by LAWSON ROBINSON
On Monday, the League of Women Voters hosted a Rochester city council candidate’s forum. The LWV is a nonpartisan political organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in the government.
Four candidates for city council were present including current council members seeking re-election Ann Peterson and Stuart Bikson and new candidates entering the fray, Nancy Salvia and Dean Bevacqua. The four candidates answered questions from the public as well as students from Rochester College.
“I am running for city council because the city needs me,” Salvia said in her opening statement. “There are two experienced members stepping down and the city needs people with my skills and personality,” she said, alluding to council member Cuthbertson and mayor Daldin not seeking reelection. Salvia noted that she has served as a volunteer, board member, and has an MBA from the University of Detroit.
Newcomer Dean Bevacqua spoke to his accomplishments, saying, “I have spent seven years working with the Homeowners Association serving as treasurer, vice president, and president. I would like to focus on business initiatives and residential priorities while also having transparency and fiscal responsibility.”
Council member Bikson said he is looking to continue offering his leadership while focusing on the financial aspect of protecting his citizens. “Since I have been on council, we have reduced taxes, given more transparency, and have been fiscally responsible. I am for low taxes, fiscal responsibility, and excellent city services.” Bikson is a graduate of the University of Michigan, and has an MBA from Wisconsin. He is also a special education teacher at Waterford Mott.
Council member Peterson started by informing the audience that she has been a resident of Rochester for over 30 years who has received an endorsement from Congressman Mike Bishop. “We need to make sure future generations of Rochester enjoy it here as much as we have. I am a strong advocate for the people of the community and I work hard to make the city accountable.”
Questions were then opened up to the public. The first question was simple: “What was the weakest decision the City Council has made?”
Bikson knew exactly what he saw as the weakest decision. “I voted against the tax increase as a member of council and the water rate increase put on by council. We need to spend money on infrastructure but to raise taxes without the vote of the people, I was against that. The water rate increase was too high, 100 to 200% water rate increases are unfair.”
Bevacqua pointed to the high cost of the bicentennial sundial. “The sundial is an item that I got a lot of feedback. The city council tried to do what they could to remedy the situation but spending $200,000 when you are raising rates on water and infrastructure is a hard decision to justify.”
The second question dealt directly with the Community House at the Paint Creek Center for the Arts and how candidates feel about the prospect of losing that building for public use.
Peterson made sure that people were aware that city council has yet to meet about these buildings, but will soon. “We have not been given this information and our job right now is to find out where these buildings are in terms of maintenance, lease agreements, and what we are actually responsible for with these buildings as a city.”
Salvia expressed support for local organizations in the community. “I understand that the Community House needs repairs, however, there are needs met at the community house that are the fabric of our community as well as the arts. I don’t think we have to give up one or the other.”
Another question centered around whether these candidates are in favor of putting the decision of picking a mayor to a public vote. Almost all the candidates mentioned that most of the public is unaware of the fact that the city council chooses the new mayor on behalf of the public. Peterson, Salvia, and Bikson were all in favor, but Bevacqua said he needed more information before he could make a decision.
When asked about water rates, Bevacqua was very honest about the rates. “Well water consumed by people on the west is cheaper. On the eastside, we get our water for a 20% premium from Shelby. We sell our water to Rochester Hills for a 50% mark up. We are actually paying about average for water usage costs.”
Bikson was very animated in his disdain for the increases in water rates. “I think it was unfair because you had people who had 100%, 200%, and 300% increases in their water bill. It’s not their fault that the system changed and they lost.”
Candidates were asked by a panel of Rochester College students what they would do to bring in affordable housing for young professionals.
Peterson noted her experience in the world of real estate as she runs her own real estate company. She also noted that the market is up because people want to live in Rochester. “We need to find a way to have all generational lifestyles here. We need developers to come into the community and to develop that type of housing. Older apartments have been converted into condos and that is great. We should find out what type of housing these young people want – do they want apartments, homes, or condos?”
Salvia also spoke to converting certain areas to be more attractive for younger people by offering lower rent. “We have done a good job from the development standpoint of getting apartments with affordable rent rates in desirable places. We could even get an ordinance to convert those places to townhouses with lower rent.”
Election Day is right around the corner on Tuesday, November 7. Visit ci.rochester.mi.us to learn more about voting next week.