Penobscot Bay Pilot has posed questions to each candidate running for Rockland City Council, providing the opportunity for the public to better understand their positions on issues. There are five candidates competing for two seats, both of them three-year terms. The candidates are Sarah Austin, Ian Emmott, Adam Lachman, Louise MacLellan and Ryan Smith. Candidates responding with their individual written answers will have their responses stored in the Pilot’s 2020 Election Resource Guide.
Please provide a concise biography of yourself
I’m 37 years old, married, father of one and a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard. I was raised in a single-parent household by my mother who worked for over 30 years in customer service. She raised my brother and I to love the country that welcomed our family from Albania and Greece. I am third-generation American and thankful everyday I live in the greatest country in the world.
Before joining the military at 19, I worked as a laborer, dishwasher, landscaper and a mechanic. In the service I was a diesel mechanic when there was a problem, and search and rescue when there was a bigger problem. After the military I was a marine mechanic until I entered college, and after classes I worked on and off in a friends autobody shop fixing up old cars to sell online for income. I attended college on the Montgomery GI Bill because I did not have the money myself.
Now in my 30s, I have worked the last five years at the department of veterans affairs with disabled veterans ensuring they receive the benefits they have earned from service to our nation. Since 2018, I have been a member of the Rockland Historical Society Board of Directors preserving and promoting our city’s history.
I have offered affordable housing in this city since 2006, and have always offered my units under market value. There has been much discussion about affordable housing, and I have put my money where my mouth is because I do not believe in squeezing every last dollar out of a tenant for profit. I want to bring this perspective to the Council because I do not believe in squeezing every last dollar out of taxpayers either.
What are Rockland's greatest strengths, and how do you hope to maintain them?
Our community hands down is our greatest strength. Living here I have been amazed how the community rallies around those in need fighting an illness or raising funds for people in dire straits. I hope to maintain this in my own way by doing what I can either by offering a helping hand or a donation.
What are Rockland's greatest problems to address?
The blue-collar middle class who live and raise families here has been dwindling. I hail from working class roots and that is why we moved back here, but it has really changed the last 15 years. I have five houses that surround mine, and only one of those homes are year-round. Rockland has been discovered and we need to find a way to mitigate losing our identity as a great place to raise a family versus a great place to own a summer home and park money. What contribute to this is a host of issues from lack of affordable housing, economic development and high cost of living in the form of rent and taxes.
What is your vision for Rockland Harbor and where do cruise ships fit into that vision.
I want to be part of the council that finally gets the Waterfront Redevelopment Plan going to revitalize the Tillson Ave area in collaboration with the Rockland Port District. I do not care for larger cruise ships but am OK with the smaller ones that do not detract from the harbor’s natural beauty.
How best should Rockland address the current housing shortage?
By revisiting the current short-term rental ordinance. It may be time for us to no longer permit non owner occupies rentals in the community.
A recent revaluation resulted in higher home valuations and taxes. How will you help those homeowners facing a precipitous increase in property taxes?
If I won last year, I would have argued for my council peers to postpone implementation until at least after the pandemic. Since it is in the process of being implemented, there is no immediate solution aside from economic development to grow our tax base and rely less on property taxes each budget season. However, I do have a plan for elder relief that I would like to work on (see bottom of page).
Is the city on the right path in experimenting with designs for streetscapes and public spaces during this pandemic?
It’s a nightmare as a resident to drive through downtown. Aside from the lack of communication implementing the current configuration, I believe it was a necessary measure to prevent any additional economic collapse.
Do you endorse the zoning change to allow a new nursing home to be built on Old County Road?
100%... this provides a new facility that will replace the aging one and provide over $300,000 in tax revenue to the city. However, we will need to evaluate the traffic impact study that has not been completed yet and mitigate the residents’ concerns raised about development in this area.
Should the Flanagan Center continue collaborating with the YMCA? Would a City Recreation Department make more sense?
Yes, I support and would continue the YMCA contract and would vote to renew it for another five years. I spoke to the YMCA director, read the contract, and spoke city leadership on this issue. The YMCA was completely blindsided by calls for the city to not renew this contract, and they learned about it in a news release. This contract saves the city over $100,000 dollars in comparison to city administration. It also reduces human resources pay and benefits paperwork and provides excellent services to our residents. There is no rational reason to not renew this contract.
What is the importance of local government, and how do you see yourself, as a city councilor, in it?
It is important for local government to be reflective of the community at large and not just one particular group within the community. I see myself as a voice to those who are struggling to pay their taxes, frustrated about limited housing, or feel current policy discussions is not reflective what people need right now.
What more can city government do to help a community and its small businesses cope with a vulnerable economy during a threatening pandemic?
The city is doing everything it can to help business. Main St. was closed for a while in June, then it gets opened back up with little communication. Suddenly, overnight road blocks show up with no advance notice. While very frustrating, residents for the most part deal with these adjustments to help business owners. On the flip side there has been little effort to help people stay in their homes for the thousands who pay taxes and rent to keep a roof over their heads. Generous loans have been offered to keep businesses afloat. Meanwhile, homeowners received increased home evaluations in the last few months causing many additional extreme hardships in the middle of a pandemic! You can’t make this stuff up and its absolutely unacceptable. The city needs to promote the Katherine Haines Fund immediately right next to the business loans on the city’s home page. Relief is there for those reading this, you just need to dig around. Please consider applying for the Katherine Haines fund if you need help, your roof is leaking, or are facing foreclosure. These applications can be obtained at City Hall, but I will warn you it is extensive and requires income verification. There was over $320,000 in this fund as of last week.
How do you see Rockland fitting into the greater regional economy and culture, and how would you like develop that?
That’s a tough vision to develop right now because of the business closures. Let’s see how our region looks after the winter and how the landscape has changed and what new businesses open up. I would like to see the Waterfront Redevelopment Plan finally implemented on Tillson Ave. If implemented, this plan would grow our tax base and help reduce reliance on property taxes.
Where are your favorite places to spend time in the Rockland community?
My daughter (and campaign manager) LOVES schooner wharf. She’s only 14 months, but I take her down there to see the schooners get underway and moor up and she loves it. Aside from that we spend allot of time on the harbor trail going for long walks. She just started walking last week!
Free space! Anything else you'd like to say to the voters that we haven’t considered?
Since losing the election last year I still have not stopped thinking about ways we can help our seniors. With the new long-term care facility being considered on Old County Road the City will have an additional $300,000 in taxes. It would be possible to create a TIF around this new development and fund an elder tax relief and reimbursement program. This proposal would be legal if we administer it through public assistance office. The state would still need to approve this proposal but I believe we have a good shot at getting it done and its fiscally responsible. The issue with the tax deferral program is that it can be a budgeting nightmare for the city if there is a second mortgage taken out after the tax deferral. Even worse, there is a lien placed on your home with interest, and I know I would not like that.
Thank you for taking the time to read my profile and please consider me when you cast your ballot.