ROCKLAND — Residents will have a clear choice when they cast their ballots for the single seat on the City Council.

Incumbent Councilor Ben Dorr and challenger Nicole Kalloch are vying for the single three-year seat. The two attended a debate Thursday night, Oct. 14 at City Hall organized by The Courier-Gazette. The candidates night can be viewed by going to https://livestream.com/rocklandmaine/events/9894938.

The newspaper also emailed a series of questions to each candidate on Oct. 7.

Dorr said he was seeking re-election because he feels as a Rockland home owner, small business owner, and millennial, he still has something to add to the municipal conversation. He has lived in Rockland for seven years and is a graduate of Camden-Rockport High School.

“I try to take a long view of our city, and that has value for many people I have spoken with. It is a challenge and pleasure to serve as a city councilor but I don’t feel like my work is done,” Dorr said.

He said civility, empathy and kindness are the best traits you can bring to public service.

Dorr, a James Street resident, is co-owner and co-operator of the clothing store Curator on Main Street in Rockland. He is completing his first three-year term on the Council, having been elected in 2018.

Kalloch is a Maine native who has lived in Rockland for seven years. A Main Street resident, she is the plant manager at Sierra Peaks manufacturing plant on Pleasant Street in Rockland, and is also an office manager for her husband’s contracting business — J.K. Kalloch. She is a graduate of Maine Maritime Academy in Castine with a degree in international business and logistics.

The Rockland woman said when Sierra Peaks moved to Rockland two years ago it had to jump through a bunch of hurdles and she decided to run for office.

City councilors approved the zone change in January 2019 to create a business park to allow for Sierra Peaks and Lowe Hardware to move into the properties. That zone change had been opposed by some neighbors who felt the commercial change was not in keeping with the residential nature of the neighborhood. Sierra Peaks announced its move to Rockland shortly after the vote. Lowe Hardware was scheduled to meet with the Planning Board Tuesday, Oct. 19 to build a manufacturing plant on its property in that zone.

Kalloch said people are pretty upset in Rockland. She said three common themes she has heard from people are that businesses and community members were not being heard and sometimes taken for granted, people are nervous about the de-fund the police movement, and that there is very little focus on economic development. She said she would put residents first and work to make Rockland the best place to work and live.

Kalloch criticized the City Council for stepping in at the 19th hour to put a hold on plans for Safe Harbor Marinas by seeing if compensation can be required from the company.

The issue of the creation of the Police Review Commission came up during the debate with a few questioners calling it a de-fund the police movement.

Dorr said the issue has become partisan to the point that it has challenged the community’s ability to have a conversation about how the police can best serve the city of Rockland. He said during the most recent budget process, the Council approved additional money for the department including for weighted vests and body cameras.

“There was no effort by the Rockland City Council to reduce the budget or criticize the department,” Dorr said.

“We have a school board, a personnel board, a planning board, and myriad other committees that provide different perspectives and ideas and that is really helpful for the city council,” Dorr said in a written statement about the creation of the police committee.

Kalloch said, however, during the debate that the only department being reviewed now is the police department. She said she is worried about the de-fund the police movement coming to Rockland.

Kalloch said she feels Police Chief Christopher Young resigned because of the creation of the police committee. She said Dorr has never met with the police chief.

Young said last week he decided to resign effective Nov. 8 to accept a private sector job that was too good to turn down. The Police Review Committee was scheduled to hold its first meeting on Monday, Oct. 18.

Kalloch said one of the members of the committee has stated she wants to dismantle the department and contended that was a problem. Retired officers wanted to serve but were not appointed, Kalloch said. Former Deputy Police Chief Lewis Metcalf, a former two-term councilor, had sought t0 serve on the committee but was not appointed. Metcalf retired from the police department in 1992 as deputy chief

“We have extremists on one side and no retired police officers. How is that a balanced committee?” Kalloch said.

Kalloch also maintained that the city has lost four department heads because of the lack of leadership by the City Council. In addition to the police chief leaving next month, the city has vacancies for a public services director, assessor, and code enforcement officer.

The issue of the proposed Habitat for Humanity development on Talbot Avenue also came up during the debate.

Dorr said the land was purchased by Habitat for Humanity. They received a contract zone from the Council that would allow for a more dense development with smaller units than would have been allowed under prior zoning. He said a private developer could have built far more homes without city council involvement if not for the Habitat purchase.

“They are the people doing the work to assist the less fortunate in our community every single day,” Dorr said about Habitat. “I strongly feel supporting those organizations is some of the best work we can do.”

The city has significant storm water runoff issues to address, Dorr acknowledged, but said it was a mistake to scapegoat Habitat for a problem that has long existed.

Kalloch said the city needs to consult the neighborhoods before pushing through things that may not fit.

“Ask what they love about their neighborhood and what they can deal with,” Kalloch said.

She said engineering and financial impact studies were needed.

Midcoast Habitat for Humanity is currently proposing building eight rental efficiency/one-bedroom residences that will each be 500 square feet; and three rental duplexes that will each have a one-bedroom (1,000-square-foot) and three-bedroom (1,200-square-foot) residences on nearly 11 acres at 165 Talbot Ave.

