Property taxes at the forefront of the Dover City Council Candidates Forum
DOVER – Tax caps, property assessments and keeping Dover affordable were hot topics at the city council candidates forum on Monday night.
There are three contested city council seats this year and four undisputed seats, leaving room for new faces on the council after this election. Voters will decide on November 2.
At the forum hosted by the Greater Dover Chamber of Commerce on Monday evening, Mayor Bob Carrier told candidates he was eager to work together to move the city forward after the next election.
“It is an honor to serve, to put your name on a ballot and to hold an important office like this. We run a $ 150 million business, that’s what we do, ”Carrier said. “We have a lot of work to do.”
The disputed seats include; Ward 1 with incumbent Michelle Muffett-Lipinski challenged by Madeline O’Reilly; Ward 2 with Robert Hinkel and Timothy Casey vying for a vacant seat left vacant by Marcia Gasses; and Ward 6 incumbent Fergus Cullen, challenged by Jodi Langellotti.
O’Reilly and Casey did not participate in the forum.
The undisputed candidates were invited to participate in the forum. Carrier and City Councilor Dennis Shanahan spoke, as well as runaway candidates Lindsey Williams and Linnea Nemeth. Williams is seeking re-election to her general seat and Nemeth is seeking to fill the general seat with John O’Connor after choosing not to stand for re-election.
The tax cap remains a big discussion
Maintaining the tax cap was a hot topic at the forum, as it was the focus of much debate earlier this year.
When education costs skyrocketed this year, in part due to the previously approved teachers’ contract with salary increases, the Dover School District adopted a default budget of $ 73 million on March 8, or more than $ 5.1 million above the tax limit. When negotiations with the unions failed, the default budget was presented to council, which ultimately rejected it, forcing the district to pass a clause in union contracts that froze wage increases to align the budget. It was debated by the school board, city council, and community earlier this year, as city council made the final decision not to fund the bare minimum budget made up of district contractual agreements, allowing the city to ” achieve a total city budget that falls within the city tax ceiling.
Learn more about the tax cap decision:Dover approves budget in line with tax cap – after teachers’ calls for more school funds
Candidates were invited to express their views on the tax cap and whether they would commit not to exceed it if elected. The question received mixed responses.
Fergus Cullen was quick to respond that he would pledge to maintain the tax cap, holding the city accountable for its fiscal responsibility to stay within the budget. Cullen said his platform is based on being “a fiscally conservative voice for taxpayers.” He said exceeding the tax cap affects all taxpayers, from landowners to renters, who see housing costs rise through rising rents.
“When we raise property taxes in this city, we make housing less affordable for those who are just starting out and those who are just getting out of it,” Cullen said. “And when we raise property taxes by blowing up the tax cap, we’re not just raising taxes one year, we’re raising them for each year in perpetuity, because that new rate becomes the new floor.”
Shanahan said he would not commit to maintaining the tax cap because sometimes situations need to be resolved.
“If we, as a council, recognize a desperate need, then I think we’ll keep the waiver on the table,” Shanahan said. “You have to have a surgical perspective, not just a hammer.”
Langellotti also vowed not to go against a waiver, calling the move “shortsighted.”
“We have to think about this long-term impact,” Langellotti said. “If we’re going to say no to something today, what does that mean for us three or four years from now? Does this mean that we are going to pay 10 times as much? Because if it does, then maybe we need to figure out how we can make it work today versus later. “
Muffett-Lipinski said that when it comes to budget, the budgets of schools and cities are both different and the needs of both parties should be considered and taken into account when making a decision.
“It’s really important for us to be transparent about what we need as a city council to make these tough decisions. If we have to exceed this tax cap for desperate reasons, there are desperate reasons.”
Keeping Dover Affordable: What Does It Mean?
There are many forms of affordability in a city like Dover, ranging from affordable housing to affordable living costs and taxes.
One point about affordability that candidates were asked about was the “sticker shock” many homeowners received when the city opened notices on new property assessments last week. Many of those property assessments have increased dramatically this year.
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Shanahan saw his own assessment of his long-standing home drop from $ 281,000 to $ 332,000. He said that while this was alarming to many, he explained that an increase in a resident’s property assessment does not necessarily mean a huge increase in their property tax bill, but there will be an increase and this will be part of the budget discussions for next year.
Cullen says he’s confident Dover is on the right track overall when it comes to affordability and growth.
“And one of the reasons that is evident is the fact that we are the fastest growing city in New Hampshire,” Cullen said. “Over the past 20 years, the population of Dover has grown by 21%. It’s about 1% per year. It is manageable growth and it is important. Cities that do not develop stagnate or retreat.
Hinkle said that with development and growth being a big point of contention in the city at the moment, he stressed the importance of sustainable development that meets the needs of new residents without compromising the needs of current residents. .
“We don’t want to charge current residents and we don’t want to build a city that is cost prohibitively expensive that we don’t attract a younger community,” Hinkle said, noting that Dover has already done a great job of Creative tax incentives for developers, but can do a better job of marketing those incentives to promote growth.
Some candidates, including Langellotti, have said affordable housing must be a top priority. Langellotti spoke of the current homeless settlement at Willand Pond, which is expected to be cleaned up early next month. She insisted that mental health and homelessness need to be addressed more.
More about the camp:The Willand Pond camps may soon be emptied. Here’s what the people who live there want to know.
“I think we can continue to better understand why this situation (like the settlements near Willand Pond) is happening, how people are struggling with mental health and addiction, and start putting plans in place to create long-term solutions.” term, ”Langellotti says. “What we are doing right now with the Willand Pond camp is a very short term solution, it will not reduce the number of homeless people, it could slightly, but it will not prolong this effect.”
Nemeth believes that an essential part of keeping Dover affordable is understanding the needs and demographics of the community so that opportunities to work with developers to meet those needs can be met.
“When we have the opportunity to work with developers or bring more housing to the community, we are able to say ‘these are the things we need.’ There has to be a diversity of housing, ”said Nemeth.
More electoral forums in Dover
The Grand Dover Chamber of Commerce will host two more forums for school board candidates to share their views. Wards 1 through 3 of the school board will have the opportunity to speak on Wednesday at 6:30 a.m., and wards 4 through 6 will speak on Monday, October 25. These forums can be attended in person at the McConnell Center or streamed live on Channel 22 or Zoom. Information at dovernh.org/events/calendar. The Zoom link for all forums is us02web.zoom.us/j/87300058702.