Candidates Differ on Views of Proposed Safety Complex, Ambulance Outsourcing

March 6, 2015
 

by S. Aaron Shamshoyan

Incumbents, challengers, and returning candidates recently faced off during Salem Candidates’ Night, answering questions such as outsourcing services, development codes, and support for a proposed safety complex.

Three of four candidates for budget committee, incumbents Dane Hoover and Paul Huard, answered questions along with former budget committee challenger Patrick McDougall.

Hoover, a small business owner, is completing his first term and was chairman the past two years.

“We’ve done a pretty good job on the budget committee keeping our tax rate at a sustainable rate,” he said.

Huard, who moved to Salem in 1973, spent 33 years as a teacher and said he was glad to serve the town.

“I had a primary focus on senior citizens,” he said.  “The senior citizens are the people who built this town.”

McDougall formerly served on the board but resigned in 2012 after being arrested from an incident in his home where he was charged in obstructing government administration and interfering with paramedics trying to answer a 9-1-1 call made by his wife.  He served two days in county jail for the charges in January 2013.

He said he was a 15-year Salem resident seeking to keep taxes affordable for residents.

“We need to be fiscally responsible with the amount of money that we pay,” McDougall said.

Their positions on a $23 million proposal for a public safety complex to replace current police and fire facilities were made known.

Answering first, McDougall said he was opposed to the project because of the tax rate impact.

“I believe it is too expensive, I believe it is too large of a building.  I believe there are other intentions for this building,” he said.

Hoover agreed with McDougall, adding the project was needed but said it was not the right plan.

“We have a lot of needs in town, a lot of capital improvement projects we still have to do,” he said.  “I know they’re in serious need of renovations.”

Huard said he supported the plan and saw the urgency of the project to replace obsolete buildings.

“No doesn’t fix anything.  The police station can’t be renovated,” he said.  “A lot of things are going to change if this fails.”

He said opponents question the size of the facility but pointed out it was needed to support the size of the current police and fire departments.

The candidates were questioned about their support for outsourcing ambulance services in town, a project that was discussed by elected officials but determined to not be feasible.

“Manchester had a nightmare with outsourcing the ambulance,” said Huard.  “I like it the way it is here.”

Huard said cross-trained emergency responders and a reasonable cost were reasons to keep the service as it currently is.

But McDougall disagreed saying the current cost of ambulance services was too high and felt outsourcing would spur competition and allow for personnel reductions.

“As some of you may know, I feel the ambulance rate’s a little high in Salem,” he said referring to the charges brought against him after obstructing first responders from aiding his wife.

Hoover said he would have to see significant savings to consider a proposal on firefighters being cross-trained to work ambulances.

“It would have to be an incredible savings for me to want to change,” he said.

McDougall closed by saying that before his resignation he worked to block tax increases.

“I’ve advocated for you, the taxpayers, to prevent any increases in your taxes.”

Hoover said the town was facing a lot of tough decisions on capital projects, and it was important to balance the proposals.

“I think I‘ve done a good job over the last three years,” he said.

Huard said he was excited about the progress being made in town with capital improvements.

“I’m looking around Salem right now and I see life,” he said.  “We have those that see a silver lining in a dark cloud and we have those that see a dark cloud in a silver lining.”

Incumbent Robert Bryant could not attend the forum

Two of four candidates for Selectmen were also questioned regarding issues facing the town.

Incumbents Everett McBride and James Keller are seeking to be reelected to the two open seats on the board.

McBride, who has served 21 years on the board, said he led the charge to change Salem to a Senate Bill two form of government three years ago and worked to lower the tax rate by 21 cents over the past three years.

“We accomplished all the major projects that we needed to do,” he said, noting his support for the proposed public safety complex.

Keller, who is completing his first term, said he was a 25-year resident of Salem and spent 16 years on the planning board.

“It’s all about the balance of spending and getting what we need with the taxpayer dollars,” he said, adding he takes a business approach on the issues.

Questioned about support for the public safety complex, McBride said it was important to support the current proposal as the project won’t get any less expensive, citing a plan he worked on for another project which the cost multiplied over the years.

“Every half percent is a million dollars more on the bond,” he said, adding interest rates will increase.

Keller said specific plans for the project were not yet designed to save costs.

“We leveraged the plans that were put forth and invested in previously,” he said.  “The design is less important than the operational structure and the space allocation.”

He said the original plan had the building at $28 million and 60,000 square feet.  He said that was reduced where possible to the current proposal.

Candidates were asked what the impact to the town would be if the proposal failed.

“The two facilities have reached their end of life,” Keller said, adding the police department recently saw a partial ceiling collapse.

“We have a significant air quality issue in that building, there’s mold in that building.”

He said the fire department soils were eroding from beneath, leading to a sinking apparatus floor and cracking structure.

“If we do wait we will be forced to do something,” he said.  “I’d rather control our own destiny.”

McBride agreed with Keller saying the new plan would create a facility to last, comparing it to the water treatment plant and courthouse.

“This building will be built the same way, and it will last a lot longer than any of our lifetimes.”

The candidates also answered questions about water resources.  McBride said the Arlington to Canobie transmission line helped alleviate water concerns, and Keller said it was important to fix a dated transmission system by repairing leaking and dated mains.

McBride closed by saying the voters make the ultimate decision on the direction of the town.

“You’re the people that make the decisions on what the board of selectmen has to spend,” he said.

Keller said he would continue to work hard for the town and “Bring fairness, thoughtfulness, and tremendous hard work and effort to the job.”

Planning board candidates were also in attendance, with lifetime Salem resident and developer Keith Belair seeking one of two seats held by incumbents Paul Pelletier and Phyllis O’Grady.