On the issues

Rockport Select Board Candidate Douglas Cole

Sun, 08/16/2020 - 6:15pm

    On August 18, voters in Rockport will choose two of three candidates 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, Candidate Douglas Cole discusses his position on various topics.

     Please provide a biography of yourself

    I have served on the Rockport Select Board for three years following retirement from my surgical practice at Pen Bay Medical Center. 

    I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and during my childhood I lived briefly near Philadelphia.  My high school years were spent in New Haven, Connecticut.  I graduated from Syracuse University and received my M.D. from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia.

    I did my surgical training in Burlington, Vermont, and Buffalo, New York.  When I finished my training in Buffalo in 1985, my wife Pat and I moved to Rockport to begin my practice.  In 1991, I received one of the first online master’s degree in hospital administration from the University of Wisconsin in Madison.


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

    I believe that the 3 most pressing issues currently facing Rockport are:

    1. Encouraging more business growth in the appropriate areas of town in order to help keep our property taxes down;

    2. Restarting the process of updating our Comprehensive Plan which has been on hold because of the coronavirus; and,
    3. Continuing to catch up on the  deferred maintenance for our infrastructure

    I will refer back to these areas in answering the remainder of the questions.

    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?           


    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?

    With regard to juggling expenses and setting budgets, the primary three services that residents of a small town want are:

    1) public safety;

    2) maintenance of the town's existing infrastructure; and

    3) good education for their children.

    Of these three, the Select Board only has control over the public Safety and infrastructure.  In general, anything beyond these three needs to be considered as "discretionary spending", for lack of a better term. 

    There are many projects that when taken individually are well intentioned (and the list is endless), but when taken together and with no attention to a plan that prioritizes them, they can creates an undue tax burden on the citizenry.

    It is critical that the select board focus on the public safety and infrastructure. As these areas are addressed, the select board needs to work with an updated comprehensive plan and the capital budget committee to prioritize the other requests.


    Rockport's economy has roots in agriculture, fishing, artisanship, boatyards, the arts, education and health care. How will you protect and encourage those legacy sectors?

    Our comprehensive plan does a good job of representing the communities wishes in maintaining a working harbor, support for the arts, as well as education, and healthcare.  As the plan is updated I have every expectation that these community values will be continue to be recognized and provide a good road map for the town in general and more specifically, for the Planning Board and new businesses wanting to come to town. 

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

     Rockport has some decisions to make with regard to its position relative to Rockland, Camden, and Belfast. If we want to continue to limit our tax increases in the future, we are going to need to increase our business tax base in town.  Without this increase in the tax base, businesses will set up in neighboring towns, leaving Rockport to become more and more of a residential community. 

    As this happens, the only way to keep up with inflationary costs is to increase the personal property tax.  As much as some people might hope, we can’t continue to be a sleepy bedroom community with many non-resident taxpayers and a lagging business base. We need to attract businesses that will provide year round jobs and provide services to the year round residents.


    What municipal committee would you like to be a liaison to, and why?

    I am currently the board liaison to the following groups: Parks & Beautification committee, Finance Committee, Library Committee, RES Redevelopment Committee, and the Planning Board.

    I feel that my most significant contributions have been in dusting off and restarting the RES Redevelopment Committee and revitalizing the Parks and Beautification Committee. Good for business, good for taxes, good for tourism.


    What is your vision for the RES property?

    Many citizens of Rockport recognize that the large piece of real estate at the corner of Commercial Street and Route 90 is the “Gateway to Our Community.” Over the years, the RES site has been extensively studied by various citizen groups and town committees.

    The findings and recommendations from these groups have been consistent regarding the following four principles:

    1. Development of this property must result in a significant contribution to Rockport’s tax base.
    2. The project should be aesthetically pleasing and attractive as it welcomes residents and tourists alike to the central portion of our town, particularly if they are arriving by the important rte. 90 corridor.
    3. “Green space” must be maintained, incorporated, and nurtured in the project so that it is accessible for all residents of Rockport to enjoy.
    4. The town must be an active partner the development of the property so that decisions are not simply ones of “dollars and cents”, but that they take into account the shared values of all the citizens of the town and their visions for it.

    In an effort to answer the well-worn question of “What to do with the old RES site?”, we assembled a working group comprised of select board members, town management and business leaders to identify what was the highest and best use of the property. The group determined that it would be a mixed use combination of professional/retail space and residential units maintaining significant green space.  We are now just beginning to identify organizations with the vision, financial depth, and experience to partner with the town in bringing this vision to reality. 


    How do you envision the future of solid waste processing for the four towns; i.e., recycling, waste stream reduction?

    Our Midcoast Solid Waste Facility has a lot going on right now.  In June of next year our contract with Eco Maine expires and there will be multiple decisions that need to be made about how our towns manage our waste.

    With the collapse of the Chinese recycling markets we will need to be more responsible in managing the waste that we create. Part of this strategy should probably include a long overdue move to single stream recycling. Fortunately we have a very capable new manager at MCSW and a board who are working diligently to help guide us in making the right decisions.


    The Camden-Rockport Pathways Committee has proposed a longterm plan for safer and healthier pedestrian and bicyclist provisions. Have you read that plan and do you support it? 

    I am a strong supporter of our town promoting walking and biking pathways. The long term strategic plan from the Pathways Committee, however, seems cumbersome and overly complex.  Perhaps more successful outcomes would be obtained by taking on smaller projects and being more focused. I would also like to see a plan for long term maintenance and upkeep for the pathways.

    How best should all Rockport citizens access high-speed, broadband internet?

    My thinking about high speed internet for the town has been slowly evolving.  Quite a few years ago (an eternity in technology years), the residents were not interested in pursuing high speed internet (HSI).  Much has changed during these years, as has my thinking.  I believe there now may be opportunities for the town to implement high speed internet at minimal costs to the taxpayers. If HSI helps attracts new businesses to town, it would be a big plus.  There is currently a work group exploring these issues and I look forward to hearing their recommendations.

    Camden and Rockport now share a police chief and an assessor. Are there other cost-sharing arrangements that Rockport could do, with Rockport or other towns, to spread the staffing responsibilities; e.g., share a planner? Public works director?

    The current arrangements whereby we share both the police chief and assessor with Camden has worked well.  Other shared services include EMS and Midcoast Solid Waste, and these also work well, although they are more difficult to administer because they involve more parties.  We should always be ready to explore shared services if they have the potential to provide similar or better service at a reduced cost to the taxpayers.

    What do you see as the future of EMS service for Rockport?

    This is a topic fraught with conflict between people’s expectation and the reality of budget constraints. While I do have some personal thoughts on the issue, for the moment I would like to await the findings and recommendations of the newly assembled EMS evaluation group before making up my mind.


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

    I have been very fortunate to be a part of these exciting times. I would welcome the opportunity to serve one more term on the select board.  Rockport is in very good condition right now and I have enjoyed being a part of that.  

    When I first ran for select board I stated that I felt that the three things that Rockport citizens want from their government are 1) infrastructure maintenance, 2) public safety, and 3) good education for the children.   

    I continue to feel that way and hope to be re-elected on August 18.