At the polls next month Rockland voters will choose between an incumbent city councilor who sees a lack of affordable housing as the city’s biggest issue and a political newcomer who feels the current City Council has been too distracted by national movements to overhaul policing.
Incumbent Rockland City Councilor Ben Dorr is seeking reelection after completing his first term on council. Political newcomer Nicole Kalloch is the only challenger. The highest vote getter on Nov. 2 will serve a three-year term on the five-person council.
Here is where the candidates stand on the issues.
Dorr, 37, grew up in Camden and has lived in Rockland for the past seven years. He co-owns a vintage store on Main Street, called Curator, with his partner Emily Seymour.
Dorr said he is seeking reelection to continue to work on issues like housing affordability, broadband expansion and public access. He’s proud of work that has been accomplished during his first term around the $15 minimum wage increase, the addition of a sustainability coordinator to city staff as well as the creation of a city planner position.
“My first term on City Council has made me understand how long it takes to get things done,” Dorr said. “The list is long of things I wish we had accomplished in the last three years … but I think that we have made progress in some areas and that there’s just so much to be done.”
Dorr said he represents a demographic of forward-thinking small-business owners and millennials, but feels he has been successful in being an “active listener” and taking multiple perspectives into consideration.
The affordable housing crisis is the biggest issue facing Rockland residents today, according to Dorr. He supports making zoning changes that will allow for the creation of more affordable housing so that the people who grow up and work in Rockland can also afford to live here.
“We need to have a willingness to change and evolve as the needs of the city and the residents of the city change. We do ourselves a disservice by not being willing to accept that. That moment is here, because what we’re doing isn’t working for a lot of people,” Dorr said.
As a homeowner, Dorr said he agrees that property taxes are very high and are a challenge for many people to afford. However, he said he doesn’t feel there is a lot of “fat to trim” in the municipal budget. Instead, he thinks that the city should work to grow the tax base by attracting new development and supporting local legislators who are pushing for a more equitable school funding formula.
In regards to the recent formation of a police review committee, Dorr said that giving citizens the opportunity to have conversations about how departments best serve their community is a “perfectly appropriate thing” to do. He said it is unfortunate that the conversation surrounding the committee has become a partisan issue.
Kalloch, 33, has also lived in Rockland for seven years and is from Damariscotta. She is a manager for the Sierra Peaks Corporation in Rockland, as well as the office manager for her husband’s business, J. K. Kalloch.
If elected, this would be the first public board or committee Kalloch has served on. Kalloch said she has been interested in running for council for a few years, but decided it was the right time after “the city spent months deciding whether to have a police oversight committee and be active in the national movement ‘Defund the Police,’” she said.
“Our current council is focused on police oversight, rather than housing or bringing businesses to Rockland. Rockland City Council needs to get its priorities [straight],” Kalloch said.
The police review committee — which was created by the City Council this summer — has been tasked with investigating ways to improve community policing in the city. Rockland’s mayor has said that the ultimate goal of the committee is not defunding the police department, but rather to review where improvements can be made.
Rockland’s biggest challenge is its tax base, or “lack thereof,” according to Kalloch, who said rising property taxes is also contributing to the city’s housing crisis. Kalloch said she is motivated by a challenge and sympathizes with local homeowners who are struggling to keep up with rising taxes and inflation. She said she will work to make Rockland business-friendly in order to grow the tax base.
“I believe raising property taxes is the easy way out and I am willing to put in the work to find other avenues of income for the city,” Kalloch said.
As a project manager, Kalloch said she knows how to stick to a budget but also that adjustments sometimes have to be made. She said flexibility and creativity are strengths she plans to use if elected.
In terms of changing zoning ordinances to create housing, Kalloch sees this as a complex issue and would want to talk to Rockland residents before forming an opinion. However, she did say that she’s concerned that neighborhoods could lose their identities if housing becomes more dense.
“I would like to spend time with landowners and developers looking for ways to bring housing to Rockland while also listening to our citizens’ concerns,” Kalloch said.
Kalloch said she is concerned about the impact of a proposed Midcoast Habitat for Humanity project on Talbot Avenue. A portion of the property is wetlands and it is being developed in a neighborhood with existing stormwater runoff issues.
“I worry about the precedent it sets for the rest of the city if we allow a housing development on a wetland. I am also very concerned about the impact the project will have on the homes and ecosystems downstream,” Kalloch said.