Council President Peter Gill and challenger Jeffrey Turco offered contrasting views about how they would lead the town in the next two years during a spirited Council President Debate Tuesday night broadcast live on WCAT.
The candidates disagreed on just about every issue – the new schools construction project, the water and sewer rates and enterprise fund, the approach to negotiations with Suffolk Downs officials for the casino mitigation package, and their style of presidential leadership.
One of the lone areas of complete agreement: Speaker of the House Robert A. DeLeo is doing an excellent job and is to be commended for getting the long-awaited Winthrop Beach Renourishment Project moving forward toward completion.
While the candidates, both stylish and impeccably dressed in suits and ties, displayed sportsmanship by shaking hands before and after the debate, the tension was discernible inside the WCAT studio as the two men continue to vigorously seek the town’s highest elected office, a position of considerable esteem, power, and responsibility.
Turco noted a successful water and sewer rates informational forum that he hosted Monday night and that 104 residents attended, a considerable number for such an event.
But Gill, who canceled a similar informational forum, chose to wade into those very waters during the question-and-answer period between the two candidates.
“You recently have raised concerns about the water-sewer issue – what’s your solution?” Gill asked. “To every issue, we need a solution and I’m asking you what is yours?”
Turco responded quickly and succinctly, “Leadership is the first solution to the water-sewer problem. Honesty – telling the people how we got to where we are and how then to address it with a plan.”
Turco said if he were elected president of the Council he would propose a four-part plan that includes eliminating the new water meter charge to the residents of Winthrop.
“The Commonwealth of Massachusetts suggests a 5 percent reserve for water-sewer,” said Turco. “In the last two years as our rates have skyrocketed, the Town Council under Peter Gill’s leadership working with Jim McKenna have raised our water-sewer reserves to $1.1 million. I would take the excess reserves from that fund and I would pay for the water meter program without assessing one single penny to the residential ratepayers in this town and still leave the 5 percent reserve that is recommended by the DOR.”
Turco said he would also propose “the elimination of the $250,000 of water profit that you worked into the Fiscal 14 budget and put an early pay incentive program” that would reward ratepayers for early payment.” The final part of Turco’s plan would be to conduct a staffing analysis.
Gill questioned the origin of Turco’s plan, stating, “You’re going to eliminate the water meter charge – Is that something you heard at the Town Council meeting as a proposal last week that I made to the Finance Commission – that the Finance Commission look at the appropriateness of the amount of the percentage of what we have. Or you’re saying that the state wants 5 percent? The average in Massachusetts for the water-sewer reserves is 25 percent.”
Turco brought up the lingering issue of Gill canceling his water and sewer informational forum at the Winthrop Middle School Auditorium.
“As far as the forum that I called and canceled – I did call the forum and I called that forum long before my opponent made the water-sewer rates a political issue. When it became a political issue, I felt it was unfair for the citizens of this community to use their resources, their building, their staff, to run a forum that in fact created a political issue.”
Gill said he was told that “one of the supporters of Mr. Turco asked a town official to put a police duty on for that forum because it was going to be a very, very, very difficult forum.”
“You know what, given that, I chose the option to cancel it, not to postpone it, to cancel it so that it’s not a political issue – and that’s what I did. I canceled it and that’s why I canceled it because it became a political issue.”
Stephen Quigley of the Sun-Transcript asked the candidates if they supported the construction of a new middle/high school, a question that will appear on the ballot in the Nov. 5 town election.
“There are actually two questions. The question is two years ago I said, yes, I supported a new school,” said Turco. “Tonight I say, yes, I support a new school but as a citizen going in to vote on Nov. 5, I will be voting no, against the question at this time.
“I have several concerns, frankly, regarding the new school. I think we need to do something but I question the affordability of it for the people of Winthrop who have been battered over the last two years by skyrocketing water bills. I question whether we have an appropriate maintenance plan to make sure that this new $83 million school is taken care of and is properly maintained.”
Gill said he would be voting “Yes” for the new schools project.
“I’m very much in favor of the new school,” said Gill. “When we go to the polls, we don’t have an option as to what we’re going to do, other than yes or no for a new school.
“If we vote no, then whatever we have invested to this point as far as planning, with the planning people that we’ve hired goes away. The money that we’ve spent goes away and that’s a half-million dollars. To build a new school is going to cost this town after reimbursement less than it will cost to rehab the two schools.”
One of the interesting moments in the debate came when Turco asked Gill to name three proposals that he had advanced in his role as a member of the School Committee and Gill declined to answer the question.
In his opening remarks, Turco said, “This election is not about Peter Gill and it’s not about Jeff Turco. It’s about what type of leader does Winthrop need as we deal with the critical issues facing us. In the last two years, we’ve seen our water-sewer rates skyrocket, literally putting senior citizens to the point where they have to choose between their prescription drugs and paying their water bills, all so the the town of Winthrop can build a $1.1 million surplus, unheard of – three times the level that the Commonwealth recommends.”
Gill’s overriding point in his opening remarks illustrated that he was proud of his record in office, stating, “Winthrop is a better place today than it was two years ago, financially, educationally, and aesthetically.”