedicated, skilled volunteer firefighters, long after our neighboring towns moved to full time firefighters, but we will have to consider the need for full time firefighters to address the loss of many of our experienced volunteers. This anticipated change has been the discussion of a working group and we will need to hear about the recommendations from this group.
3) How will you protect the Rockport taxpayer as you shape and govern a municipal budget, and juggle various interests that request municipal funding throughout the year?
We simply must look for efficiencies and cost savings everywhere we can find them. Our taxpayers work hard for their money, and they deserve a Town government that provides the services they want but also keeps their taxes as low as possible. Grant funding and other sources of revenue are important. Increased use of technology to support our employees and make them more efficient is important. We have increased Town planning and permit fees to ensure that the users of those services are paying the true cost of those services. Harbor fees and Opera House fees have been increased to move those Town assets towards being revenue neutral.
4) Housing is at a premium for most middle class working families, and like most other places in the country, Rockport has few homes or land parcels left for families who want to put down roots in town. What should Rockport do to encourage alleviate housing pressures? Adjust zoning to encourage housing density? Allow accessory dwellings on residential lots? Encourage affordable housing?
The recently passed state statute, LD 2003 [An Act To Implement the Recommendations of the Commission To Increase Housing Opportunities in Maine by Studying Zoning and Land Use Restrictions], has some of these features, including provisions for accessory dwelling units and increased housing density. As the Select Board liaison to the Ordinance Review Committee, we are reviewing this new legislation to consider its impact in Rockport and what steps we should take to implement it. Increased density not only could help alleviate the acute housing shortage we face, but it can also help with our tax bills – more people sharing and paying for our Town services. I think the RES parcel as addressed below, could be an opportunity to explore opportunities for increased housing in Rockport, as well.
5) Should the sewer system be expanded along Route 90 to West Rockport?
This project would help economic development along Route 90 and would make possible the potential housing/village development near routes 90 and 17, but we must obtain significant grant funding to make this project a reality.
6) How do you see Rockport positioned in the larger regional Midcoast economy?
Rockport is a hub in this area and provides many services, with the regional hospital and related healthcare services, as well as our many other local businesses. Smart, targeted business development can help expand our tax base and provide some relief to our residential taxpayers. We have an active Economic Development committee that is currently working on a project to talk with our existing businesses about what support they need to enhance their success in Rockport. I support this type of ground up approach and listening to our businesses to improve and strengthen what we have.
7) What future do you envision for the RES parcel?
We’re still in the process of gathering public input on the RES site and hearing from all of our residents about what they would like to see happen at the RES site. I personally would like to see the site generate tax revenue for the Town and include much needed housing for young families, seniors, and workers. Additional housing would improve the Rockport tax base, would increase users on the sewer which would keep those rates down, would allow us to find good employees for the town and our local businesses, and would allow young families to take advantage of our excellent local schools and build depth to our community. However, as a Select Board member, I am looking forward to the recommendations of our partner, NewHeight Group, based on their discussions with the community and hearing further community input on those recommendations.
8) What are your thoughts on the current impasse with Camden concerning wastewater disposal? And what is your assessment of the idea of building Rockport’s own facility, as opposed to sending wastewater to Camden and Rockland?
I believe that with the right people in the room we can resolve the sewer fee issue with Camden. We both want a reasonable, fair solution for our respective sewer users and rate payers.
Camden has expressed concern publicly with whether their wastewater treatment plant has the capacity to handle Rockport’s wastewater for the long term. This is a new concern, although, as a result, we have begun evaluating the option of building our own treatment plant to address wastewater flows that would otherwise go to Camden. We are in the early stages of this evaluation, so in the meantime, we will need to work with Camden to find an interim solution. We are currently discussing wastewater treatment with Rockland as our agreement with them is up for renewal. Those discussions are going well. In general, I think there is benefit to Rockport to work together with Camden and Rockland to share municipal services when that can be agreed on and worked out fairly to each town.
9) There is a longtime perception that Rockport Village receives more financial investment and attention from the town than the other areas of Rockport — Glen Cove, Rockville, West Rockport and Simonton Corner. Do you find that to be the case? If so, how should the town address the imbalance?
I haven’t seen any evidence of this disparity. In fact, a quick review of the Town budget shows that 40% of the Town’s budget is for police, fire and ambulance services, which benefit all residents equally. Another 44% of the Town’s budget is for the Department of Public Works, the lion’s share of that budget goes to road maintenance and snow plowing and reflects the many miles of road throughout Rockport’s large geographic area. Town administration (5% of the budget) includes assessing, the Town clerk, finance and the Town manager, again areas that all residents benefit from. The remaining Opera House, Parks, Harbor, and Library is 11% of the budget. These are public areas owned by the town and maintained for the benefit of all residents.
But the fact that some residents have this perception, tells me that we need to do a better job of making sure all residents in Rockport feel part of the Town, feel that the Town works for them, and that their concerns and interests are valued. My work with Legacy Rockport has taught me much about the history of Rockport and the historic importance and value of each of these areas. I also think we have big issues to address in Rockport and the stronger we are together, the more successfully we can navigate these present and future challenges.
10) Should the town build a parking lot at the head of the harbor near the Goose River Bridge, as currently proposed?
This project needs further evaluation and needs to be part of a comprehensive review of downtown parking options. There has been a task force working on parking options, but the pandemic slowed that work down, and the Select Board has been waiting to hear an update from that Task Force.
11) Rockport is bisected by three state highways with heavy traffic: routes 1, 17 and 90. How does the town maintain public safety and a sense of community along these busy roads, which are also home to many residents?
This is a continuing challenge since these roads are all controlled by Maine DOT, which leaves the Town will little control over speeds and other features that might contribute to a sense of community. More recently there has been renewed focus on building a bike path on route 90 to the high school, which for that section of route 90 would be a wonderful addition. We have an energetic and focused Pathways Committee that is working on this and finding funding sources. We do need to work with DOT on the intersection at 90 and 17; this is an unsafe intersection and needs to be redesigned for safety, and to support nearby efforts to create village-like communities.
12) Where is your favorite place in Rockport?
Harbor Park – I love to see families and other residents enjoying this beautiful community space.
13) Free space!
I have been working hard on bringing high speed, affordable internet to all in Rockport. Last summer Rockport entered into an agreement with Camden, and subsequently Thomaston and Rockland, to form the Midcoast Internet Development Corporation, a broadband utility under state law. This makes us eligible to receive state and federal grant funding to expand internet in the Midcoast area, including Rockport. In addition, the nonprofit community utility would also own the fiber internet, which would allow us to keep the cost of internet service low since it would not need to generate a profit to pay its stockholders, as current for profit internet companies must do.
The pandemic highlighted the importance of our residents of having access to affordable, high speed internet. Such necessary access allows for telemedicine, new educational opportunities by remote learning, and increased year round residents who are now able to work remotely from Rockport. Such opportunities are only as good as the internet available, and unfortunately for many parts of Rockport, our residents have not been able to participate in these opportunities as much as they would have liked because of the limits of affordable internet service.
I have worked hard for the residents of Rockport during my time on the Select Board, I have listened to our residents to make sure that our Town government works for them and would like the opportunity to continue working for our residents on the challenging issues that we face in the coming years.