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September 25, 2013

Rochester City Council candidates share ideas at forum

By Mary Beth Almond
C & G Staff Writer

ROCHESTER — The five people running for four open seats on the Rochester City Council shared the spotlight during a League of Women Voters’ candidate forum at City Hall Sept. 16.

Current Council member David Zemens is not running for re-election this November, but incumbent trustees Stuart Bikson, Jeffrey Cuthbertson and Cathy Daldin all hope to return to the council. They will compete with newcomers Ann Peterson and Rob Ray for the open seats Nov. 5. The three candidates receiving the highest number of votes will each serve for four-year terms, and the candidate receiving the fourth-highest number of votes will serve for a two-year term.

Bikson has served on the Rochester City Council for the last 14 years — the last four as mayor.

“I believe there is still a lot of work to be done, and I believe that I can offer Rochester tremendous experience and leadership that can guide Rochester into the future. I will continue to fight for an efficient city government that has low taxes, a strong police and fire department, a balanced budget, and excellent city services,” he said.

Cuthbertson, a lifetime resident of the Rochester area, began serving on council in 2005.

“I’m running for re-election to help make sure that the city remains fiscally prudent, while growing and planning for the future, by focusing on three basic goals, which is to maintain budget discipline, reduce the tax burden, and make sure that we have quality infrastructure and high-quality parks,” he said.

Daldin, a 24-year resident and co-owner of Shamrock Travel in downtown Rochester, was elected to the council in 2011.

“I know what it is like to make payroll, to live within my means and cut costs where necessary, while still providing excellent services to my clients. This is the real world we live in. This experience, hard work and attitude is what I bring to my position on City Council every day,” she said. “We must never forget we are working for the citizens of Rochester. I am willing to ask tough questions and make tough decisions based on what is best for the city, and not popular opinion.”

Peterson, a Realtor with RE/MAX Defined of Rochester, has served on the city’s Planning Commission for the past five years and is serving her second term on the City Beautiful Commission. She is also a member of the Rochester Historical Society and the Assistance League of Southeastern Michigan, and has lived in the city for the past 28 years.

“My family has been truly blessed by the opportunities we have received living here in Rochester all these years, and I truly want to give back and be that voice for all the residents and businesses of our city and continue our strong historical heritage.”

Ray, who currently serves on the city’s Historical Commission and is a financial advisor, has lived in the city for the past four years and in the Rochester area for the past 15 years.

“I’m running for Rochester City Council because I believe our community needs a strong leader with a fresh perspective and new ideas who is open-minded and not afraid to make tough decisions — all attributes that I think are critical when representing our community,” he said.

From the one main issue they want to address as a City Council member and their views on a new governance structure for the Older Persons’ Commission, to what they would earmark extra revenue for if it were to become available and their visions for development in the city, the candidates revealed their opinions on a number of topics.

The candidates’ responses varied when asked what issue was most important to them. Peterson said economic development, retention of businesses and parking in downtown Rochester are her priorities, while Ray said he would address the balance between economic growth downtown and the residential values that make living in the city so great. Continuing to make sound financial decisions for the city is at the top of Daldin’s list. Bikson said he is most concerned with keeping tax rates low, and Cuthbertson said his No. 1 priority is maintaining budget discipline.

The candidates were in agreement that they would not support a change to the current OPC interlochal agreement that created an independent OPC Governing Board without direct elected city official representation, as long as city taxes continue to be paid to the OPC.

When asked where they would choose to spend unexpected extra revenue to enhance Rochester, the candidates all said they would return some to Rochester residents, then shared a variety of ideas as far as what to do with the rest. Cuthbertson said he would allocate it to the city’s water fund to maintain the more than 50 miles of water and sewer mains in the city, as well as to the city park system.

“If one block breaks, it can cost three quarters of a million dollars to repair, so making sure that we have an adequate capital reserve there is very important,” he said. “I believe it’s well past time that we begin to make substantive investments in our park system that bring it on par with the downtown resources that we have.”

One of the most important areas that Peterson believes the city needs to earmark some money toward is protecting historical assets. She also said she would designate money to the water infrastructure, as well as the OPC and senior programs.

“Being this close to a national landmark such as Meadow Brook Hall, we have a lot we could do going forward with that,” she said in regard to historical preservation.

Daldin said she would use the money to develop the South Street area, as well as to make the city more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly.

“I think that’s an area that we can really look toward for future development,” she said of South Street.

What Ray would do with the money all depends on how much was available, he said.

“I don’t know that I could pinpoint any one particular thing, but … I would look at each opportunity within the community and what the return investment would be.”

Bikson said he would use any extra money to pay down some of the city’s liabilities for retirees.

“We’ve seen what happens when that situation is not taken care of — in Detroit and a lot of city’s throughout the country. We have done a great job of not putting ourselves in that position, and being fiscally conservative, but we do have liability and pension liabilities out there. To pay those things down, I think, would be a great legacy for a current City Council to pass on to future city councils and future residents of our city,” he said. “I think it’s the fiscally prudent thing to do.”

To view a recording of the forum, visit www.ci.rochester.mi.us.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Mary Beth Almond at malmond@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1060.