Candidates Forum a cordial affair, but there were differences at the table

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Incumbent City Council candidate Jim Gray answers a question by Matt Mowry of Business NH Magazine during Monday's Candidates Forum. Looking on from left, are Skip Gilman, Ashley Desrochers, Laura Zimmerman and Jamie Radloff (Rochester Voice photo).

ROCHESTER - It wasn't a debate, but it was a spirited Candidates Forum on Monday that showed there are differences between those who would be mayor and those who would be next to serve on the City Council.

Palana Hunt-Hawkins told city residents that she had the vision and the energy to move the city forward stressing the need for workforce housing and shaping a narrative."

Paul Callaghan countered that economic development was vital and that increasing the city's police force was paramount in creating a safer Rochester.

"Right now we are understaffed," he said. "Officers are only being reactive. We need them (to have the time) to be able to get out of their cars and talk to folks in these hotspots."

Both agreed that some of the recent partisanship evidenced at City Council meetings had no place in city government.

Asked about infrastructure, Hunt-Hawkins said sometimes it costs more if you put it off, while Callaghan made specific mention of the modernization project planned at the intersection of Amarosa Drive and Milton and Salmon Falls roads, which ensured the relocation of Sig Sauer gun manufacturer paving the way for hundreds of good-paying jobs. Callaghan also envisioned that down the road the riverfront at Wyandotte Falls and the Cocheco River could be transformed into a waterfront wonderland that would attract visitors.

Hunt-Hawkins said one of her first initiatives would be to organize a task force to develop options for workforce housing, while Callaghan, a longtime Strafford County Sheriff's lieutenant and prosecutor, said he wanted to work with the Police Department to make sure "we are retaining officers."

Meanwhile, during a back and forth between competing City Council candidates, many said that the city's 79e tax program that allows developers to skip paying tax increases in their newly acquired properties was an incentive for builders that the city needs to develop its downtown, while newcomer Ward 6 Seat A candidate Jamie Radloff said the city should not be in the business of buying and marketing downtown buildings. Others like Ward 6 Seat B candidate Matthew Richardson said it should be done sparingly on an individual basis.

In response to a question from a caller asking whether they were in favor of defunding the police, each candidate agreed they were against it.

Regarding the homeless, most thought it was a problem that couldn't be fully solved without the state government's help.

Mayoral hopeful Cassi Borne did not attend.

City Councilor Chris Rice arrived late due to work issues, he said, while candidate Jeremy Hutchinson dropped out of the race last week.

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