Town Administrator's Contract Discussed in Second Half of Wednesday's Candidate Forum
The Portsmouth Concerned Citizens (PCC) held a political forum Wednesday night at Portsmouth Middle School.
The Portsmouth Concerned Citizens (PCC) held a political forum Wednesday evening at Portsmouth Middle School. Both Town Council and School Committee candidates answered questions from both the PCC and public. Jeff Richard served as moderator.
Each candidate was given a two-minute response time. Below are excerpts from the second part of the three-part forum. The Town Council candidates were divided into two separate groups. The following are answers from second group of Town Council candidates.
In the 2008-2009 audit, the last audit done for the town, it contains a large shortfall in future pensions, healthcare and retirement reimbursements. The existing health care programs are pay-as-you-go models and do not have investment funds to defeat costs. If elected, how would you deal with this problem?
Michael A. Buddemeyer: "In 2011, we will have to pay into the pension account. Only through negotiations, will we ensure ourselves to not have a deficit with these pension accounts."
Leonard B. Katzman: "I would concur with Buddemeyer. The pension liability is not exclusively a Portsmouth or local issue. A lot of the structure of its design is based on state law. We have to work with our state government, with the General Assembly and governor's office, on how we structure these pensions. Not only in terms of funding, but the defined benefits plan. We have a lot of people who have worked for 20 or more years. We need to figure out how to transition from the current system to the system in 2011."
Stephen E. Larson: "The real problem … is there isn't enough money in the world to pay for all the commitments. We are facing a money bomb. It's getting worst every year. It's getting to the point no one can pay for anything anymore. We have to get realistic."
Joseph W. Robicheau: "I really think the only way to get out of the deficit is to declare bankruptcy. We need to a have a professional negotiator to get control of the pension benefits and medical benefits and go to either a 401K or IRA with matching funds, which the current council has been able to do with the current police and fire contracts."
James A. Seveney: "We're making changes to the contracts as they come up. Every step we take with contracts takes major steps for the future. As we move into the future, there is a potential out there. We are doing that. Every time we have a victory with a change of the ways things have been done … that will have implications in the future."
Judith J. Staven: "We did do something with the union negotiations. With people living longer and younger retirement ages, we need some hybrid 401K-benefit plan. I don't believe in pulling the rug out from under someone who has been working 20 years. Medical care costs are also out of control. That needs to change."
What is the most pressing issue dealing with future town budgets and how would you address it?
Staven: "We need to keep our budgets down. For our '04 budget, we had a zero tax increase. We need to do it. The problem with the budget is we are always having tax increases."
Seveney: "The only way out of this is to make a substantial change to the composition of our tax base. Ninety percent of that (tax base) is from private properties. There is not enough commercial or mixed-use as it is now called. Increasing our tourism business. Increasing our maritime business. We need to bring in transportation improvements. We have to change that tax base ratio."
Robicheau: "Jim made a lot of good points. The stage is set to make businesses contribute to the tax base. At the time, the economy is not on our side. I think that the only way we can do this is manage this in the future. My campaign pledge is to not go over the tax cap."
Larson: "There have been answers to the questions that are so broad. Obviously, personnel costs is a substantial portion of the budget and that's what we have to deal with."
Katzman: "The most pressing issue is the two things that make up the budget: revenue and expenditures. People need to remember something about the tax cap; it's not a cap on your taxes, it's a cap on your levy. We could be at the tax cap and not raise the budget a single penny because of growth in town. If the housing boom happens in town, I can be sure we will exceed the tax cap. We need to be careful when saying we can 'exceed the cap.' On the revenue side… That turbine is a green, clean, cash-making machine. We need to look at more initiatives like that."
Buddemeyer: "We need to encourage businesses to do businesses in our town. We can't continue to build homes throughout the town. That's the most pressing issue. We need to pursue revenue streams. Just making cuts doesn't make the problem go away."
The Department of Environmental Management (DEM) has recently fined the town. DEM has also ordered the town to submit the Woodward and Curran plan. Would you vote to submit this plan?
Buddemeyer: "You can't ignore them (DEM). I would have open negotiations with DEM. The plan for sewers is not good for the town. We need to open up conversations with DEM and explain that sewers is not the way to go. Ignoring them is the wrong course to take."
Katzman: "State law requires us to submit a wastewater management plan. We didn't submit one because this town council was too afraid because it had the word 'sewers' in it. Of course we submit the plan to DEM. It has the word sewer in it. There's nothing in that plan that address affordability. By the way, I would go to court to defend the rights of Portsmouth. All we need to do is have rational conversations with the DEM."
Larson: "I agree with Mr. Buddemeyer that we need to have open discussions with DEM. However, I don't think we should submit the plan. I don't think DEM has proved their case. They have not proved in anything I have read. That's not the way to go."
Robicheau: "The previous council allowed the town administrator to sign a contract with DEM for the grant money to help the town finance the current report. In that grant applications, in that contract, it says regardless of what the voters say, the town will abide by the Woodward and Curran report. We did not submit it because it had the word 'sewers' in it. We can't afford them. There will be a city at the north end of the island. The sky's the limit. I think further that DEM wants Portsmouth to get the cesspool replacement on the backs of the surrounding neighborhoods because they don't want to do it."
Seveney: "We have to submit a plan. The most interesting thing that any new council member will do is raise their hand and take an oath of office. Part of that oath is to comply with the state law of Rhode Island. It is law that you have to submit a facilities plan. We have a facilities plan. The recommended option in the plan is to create sewers. I don't support that option. We have to comply with state law, and submit the plan, with a cover letter that says Portsmouth has chosen Option 2—a wastewater management plan. We have to show DEM that we are serious with dealing with the pollution problem."
Staven: "We are not obligated by law to submit any plan to DEM. There's no dealing with DEM. … They want to fine us $200,000 and force us into putting in a sewer system. If it ends up in court, so be it. We can't do this. It will destroy our way of life. There are other costs than sewer systems. You have the tearing up of roads. You want to talk about budget problems – talk about putting in a sewer system."
Bureaucracy is an issue that all newly elected people will have to face, bureaucracy of people who have had jobs in the government structure. Sometimes, it's difficult for government people to control that bureaucracy, instead of the bureaucracy controlling them. What methods would you implement to carry out the will and direction of the Town Council?
Staven: "It's up to the Town Council to put in policies to maintain that."
Seveney: "If there is an issue of bureaucracy, the town charter is very clear. The town charter sets ordinances and controlling the action of the town employees. If there is an issue, then it is the town administrator's job to fix. His performance is judged and recorded. The town council deals with him."
Robicheau: "The town administrator reports to the town council. I'm going to insist as a town council member, I would see that he carries out his job as defined in the town charter."
Larson: "The key to having bureaucracy is to have a good leader. A good leader has to set expectations. A good leader has to make sure those expectations are met."
Katzman: "I just want to clarify what I said earlier…No sewers, no sewers, no sewers. The question is no sewers, how do we get there. There is a path to do that even using the wastewater management plan.
"The charter is clear. How you get things done is dealing with the town administrator. Bob Driscoll's contract expires in the term of the next council. I will remind him of that from day one."
Buddemeyer: "Everyone so far says we have a town administrator. He needs to be held accountable for the actions of town employees."
By a show of hands, have any of you ever been or currently involved with the PCC?
Staven and Robicheau raised their hands.