ROCKLAND, Maine ― The four candidates running for two open seats on Rockland City Council can all agree on one thing: They’re worried about the city being an affordable place to live.
On Tuesday, voters will choose between incumbent city councilor Ed Glaser, 68; software developer Nate Davis, 39; U.S. Coast Guard veteran Ian Emmott, 36; and longtime Rockland firefighter Don Robishaw, 61.
Initially only Glaser’s seat was up for grabs this election cycle, but another seat opened up when City Councilor Amelia Magjik moved out of state earlier this fall. Voters will select two of the four candidates to serve three-year terms on the five-person council.
As Rockland has evolved over the last two decades into a tourism and arts destination, affordable housing has been a hot-button issue.
All four candidates say it’s imperative for the city to do everything in its power to make sure the city remains a place where people from all walks of life can live, whether they be young families or eldery residents on fixed incomes.
Davis and Glaser pointed out that the city has a growing gap between rich and poor. But if Rockland gentrifies, they worry that diversity could be at risk.
“We have people from away moving here, which is a good thing. Except to some extent, if they have a lot of money, they can drive out people who can’t afford to live here and we lose some of that economic diversity,” Glaser said.
Glaser said the city needs to encourage anyone who is building housing “to build affordable housing.” Davis agreed with Glaser and added that the city should continue to look at zoning changes that could foster the development of affordable housing.
“I want to make sure that going forward we can preserve that [economic diversity] for the city. I don’t want Rockland to turn into a hyper-gentrified playground for the wealthy,” Davis said. “I don’t want it to turn into a community that caters mostly to tourists.”
Emmott and Robishaw expressed concern over property taxes making it hard for residents to keep their homes. Both say the city has done a good job keeping the municipal budget in check but believe the Regional School Unit 13 budget is creating a burden on local taxpayers.
“We’ve got to work hard to keep the taxes down,” Robishaw said. “We have to get control of the school budget.”
The city council has little control over the school budget. Instead representatives of each community served by RSU 13, including Rockland, sit on the school board and approve the annual budget.
However, Emmott wants the city council to bolster its relationship with the school board and advocate for a change in the state’s education funding formula.
“[The increasing school budget] is what’s going to kill regular people in this town. It’s creating a crushing tax burden,” Emmott said.
Attracting new businesses and development is one way that Davis, Glaser and Emmott think the city could help decrease the tax burden and bring more profitable employment to the city.
“I’d like to see less service industry type jobs and instead a potential expansion of the industrial park,” Emmott said. “That could bring more high paying jobs.”
“I don’t want to turn Rockland into a booming metropolis, but if we can get a bit more careful and cautious development that will decrease the tax burden as well,” Davis said.
If elected, Davis would also like to increase involvement from the public in city council discussions, and potentially change the format of meetings to allow for “a deliberative discussion” rather than a meeting where councilors already have their minds made up on an issue.
Robishaw and Emmott also agreed that the city can do a better job of advertising council and other committee meetings to get more individuals involved.
Glaser has served one term on city council. Before that he served as the city’s harbormaster for 12 years after a career working with schooners and other ships in the area. Originally from New York, Glaser moved to Rockland after attending Bates College.
Robishaw has lived in Rockland all his life. He is a 40-year veteran of the Rockland Fire Department. Robishaw has also served on the RSU 13 school board.
Emmott first came to Rockland in 2003 when he was stationed at the city’s U.S. Coast Guard base. After being stationed in Rockland for two years, he was transferred to Massachusetts, before moving back to Rockland with his wife in 2015. Emmott currently works for the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs.
Davis moved to Rockland in 2013 with his wife. Davis is a co-founder of the coworking space and business incubator Steelhouse, located in Rockland. He has served on the city’s Energy Advisory Committee.