Targeted questions and two-minute a time allowance at Tiverton 1st's Sunday night candidate forum encouraged direct answers and addressed rumors on some of the town's government's more contentious recent decisions.
Just over 40 candidates and voters mingled in the audience for the 90-minute question-answer forum. Moderator Brian Medeiros interviewed Tiverton 1st-endorsed candidates running for seats on the Town Council, School and Budget committees.
Medeiros said misinformation and rumors purported in the community were distracting voters from the local issues important to the November election and mislabeling Tiverton 1st candidates.
Despite rumors circulating to contrary, each candidate said they approved of the financial town referendum and none said they favored a return to the financial town meeting on Sunday night. All also said they opposed tolling on the Sakonnet River Bridge.
Candidates overwhelmingly pledged to protect Tiverton's schools and services moving forward, but recognized the town's over dependence on property tax revenues. Almost every candidate pointed toward economic development and business growth as the solution for relieving the burden of taxpayers.
"What I will say about economic development is that everybody talks about economic development and everybody agrees it is the most important thing going forward but when I got to planning and economic development meetings, it's about convincing the people who are not intimate with these issues that they are important," said Town Council incumbent Brett Pelletier. "We have had the meetings and we just didn't do anything, or we have done the things that are adverse. We don't take the suggestions of officials on the Zoning Board."
Pelletier criticized the town's slow response in addressing a convoluted zoning process that discourages commercial growth. He said a comprehensive analysis of the town's future and desirable areas for business is the next necessary step in turning economic development into a reality.
Candidates also generally agreed that greater cross-departmental collaboration and accountablity could help form tighter budgets.
"Our responsibility to all residents is to to keep taxes as low as possible but I also don't want to cut services," said first-time candidate Josh Mello "I think that's something that has been lacking in the town in recent years where certain branches of government haven't been working well together. I would work with all commissions and department heads in town to construct a fair and responsible budget for Tiverton."
School Committee incumbents Sally A. Black and Carol J. Herrmann, along with newcomer Jerome M. Larkin, also addressed their views on funding schools and cleared up confusion about threats to close schools and cut programs that happened in the build up to last year's financial town referendum.
According to Black and Herrmann, after vetting the school budget and gaining the budget commitee's endorsement last year, another budget was submitted by Town Councilman David Nelson and the Tiverton Citizens for Change, asking for an additional $600,000 cut in the school's budget.
"If we had been hit with $600,000 beyond what we needed to maintain programming and the budget committee had already agreed with our budget, then that is when we needed to talk about [schools and programs] being cut because anything less would be hurting children," said Herrmann.
This debate represented a common sentiment among Tiverton 1st candidates that the FTR process, though better than the FTM of the old days, still isn't perfect.
"It's not perfect, we have a whole committee of people who work for hours, weeks, months, on a budget and then somebody can come in at the end and submit a number without having to justify it," said Mello.
Budget Committee incumbent David Perry agreed the process needed refinement.
Tiverton 1st will host a second candidate forum on Friday, Oct. 26 at Countryview Estates at 6:30 p.m. Audience members will have the opportunity to ask questions of candidates during and after the forum.
Tiverton 1st's endorsed candidates are as follows:
Town Council candidates James J. Arruda, Renee DeJesus-Jones, Denise deMedeiros, William P. Gerlach, Brett Nicholas Pelletier, Edward A. Roderick.
School Committee candidate recommendations are Sally A. Black, Carol J. Herrmann, Jerome M. Larkin.
Budget Committee candidate recommendations are Joseph F. Bento III, Alexander J. Cote, Laura L. Epke, Mark R. Larsen, Joshua A. Mello, David Perry.
Representative District 70: John G. "Jay" EdwardsRI Representative
District 71: Dennis Canario