Dover tries to balance growth, development,
and infrastructure improvements within a tight budget
Like many Seacoast communities, Dover is trying to chart a course that balances growth, development, and improvements to city services with the constraints imposed by a tax cap and an overall economy that’s still sluggish.
Voters will see a number of familiar names on the ballot: all of the current council members are seeking re-election. Dover’s City Council includes a mayor, six wards, and two at-large seats (one of which is filled by the deputy mayor). Ward 2 councilor William Garrison and Ward 5 councilor Catherine Cheney are running unopposed. However, challengers John O’Connor, Deb Thibodeaux, Thomas Seiler, Jason Gagnon, Fergus Cullen, and Anthony McManus will vie with incumbents for the other six council seats. Current city councilor Karen Weston is making a bid for mayor; she’s challenged by school board chairman Rocky D’Andrea.
The next council will have to contend with a number of big projects. After years of waiting, the council in 2012 approved $8.7 million for a new police station as part of the city’s capital improvement program (CIP), which provides a five-year plan for city improvements. But finding a location for the police department, which has been located in the ground floor of City Hall since the 1930s, has proven difficult, and the next council will decide on a location for the new station. Also up for discussion is how and when the city should proceed with a renovation project at Dover High School and Career Technical Center, which will cost $35.2 million. Improvements to city roads and sidewalks will also be considered—last year, $800,000 for street repairs was removed from the CIP and some councilors objected, saying that funding for roads too often is cut and that road repairs only get more expensive over time. Another question facing city officials is whether the city needs a downtown parking garage and, if so, where it might be located.
Looming over these projects and others is the city’s tax cap, which has been in effect since 2008. The tax cap ties increases in tax rates to the three-year average consumer price index (CPI) for the Boston region. Supporters of the tax cap say that it’s kept city spending under control, while opponents believe the cap limits necessary funding for city services, such as education and public safety. City councilors can override the limits imposed by the tax cap with a two-thirds majority vote.
The city is looking at different ways to help pay for improvements to roads, sidewalks, sewer systems, and other infrastructure. One option city officials are considering is the use of tax increment financing (TIF) districts, a development financing tool that uses future gains in property taxes to pay for capital improvements (sidewalks, sewers, streets, etc.) that will enhance an area and attract development. Revenue generated from new development is then used to pay for the improvements in the TIF district. A number of New Hampshire towns, including Keene, Raymond, and Peterborough, have adopted TIF districts. However, some Dover councilors are worried that TIF districts will ultimately leave residents, and not new businesses, footing the bill for improvements.
While Portsmouth has seen a sudden boom in development, growth in Dover, by comparison, has been more moderately paced. The city’s massive waterfront redevelopment project, which includes retail, residential, and office space on 21 acres along the Cochecho River downtown, has been on hold since 2009. Dickinson Development Corp., the project’s lead developer, has had trouble attracting investors to the project since the economic crash of 2008, and Mark Dickinson, owner, announced in August plans to sell the residential portion of the project for $3.94 million. Another new development, with five stories of offices, retail space, and residential units, is slated to be built along the river at the intersection of First and Chestnut Streets, behind Earcraft Music. The backers of the project, Dover residents David Bamford and Kevin McEneaney, expect to break ground in the spring of 2014.
Meanwhile, the city’s cultural landscape continues to grow. Venues like Fury’s Publick House, an expanded Barley Pub, Cara Irish Pub, and Sonny’s Tavern have helped nurture Dover’s music scene. In October, Dover’s art galleries, including Artstream Studios, Lucy’s Art Emporium, the Children’s Museum, and Village Goldsmith Gallery joined together for the city’s first monthly art walk. And earlier this year, the Greater Dover Chamber of Commerce used grant funding to commission a study about the future of the Strand Theater on Third Street, which has not been used as a theater since 2009.
Get to know the candidates:
Dover voters will have plenty of chances to meet the candidates. Dover Listens will host a candidate forum on Tuesday, Oct. 22 at 6 p.m. at The Rivermill at Dover Landing, located at 1 Washington St., where attendees will have a chance to break into small discussion groups. The Greater Dover Chamber of Commerce will host a traditional city council candidate forum on Tuesday, Oct. 29 at 6 p.m. at City Hall. A forum for school board candidates will be held on Monday, Oct. 21 at 6 p.m. in the McConnell Center, Room 306, located at 61 Locust St.
Start by using The Wire Voters’ Guide to familiarize yourself with the issues and the city council candidates. In our print edition, candidate responses were edited and condensed for space reasons, but here, we present each candidate’s full, un-edited responses. Please note: our seventh question was optional and some candidates chose not to answer.