Questions about Arington's finances and the future threaded through Candidates' Night, as the largest field of hopefuls for key town seats in since 1993 outlined their views but, except for one case, did not directly challenge each other.
The audience at Town Hall on Thursday, March 29 -- about 200 people -- included Town Meeting members and many of the candidates' supporters, who held signs outside beforehand.
Parking meters, tourism and business development topped the list of topics for the five selectmen candidates vying for two open seats to be vacated by Clarissa Rowe and Annie LaCourt. There were no fireworks as candidates shared their views -- and a few moments of humor.
Watch replays on ACMi's Government Channel through April 8 (Sunday at 5 p.m., Thursday at noon, Friday at 2 p.m. and Saturday at 10 a.m.). These broadcasts may be seen on video on demand according to the same schedule.
The liveliest discussion of the evening came after a question about whether parking meters should be installed in the town’s business districts. Some candidates favored adding parking meters to commercial sections of Massachusetts Avenue; others expressed concerns about the idea.
"First of all, can we fix the meters in the center?" Joseph Curro Jr. quipped. "That, I want to see happen first."
Joseph E. Curran said he would welcome discussion of adding parking meters. However, "We should enforce what we have," he said.
Robert L. Tosi Jr. said he doesn’t consider parking meters to be significant revenue producers, but he stated he would support meters in concentrated areas "to facilitate turnover" of vehicles.
Steven M. Byrne called for a study to analyze parking issues in general. "Parking has become a serious issue in Arlington, and we need to move forward and find the best way to solve it."
Maria Romano called parking meters "a money maker," which discourages people from parking in one space for too long. “As far as meters, we don’t need a study. We know we need meters."
As part of the question about parking meters, candidates were also asked whether they favor pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) trash-collection fees. All five agreed that PAYT is not immediately necessary in the wake of the town's recent move toward a new trash-collection contract. The pact would last for 10 years and include weekly recycling.
"Recycling once a week, and see where we are," Curran said.
"People want to do the right thing," added Tosi.
"I think it’s going to generate a lot of green," stated Romano.
Byrne agreed that a new trash contract "will serve us well."
Curro called PAYT a "mute issue."
[Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine wrote in an email March 31 that the contract for solid waste and recycling collection is not yet final and is still under negotiation.]
The first question challenged candidates to offer ideas beyond a Proposition 2½ override for increasing town revenue.
Tosi, a member of the town Finance Committee, said he believes overrides "should only be a last-case scenario." He said he would work with the local legislative delegation to ensure that the state gives its fair share of funding to Arlington. "I already know them and will continue to work with them to come up with a better local aid formula."
Romano, who owns an Arlington residential remodeling company, said she advocates increasing the town's tax base by attracting larger businesses to Arlington, "We need to reach out and have dialogue with medical companies, technology [businesses] that can bring a good tax base back to town. That will take the burden off residents and small business owners."
Curro, a School Committee member who won reelection a year ago, said he believes attracting more tourism may be the answer. "The real key is economic development. Only 6 percent of our tax base is commercial property, he said. "We have great history in this town. We have great art initiatives… that could be exploited as kind of a magnet to bring in tourism and bring in economic activity."
Curran, a former School Committee member, agreed that expanding tourism might generate revenue for the town, along with increasing local aid from the state. “I also think that we should look into tourism. What they have in Lexington ... as far as I’m concerned, it all started in Menotomy."
Byrne said he, too, supports economic development. He agreed that more local aid is needed and pledged to work with the legislative delegation to bring in more money for the town. "I realize the importance of that. I am in the State House every day," he said, referring to his job as a legislative aide for Rep. Mark Cusick.
The candidates also responded to a question about whether they favored a proposal to consolidate town and school finances. The Department of Revenue issued a report about the matter in February. See a summary and reaction to the report here >>
"I am generally supportive of looking at a way that we can take some of the recommendations of the report in a way that is consistent with Arlington’s values, Curro said.
"I am not convinced this is the best decision," Romano said, referring to proposed consolidation.
"This is not something we should rush into," Byrne stated.
Curran said the report is a "cookie-cutter approach to a complex set of issues .... If it’s not broken, why fix it?"
Tosi said, "There are some… elements to the report that should be followed up on."
Curro generated some laughter from his colleagues on the panel and from the audience when he said the "o" in his name stands for "overall experience." Curro had previously joked about the similarity of his and Joe Curran’s names, calling himself, "Joe with an 'o'."
Curro, Byrne and Tosi are making their first runs for selectman. Curren is making his second; he lost last year. Romano is making her third; she was unsuccessful the last two years.
All 13 candidates in three groups provided brief opening and closing statements. Some questions were formulated by audience members, who were asked, as they entered the auditorium, to write questions on cards. The questions were reviewed by members of the cosponsors, the League of Women Voters of Arlington and and Vision 2020.
Moderator Margaret Coppe of the Lexington League of Women Voters read the questions to the candidates.
Angela Olszewski, co-president of the the League of Women Voters of Arlington, said, "I think we always wish we could get more questions, but given the time constraints and the number of candidates running, it just wasn’t possible."