February 27, 2019MOULTONBOROUGH – Candidates for selectman sparred over issues such as the town's demographic shift, the proposed community center, and other topics during a Meet the Candidates Night.
Candidates for different town offices met with voters at the Moultonborough Function Hall on Sunday night. Board of selectmen candidates Chris Shipp, the incumbent, and Chuck McGee discussed their priorities and stances on different issues, debate that often turned heated and contentious.
McGee described himself as a fiscal conservative and expressed concern with how the proposed town budget increase $680,000 and the proposed school budget increased $700,000, saying the town will be facing around $1.4 million in increased spending.
Shipp later said both he, as a selectman, and McGee, as a member of the Advisory Budget Committee, voted in favor of all warrant articles and only disagreed on the ones related to the proposed community center.
"I was pretty surprised, especially considering how things aren't going well in regards to spending," Shipp said.
McGee said he started getting interested in town politics in 2016 when an article for $85,000 was on the warrant for a sidewalk study, saying this is a project that has come to the voters repeatedly and shot down each time. McGee said the same is true of the community center project.
"I'm running because I'm concerned that we're not listening to the majority of the voters when we vote down projects once or twice in a community," McGee said, later saying, "We need to represent the majority of the community who vote and when the majority speak you need to listen to them."
Shipp said he does listen to the people when he makes decisions, saying all the people include families, young people, retirees, middle aged people, and more. He also said considering any municipal project requires thinking 50 years into the future.
Shipp said he supports a community center with a gym on the Taylor Property, a facility in an easily accessible location that meets everyone's needs.
"When I make a decision, I think about everybody. I don't just think about people in my demographic group," Shipp said.
McGee said he would like to see more young families come to town, but said he didn't know how to bring more in with the lack of higher paying jobs in the area. Later, he said the key to bringing more young families in town is jobs, saying the town has an excellent school system but most students who graduate are going other places. Unless a business comes into town to do that, he didn't see how Moultonborough would be made more attractive for young families.
He said the town already pays $14 million for the school system, $500,000 for the Recreation Department, and $600,000 for the library, which has children's programs.
"I don't know what else you'd like me to do for them," McGee said.
At the same time, more second homeowners and retirees are coming into town, and additionally, there is a population of people working in industries that serve them such as landscaping, restaurants, and more.
Shipp said bringing in more people to Moultonborough, especially younger people, is important. He said he has been in favor of marketing the town and there was $75,000 in the budget for marketing. That funding was later scrapped which Shipp said he thought was shortsighted.
"I want us to maintain a small town character too, but I want to maintain a well-rounded population," Shipp said. "To say that the schools alone are going to do it; that's simply not true. We need the infrastructure to attract young families."
A number of attendees challenged McGee on his views and countered his statements. A number of people questioned McGee's his statement that he represents all people, stating his letters to local papers mainly reference retirees and second homeowners. McGee said he does represent all people in town.
McGee talked about the new community center in Fryeburg, Maine, a prefabricated steel building that was that was built for $1.7 million. He said he visited Fryeburg and spoke with the Parks and Recreation Director about the town and the project, saying Fryeburg has similarities to Moultonborough in it had lost a number of employers and was losing young people.
"What I saw was a town that didn't have a lot of money that did a lot of hard work," McGee said.
He said Fryeburg built a building with a maintenance free exterior and did so all through fundraising and not through taxes. McGee said he has the same kind of building as his barn.
Shipp said it took Fryeburg 15 years to raise funds for that community center.
Some attendees countered the Fryeburg facility was an eyesore and they would not want to see that type of building in the middle of Moultonborough.
McGee said he wasn't against a community center or a gym, but said he wasn't sold that there was a need for more gym space. Mcgee said he would rather a community center be at the Lion's Club. He said he was disappointed that the selectmen didn't put forward the two phase approach of doing a community center building then putting on a gym later.
While talking about affordable housing, Shipp said one of the best ways to bring more of it in town is to alter allowed densities. The town took that approach by creating the Village Overlay District which allows or higher density housing and cluster development. Shipp said he was more in favor of the Lion's Club property being used for high density, cluster housing, which is needed for affordable housing.
"This is an 18 acre lot I've heard builders say was a builder's paradise," Shipp said.
McGee said he wasn't in favor of any apartments, condominiums, or any kind of cluster housing development being built on the Lion's Club property.