As a technician did a sound check for the Derry Town Council candidates, he asked each one to speak into their clip-on microphone. Albert Dimmock, who is running uncontested for District 4, quipped, “This is the first time anyone’s asked me to keep talking.” “If you ask Al to keep talking, we’ll be here all day,” said Tom Cardon, candidate for the District 2 seat.
It was all in good fun, backed by substance, when all five Town Council candidates plus one Library Trustee and one Town Clerk candidate braved Sunday’s snowfall to speak their minds on Channel 17’s annual “Political Connections” forum. Reporters from two local newspapers plus Channel 17’s Kimberly Haas asked questions of the candidates. The show will be rebroadcast this week on Cable Channel 17. David Nelson was moderator.
David Milz, in his first term as District 2 Councilor, has lived in Derry since 1987. A State Representative, he is on the Legislature’s Public Works Committee. “I enjoy what I do,” Milz said, and he urged other residents to “get involved, stay involved.” Joel Olbricht, incumbent Councilor At Large, has been a Derry resident since 1989. A Certified Public Accountant, he pointed to how his business experience had helped him in reviewing and “finding ways to lower” budgets. “I am collaborative and goal-driven,” he said.
Attorney Mark Osborne, who is vying for the At Large seat, said he is concerned about the “elderly and retired” who can no longer afford their homes. He noted that in driving in to the show that day, he saw seven empty storefronts, and called for better efforts for downtown and business. Cardon, a 23-year resident, is challenging Milz for the District 2 seat. A high school teacher, he’s been a department head and “understands budgets,” Cardon said. He has been politically involved in the town for years and is chair of the Energy and Environmental Advisory Committee. And tax increases are not acceptable to Cardon.
Dimmock said though he was running unopposed, he would still like to get votes as a mandate from his supporters. “I don’t just want to win as someone ‘unopposed,’” he said. “I am here to be the voice of the people.” The candidates were asked what the Council “could and should” do to control school spending.
Not much, according to MIlz. “Our hands are tied,” he said. “The School District is a completely separate government, we have no direct influence.” Milz pointed to joint meetings with the School Board and administration as a way to open dialogue, and said one of his goals was to put raises in “real numbers” so the public could understand.
Olbricht agreed, saying, “If we’re all in the same room, we can see each other’s issues.” But Osborne said that wasn’t working. “We’ve had three years to sit down with the schools,” he said. “You do not benefit the students by bankrupting their parents.” Osborne expressed concern that the School Board and administration worked hard to trim its budget requests, and a “minority” of taxpayers voted in an increase at the School District meeting.
“If the schools are not responsive to the needs of the community, it’s not unreasonable to sit down and review their expenses,” he said.
Cardon agreed there was nothing the Council can directly do. The fault is the SB2 form of government, he said.
Dimmock called for greater communication between the schools and the people who pay for them. “The people of Derry need to get in touch with School Board members,” he said. Being a city is too many years in the future to worry about now, Olbricht said. “It’s not, ‘Flip a switch and we’re a city.’ The immediate need is to fix the property tax. We can control this, but we need to be more cooperative and collaborative.”
Osborne said, “We don’t need a new form of government. We need new people involved in government.”
Cardon said he’d “always been opposed” to the idea of becoming a city, but was open to it now. But he too asked for a change in the board, noting, “We need people in place who are concerned about the way things are.’ Dimmock said he wasn’t necessarily in favor of city government, but added that the people should be allowed to vote on it.
And Milz said, “I am not in favor of it at this point in time. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to the School Board and reinstating the $800,000.” To a question about ecoomic development, Osborne said, “We can’t have solid economic growth unless we first address taxes. The more money you take out of private hands, the less you have to spend on Main Street. The $800,000 that was reinstated at the School District meeting that’s $800,000 worth of haircuts on Main Street.”
He was critical of the town’s recent purchase of a downtown lot, noting, “We need to have a vision – but we need to have it before we buy property.” Cardon had a pile of newspaper clippings dating back to 1990. “There’s been a lot of effort on economic development the past two decades, and we need to look at what hasn’t worked,” he said. “None of it has done any good,” Dimmock, who would represent the downtown area, said. “I don’t like he empty storefronts.”
Milz pointed to the work the town has done, including the Route 28 Tax Increment Finance (TIF) District and the recent widening, and the plan to bring water and sewer up Route 28 South. Regarding downtown he said, “We will try till we get it right.” Janet Fairbanks is challenging Town Clerk Denise Neale for the position. Asked how she would streamline the office, she said she has no issues with the way Neale runs it.
She would make sure it was staffed during lunch hour, pointing out that’s the only time some people have to run their Town Office errands. Fairbanks said she’s running because “no one should run unopposed,” and reductions in her work hours have freed up the time. Elizabeth Ives, current chair of the Derry Public Library trustees, said the library is second only to schools as the most important learning resource in a town.
When Asked about sharing systems between the Derry Public Library and the Taylor Library in East Derry, Ives said she would address the economic issue alone. At this point, she said, “I don’t see that it would save us any money.” It would cost money to combine the computer systems, Ives added, saying, “But that doesn’t preclude talking about it.” Both Milz and Cardon had suggested a shared system for the libraries to save money and streamline operations. Milz made it clear he did not support closing Taylor Library. Nelson read statements from School Board candidates Jeri Murphy, Melanie Davis and Brenda Willis.