Neighbors who oppose the project say it is not in character with the neighborhood, claim it will create worsening drainage problems for homes downstream, and harm a field where there is wildlife, including insects. More than a dozen signs that say “Save Firefly Field” are posted on the front lawns of the opponents.

Habitat’s engineer said the development will not add water to the neighbors downstream. If more than one acre of wetland is affected by the development, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection will review the project for storm water management. If less than one acre is affected, the city will hire an engineer, at Habitat’s expense, to review the storm water plan.

Kalloch also criticized what she said was the focus of the current City Council.

“We have a Council currently that is so shifted to the national social agendas and needs to focus on Rockland,” Kalloch said.

She said the Council needs to focus on economic development which will help reduce property taxes.

Dorr said in response to written questions from the newspaper that the top challenges facing the city are housing and working to get the state to amend the education funding formula. The City Council approved an ordinance in March to allow non-attached accessory dwelling units after three years of proposing such a change. Dorr supported that change.

The Council also gave preliminary approval last month to an “inclusionary” zoning ordinance. This ordinance would require developers of larger residential developments to set aside a certain percentage of the units as affordable based on the median income of the community. Dorr voted for that ordinance in first reading. A final vote is scheduled next month.

“Outside of the conversation surrounding housing I feel that we need to continue to support our state representative’s goal of creating a more equitable school funding formula. That change would make a significant difference in the lives of many Rocklanders,” Dorr said.

“We also need to be actively working on climate change related issues like storm water planning, sea level rise planning, and developing our city with a clear understanding that many people are going to want to move to our part of the world,” Dorr said.

When asked about the municipal budget and whether there were any departments inadequate or in excess, he said “We have a budget committee that works really hard to provide excellent services to our community while genuinely taking into account the financial challenges facing many of our residents.

“That being said I am quite happy with our municipal budget and don’t see a lot of opportunities to reduce municipal spending in a way that would significantly impact people’s taxes. I do think we have made the right choice funding a city planner position as I am confident that investing in city staff is the best way to grow our tax base and do the endless administrative work that it takes to run our city,” the downtown businessman said.

In response to a question at the debate from Brass Compass owner Lynn Archer, Dorr said he would support a consistent square footage fee for businesses that use public property. Dorr pointed out that the city has not charged Archer for the past two years for her use of a strip of land at Winslow-Holbrook Park.

Kalloch said the current City Council was picking winners and losers and she has been disgusted by the way that Archer has been treated by the Council. While not naming the business, Kalloch made reference to Café Miranda being allowed to use Oak Street for outside service at no charge. And, she said the business had a lien waived by the Council.

At the Council’s Oct. 13 meeting, councilors unanimously approved writing off old uncollectible debts as recommended by the auditor. That included $17,010 for Café Miranda after it had gone through federal bankruptcy court and the court discharged those debts.

The city also allows businesses on Myrtle, Winter, Limerock, and Main Street to use city property at no charge.

Dorr said he will support the ballot question before voters Nov. 2 to raise City Council pay from $800 to $4,000 per year and the mayor’s pay from $1,000 to $4,500. Kalloch said she opposes the ballot question and will donate any of her pay back to the city.

The City Council pay was last raised in 1980.

In response to a debate question, Kalloch said she would oppose any effort for rent control in Rockland. Dorr said rent control is a reasonable thing to have a conversation about but has not been discussed by the Council.

Dorr said the existing short-term rental policy is sufficient. He said the proliferation of non-owner occupied short-term rentals has done a lot of damages to communities across the world. The city ordinance limits only non-owner occupied short-term rentals.

Kalloch said the current short-term rental policy is another example of the Council picking winners and losers. She said there should be a way to have a policy that does not limit the number of short-term rentals while imposing a large upfront fee and annual fees to short-term rental owners.

Dorr said he supports vaccination and mask mandates.

“We should be creating policy based in science and the recommendations of the Maine and Federal CDC,” Dorr said.

At the debate, Kalloch said she would not support a mandate for wearing masks outside.

Dorr said the city should work as a community to create a municipal fiber optic broadband network that guarantees access for the entire community.

“This would be a huge step forward for our economy and would allow Rockland to becoming a technological beacon in Midcoast Maine,” Dorr said.

The election is Nov. 2 but absentee ballots are already available. City Clerk Stuart Sylvester said Friday, Oct. 15 that 225 people have asked for absentee ballots thus far.

Rockland has 5,583 registered voters. The turnout in the last off-year election (one in which there is no gubernatorial or presidential race) in 2019 there were 1,167 ballots cast. This means if the turnout was the same this year, a candidate could win with as few as 584 votes.

Dorr was the top vote-getter in 2018 when he received 1,244 votes in a three-way race for one seat with the second place candidate getting 711 and the third place 652.

City council races are officially non-partisan, meaning candidates’ political parties are not listed on the ballot nor are the candidates nominated by their parties. Political parties, however, have often supported candidates in their own parties. Dorr is a registered Democrat and Kalloch is a registered Republican.

Of the 5,583 registered voters in Rockland, 2,343 are Democrats; 1,720 are not enrolled in any party; 1,340 are enrolled in the Republican Party; and one person is registered as a Libertarian.

The Knox County Republican Facebook page, for example, administered by former state Rep. Paula Sutton is promoting Kalloch and asked for people to volunteer distributing literature on her behalf.