The six people seeking to be Town Councilor At-Large appeared together for the first time Thursday to answer questions at a Candidate Forum co-sponsored by Watertown News and Watertown Cable Access Television.
A full room at the Watertown Library’s Watertown Savings Bank Room watched the forum, along with a live TV audience. The forum will be rebroadcast on Watertown Cable.
Candidates answered questions from both the forum organizers and residents attending the event. Here are some of the issues they tackled:
The candidates were asked about what can be done about huge amount of development in Watertown and how they can look out for neighbors of the projects
Michael Dattoli, who is seeking re-election, said he was not comfortable with the level of development going on and noted that he voted against the Regional Mixed Use District that allowed for bigger projects in the area of the two malls and beyond. He added that it is important for developers to have good relationship with neighbors.
Anthony Donato, a first time candidate who has been Rotary President and is on the Boys and Girls Club Board, said that it is tough to balance how much development should be allowed. The town should not be totally pro development, but also should not be against it. He believes the town needs to “pump the breaks on development” and see how the development on Arsenal Street shapes out before moving ahead with more.
Development puts a lot of stress on the entire community and the neighborhood, said Caroline Bays, who is a trained mediator and is running for Council for the first time. She believes there needs to be good communication between developers and the Town Council and Town Manager, and also between developers and the public.
Michelle Cokonougher, a first time candidate who has been a close watcher of Town government for the past few years, said she believes the RMUD was passed too quickly before all the possible effects were understood. She agreed that developers need to do a better job communicating with residents.
David Stokes, who has served on the town’s Stormwater Advisory Committee and is running for Council for the first time, said that he would look at every development individually. He believes neighbors need to know who to contact from the development team if they have questions or concerns about a project. The one positive of developments, he said, is it has cut the amount of pollutants going into the Charles River by cutting down the amount of water going into storm drains.
Incumbent Tony Palomba said that the Council has set up rules so developers have to meet with the public before they even start seeking approval of their project. He added that the town needs to set limits on when trucks can be going to a work site and enforce the limits, so that neighbors are not disturbed in the early morning or at night.
Increasing Residential Tax Exemption
Property taxes have been rising in Watertown, and each year the Council wrestles with whether to increase the Tax Exemption for people who live in the property they own. By giving residents a break the tax burden falls more on commercial, industrial and personal properties.
Palomba said it is getting more difficult to live in Watertown, or for people’s children to settle in town. He supports increasing the exemption.
Stokes said he would like to give help to those struggling to stay in their homes, but would not just raise the exemption across the board.
Cokonougher said she would definitely raise the exemption so that people are not pushed out of town as taxes and other expenses grow.
Bays said she has spoken to a lot of people who worry about this issue, especially older people. She supports raising the exemption for people who would struggle to pay their taxes based on their income, but not universally.
Donato said that while the burden would be shifted to commercial and personal properties, he believes it benefits Watertown homeowners. He also thinks the town needs to do a better job publicizing other ways residents can save on property taxes.
Dattoli said that rising property is a concern for him and the Council has taken steps to reduce the burden. He noted that raising the residential exemption not only impacts commercial properties but also those who do not live in their homes. He worries about rents going up if the residential exemption increase
Watertown Becoming a Sanctuary City
The candidates were asked about whether they support making Watertown a Sanctuary City and whether they think the town should protect illegal immigrants.
Bays said she supports the town being a Sanctuary City because she believes a safe town is one where everyone feels safe, regardless of immigration status. She wants someone who is undocumented to feel safe to report a crime to police without fear of deportation. She worries that immigrants here legally also are feeling unwelcome these days because of the controversy around the immigrants.
Cokonougher said she would have to see the details of what becoming a Sanctuary City would mean before she makes a decision. She said she is glad that the Watertown Police have come up with a policy to protect all residents, regardless of immigration status. She believes it is important for people to be accepting of other cultures, and that starts with education.
What a Sanctuary City means in one city is not the same as another one, said Donato. For him the main thing is for everyone to feel safe in Watertown. He also applauded the WPD’s policy to protect people regardless of status.
Stokes said he would definitely vote yes to become Sanctuary City. He sees a lot of people leaving Watertown, and he believes some are leaving because they do not feel welcome. He believes it is important to make sure everyone feels welcome.
Dattoli’s ancestors immigrated to the U.S. from Allepo, Syria. He remembers in February getting a flood of calls from people and noted that those were “scary times.” He said that the steps that the Watertown Police had taken to make everyone feel safe were “incredible.”
The Sanctuary City effort, Palomba said, was an example of a community group proposing a change in town policy. Out of that grew the Watertown Police’s written policy for immigrants. He believes that policy is a good one, but it is not perfect so it should be reviewed to make sure it is working.
The Town Election is on Tuesday, Nov. 7, and residents will select four of the six Councilor At-Large candidates.
The election also includes the School Committee and Board of Library Trustees. The School Committee candidates appeared at a forum last week. See what they said here.
Residents will have another chance to hear from the candidates for Town Council and School Committee at a forum hosted by the Concerned Watertown Homeowners Association on Nov. 2. See more details here.