AUBURN — Voters who watched a City Council candidates forum on Great Falls TV on Monday might gleaned some information about the differences among those seeking office.
Ron Potvin and Joshua Shea, both candidates for one of the two open at-large seats, disagree about paying for the city's recycling program. Potvin, who served on the Council until 2009, said he's intrigued by a paid bag system similar to one in Portland.
"I'd like to explore that to help pay for increased recycling numbers," Potvin said. "Four years ago we figured out a formula that would have paid for itself and had a little left over."
Shea, who used to live in Portland, said that's a bad idea.
"I don't want to live like one of those communities that pay for bags," Shea said. "It's very, very inconvenient. If we want to increase recycling, we need to get past the touchy-feely, save-the-Earth rhetoric and explain to people in hard terms why they should recycle."
Belinda Gerry and J. Michael Lemay, also at-large candidates, disagreed about the city's relationship with the School Committee. Gerry, an incumbent, said councilors have had it rough.
"I'd like to see us sit down and openly discuss all the issues for the school," Gerry said. "We need to be able to sit openly and just share information. To get information from them now is sometimes like pulling teeth."
Lemay, an Androscoggin County sheriff's deputy, disagreed.
"The council has to realize that the School Committee is an elected body, too," Lemay said. "The voters of Auburn put their trust in them and put them on the school system and we need to trust their guidance about what the schools really need."
Mostly, however, the candidates agreed. Auburn needs to encourage economic development for the city, help promote the arts and culture and recognize that it really is a fine place to live.
All the candidates agreed that the city needs to find a way to make improvements to Edward Little High School, but they disagreed about the method. Gerry said she favored a campus effort, building one building at a time slowly over a period of years. Mayoral candidate Jonathan LaBonte said he wanted to involve post-high school graduates, letting EL students work toward an associate degree in a five-year high school. That echoed Ward 5 candidate Evan Cyr's suggestion that the city create more of an community center, focusing on high school and adult eduction.
And at-large candidate Potvin said that with Auburn's share of the debt to help build the Mid-Maine Waste Action Corp.'s incinerator paid off in the next couple of years, the city might be able to build the $61 million high school itself.
All of the candidates agreed that good schools are a high priority.
"The children are our future, and we don't want to leave them in the dust somewhere," Ward 5 candidate Leroy Walker said. "We need this high school and we don't have a lot of time to think about it, but we need to plan very well. The taxpayers can't afford a three mill increase in their taxes."
All 11 council candidates and LaBonte sat at the City Council dais in Auburn Hall, taking questions from members of the Edward Little High School speech and debate team. The forum was sponsored by the Auburn Police Department, and Police Chief Phil Crowell acknowledged it was unusual to have police involved in a City Council debate.
"People have asked why the Police Department is involved in this but it's real simple," Crowell said. He began working with the EL students when police sponsored a forum on human trafficking last month and was impressed by them and interested in finding another venue, he said.