Newport City Council – Ward 1 and Ward 2 Candidates Engage in Final Forum

Credits | 2018-10-25 | Front Page | Newport This Week |By James Merolla http://www.newportthisweek.com/news/2018-10 25/Front_Page/Candidates_Engage_in_Final_Forum.html

The last of three public candidate forums was held in the City Council chambers on Oct. 23, where one incumbent and three newcomers explained their positions on key issues to an audience of about 70 people.

James Dring and Angela McCalla are vying for one position in the Ward 1 race, as incumbent Susan Taylor is running as an At-Large candidate. In Ward 2, Valerie Larkin is squaring off against incumbent Lynn Ceglie.

The forum was sponsored by the Alliance for a Livable Newport (ALN). It came on the heels of forums involving At-Large candidates on Oct. 18 and School Committee candidates on Oct. 16.

Ron Becker of ALN hosted, with Jill Kassis of the League of Women’s Voters of Newport County serving as moderator.

The forum opened with candidates being asked if they would pledge to oppose any Pell Bridge realignment detrimental to the well-being of the abutting neighborhood.

“Absolutely. Frankly, I’d rather have traffic back up on the bridge than in our neighborhoods,” Dring said.

McCalla said that the community should have a say in how the ramps are realigned.

The candidates were then asked about balancing the Pell Bridge realignment, the advent of the city’s prospective Innovation Hub, the expanded Naval hospital, the empty casino property and a satellite parking center, which are all considered potential threats that could have a negative impact on their respective neighborhoods.

“We need more transparency on what kinds of plans are coming through on development,” McCalla said.

Dring labeled the downtown redevelopment a “disaster,” saying, “I don’t want to see that happen again. I want to see that all these new developments are done right.”

Ward 2 candidates were asked how they would respond to planning and zoning considerations, the growth and development of businesses catering to tourism north to Broadway, and to sur- rounding neighborhoods voicing concerns over traffic, noise and the potential increase in crime.

“We need to look at all of these development projects, and take a holistic approach in how we develop our downtown, with minimal detrimental effect in our neighborhoods,” Larkin said.

Ceglie, who called Broadway “Sort of the shining light in our city now,” said, “Development on Broadway was actually a very positive thing for the city.”

On a question concerning handling safety and other liabilities on a limited annual budget, Dring said the city needed to invest in infrastructure because “Our schools are falling down,” while McCalla prioritized housing affordability.

Ceglie cited a survey two years ago, where roads, sidewalks and schools were marked as high priority.

Said Larkin, “Our sidewalks, streets really need to be improved. We need to look at everything together.”

Newport’s aging population was cited by several candidates.

“We can keep our tax rates low so we don’t tax people out of their houses, [and] make facilities ADA compliant,” Dring said.

McCalla supported maintaining a balance between summer rentals and year-round residency. “We need to make more room for working families,” she said.

Larkin said, “Our population is both aging and decreasing and that is a concern. We have to do two things at once, address issues of aging population, and we need to make the city more accessible to them.”

Ceglie agreed that the decrease in the younger population is a concern. “That is the reason why the Sheffield property is so important to the city,” she said. “Cranston

Calvert might possibly be workforce housing, housing that would be appealing to young people. We are trying to change that demographic.”

The rising costs of housing was addressed by all the candidates.

“The council cannot control the housing market,” Ceglie said. “Housing prices have skyrocketed. But what we can control are the short-term rentals, which are affecting housing prices.”

“One thing that we can control… taxes,” Dring said.

McCalla said the city needed to reach out to state and federal officials to bring resources to address housing.

“I don’t think any of us want to see people priced out of Newport,” Larkin said. “We need to do everything we can to make sure they can afford to remain.”

In a series of “yes” and “no” questions, Larkin and McCalla were in favor of term limits on the council, with Dring and Ceglie opposed. Larkin, Dring and Ceglie said they would support a Homestead Tax Exemption. All four were opposed to having the mayor chosen by voters, rather than by the board. Mc- Calla and Dring were opposed to building a new Rogers High in the North End, while Larkin was undecided and Ceglie did not vote.

“I would be in favor if there was a place to put it,” Dring said.

At the Oct. 18 At-Large Candidate Forum, candidates were asked a series of questions about the city’s Strategic Plan, Open Space Plan, summer traffic woes, parking problems, school financial difficulties, transfer taxes assessed on purchased property, recent hotel projects, the city’s rapid growth, short-term rentals and aging population. The answers can be heard on the ALN website.