The two candidates for a seat on the Select Board handled questions about rising taxes, housing and controlling growth at a League of Women Voters-sponsored debate.
Mark Howell and Karlen Reed face each other at the March 28 town election for one seat on the five-member board after Matt Johnson announced he is stepping down.
Unopposed candidates Carmin Reiss for moderator and School Committee member Carrie Rankin also participated.
Howell has lived in town for 24 years. He is an information technology specialist who, in 2011, became the town’s first Information Technology Officer and recently served on the Fiber Broadband Completion Task Force. He served on the Finance Committee for six years, including a term as its chairman.
Reed, a 14-year resident, is an attorney who has practiced law for 40 years. She is an election warden and poll worker as well as chair of the town’s PEG (public, educational, government) Access Advisory Committee. She oversaw the development of the Minuteman Media Network. She is supervisor of the central tabulation process for mail-in voting.
Reed’s most satisfying challenge as a volunteer was “watching the TV studio develop” into what today is a lively venue for real-time meeting coverage and other town events. She is currently involved in negotiating a new contract for cable TV with Comcast.
Howell said the town could consider increasing the capacity of the sewer infrastructure to allow growth, particularly in the commercial areas, while Reed said she would consult with experts in the area of wastewater management as well as the FinCom about paying for it.
Reed backs petition article 10 which asks the DEI Commission to ask Town Manager Kerry LaFleur to appoint a senior level Diversity, Equity and Inclusion director after consulting with the FinCom, while Howell noted that the DEI Commission did not place the article on the warrant and has funds in the budget for DEI-related initiatives.
“Let’s see,” he said about hiring a new director.
Regarding the rise in property taxes to pay for the new middle school, among other stressors, Howell suggested taking a hard look at the residential tax exemption.
“It’s imperfect, but seems to be the most direct” way to rein in escalating taxes which hit low and moderate income residents the hardest.
“Concord is not a cheap town to live in,” answered Reed. “We are reaching a tipping point,” where the town may not be able to afford new expenses without breaching the limit set by Proposition 21/2. She also promoted the Hugh Cargill Fund, which provides short-term emergency assistance, and the Tax Relief Committee, which raises funds for property tax relief, as ways to relieve the burden of taxes in some cases. She said the “wants” must be balanced with the “needs.”
They were asked about ways to increase the availability of housing. Howell favored “higher density” particularly around the town centers and public transportation, and permitting accessory units in residential areas. Reed backed the guidelines set forth by the Housing Production Plan. “It’s an excellent roadmap,” she said.
Answering a question about ways to reduce spending overall, Howell noted that the budget is “80 percent salaries,” and he would look for efficiencies and increased productivity. Reed said reducing spending is prudent, but she’d also look to increase revenues, citing the influx of tourists particularly for the 250th celebrations in 2025. Howell agreed with raising revenue, suggesting that the restaurant and hotel tax receipts and Enterprise Funds could add to the general fund.
Both candidates agreed that Concord for Ukraine should be allowed to march in the Patriots Day parade, participation which was denied by the Celebrations and Ceremonies Committee.
Unopposed candidates make their cases
Reiss touted the value of “institutional memory” as she seeks her eighth one-year term as moderator, adding that the role of moderator is “not a policy position.”
She praised town staff and especially the website and social media platforms for informing citizens about town government. The moderator appoints Finance Committee members as well as presides over Town Meeting. Reiss is current president of the Massachusetts Moderators’ Association.
Reiss said the town is nearing the end of the town’s surplus or free cash and may be facing Proposition 2 ½ overrides.
Rankin completed her first year on the School Committee and is seeking a full three-year term. She is a 10-year resident. She described herself as an “advocate” for students, while trying to hold the line on tax increases.
Serving on the School Committee is “a big commitment and a lot of work,” said Rankin, listing the effects of the global pandemic, the mental health crisis within schools and the growing needs of the special needs population “all in the face of economic uncertainty.”
“I’ve learned the depth of the challenges for the community and this district,” she said.