Dover Listens Candidate Forum: My Responses
Good evening everyone. My name is Robbie Warach and I’m the current City Councilor in Ward 2, seeking re-election to a second term. Some of you may know me as Robbie Hinkel, but I was recently married this past July. I’d like to start by thanking the Greater Dover Chamber of Commerce and Dover Listens for hosting this forum and allowing us to share our visions for the City, and Don for being our host this evening. I’d also like to thank the residents who came out tonight, those who are watching on TV or streaming online, and my fellow candidates for their interest and engagement in the process of making Dover a great place to live and work. I hope my answers to the following questions help to give you an understanding of my vision for the City and I hope to earn your vote on Tuesday, November 7th. And just a reminder, Ward 2 now votes at the Dover Ice Arena at 110 Portland Avenue.
What’s something you thought you knew about city government, but later learned you were wrong about?
When I first ran for office, I thought that City government had the ability to directly address some of the critical issues we face, but later learned that cities and towns do not have certain legal authorities unless that authority has been expressly granted by the state government. For example, I thought we could address the affordable housing crisis by offering property tax incentives to developers. In reality, we can only offer tax reductions on buildings that have been designated as community revitalization projects, which is typically limited to historic or other older buildings being rehabilitated in an effort to revitalize downtown areas. Locally, our ability to advance affordable housing is limited primarily to two things. The first is making zoning changes, which can increase building density and the overall housing stock, but isn’t guaranteed to bring more affordable units. The second is that City can enter into public-private partnerships with developers, where the city offers a non-tax incentive in exchange for the developer promising a certain number of affordable housing units. If elected, I plan to pursue both of these options, but it’s also important we advocate to our state legislators to make needed reforms at the state level.
As you look ahead to the next five to ten years, what, in your opinion, will be the biggest challenges for Dover and its citizens? What can we do to successfully navigate those challenges?
Dover is one of the fastest growing communities in the state and has one of the lowest median ages. As I look ahead to the next five to ten years, one of the biggest challenges I see for Dover is the ability to continue to grow sustainably while maintaining our ability to attract young, working families, and keep our existing families in their homes. This is a three part issue in my mind. The first is ensuring that our budget and capital improvements program are drafted in a way that addresses the need to repair and replace aging infrastructure like roads and water and sewer lines, some of which are from the 1800s. The most cost effective way to do this is to proactively undertake these projects, and not reactively, like when a sewer line fails and needs emergency replacement. The second part of growing sustainably is to address climate resilience locally. We can do this by setting a target date and creating an action plan for moving the municipality away from fossil fuels and onto renewable energy. This also has the added bonus of saving taxpayers money on city operating costs. Through cost savings generated by the new Community Power Coalition, we’ll have the ability to build renewable energy generation projects, such as a solar farm, which will increase the amount of renewable energy powering municipal, residential and commercial properties, while reducing our carbon footprint and further lowering energy costs. The third part of growing sustainably is ensuring that we have the right mix and volume of housing available for people at all income levels to ensure that young, working families just starting out can raise families here, and seniors or retirees on fixed incomes can age in place. We can change our zoning regulations to allow for greater housing density, particularly around the downtown core and on public transit lines. We must also continue to prudently pursue public-private partnerships for housing development, ensuring the agreements include the development of mixed-income housing with a focus on affordable units. If we plan and take action in these three areas, we can successfully overcome the challenges of sustainable growth, and create an affordable community where all residents can thrive.
As you look ahead to the next five to ten years, what, in your opinion, will be the biggest opportunities for Dover and its citizens? What can we do to take full advantage of those opportunities?
As Dover continues to grow, one of the biggest opportunities we have is to increase public engagement in civic life, giving residents more of a voice in decision making. While the City has a robust website and great email communication channels to alert residents of what is going on in city government, we need to adapt our operations to take advantage of advances in technology and communicate with residents in ways that work for them. Not everyone has a computer or access to the internet in their homes, making our website and email channels inaccessible. However, in 2023 almost everyone has a cell phone, so the City should look into investing in a text messaging alert system that can be used to advertise public events and notify residents of things like public hearings on proposed city policies and programs. This will increase awareness and give more people the opportunity to participate in the decision making process. We should also use technology to create short videos that explain different city functions, policies and programs in an easy to understand format. Lastly, we should create a mobile device friendly online portal that allows people to submit feedback on any of the items I just mentioned, so their ideas can be heard and considered even if they are unable to make it to a public meeting.
As you look around Dover today, what programs or policies give you the most pride or hope? Why?
Dover is a progressive community and we are a leader in both the state and nation on many programs and policies that improve the quality of life here, and there are two in particular that give me pride. The first that I mentioned earlier is our membership in the Community Power Coalition. Not only will it lower energy costs for our businesses and residents, it will increase the amount of options customers have available for receiving renewable energy. I’m most excited about the ability for the Program to generate funding for future energy generation projects, allowing us to create our own renewable energy. The second program that gives me pride is our community oriented policing program. Our officers are required to go out into the City and engage with members of the community in a non-law enforcement capacity, just for the purpose of building relationships, helping the public to see police as partners in our community. I also take pride in the fact that our department now includes two social workers who can help to address emergency calls that don’t necessarily require a police response, like a mental health crisis. It also allows us to divert non-violent drug offenders from incarceration and into substance use treatment programs.
What’s missing? Why does this matter?
In terms of policies or programs that are missing, I think a primary focus is a city-led action plan to address homelessness. The Tri-City Task Force created a plan, but we need to bring a task force back to review and revise the plan as needed, with the goal of developing an action plan and timeline for the development of transitional housing, and a permanent, full-time, low-barrier shelter to replace the Willand Warming Center. There are federal grants available to help with this work, and there are social services organizations with financial means of supporting these projects as well. We should be applying for these grants and partnering with these organizations to truly make progress on this issue.
Thank you again to the Chamber, Dover Listens, Don, fellow community members and candidates, for allowing me to share my ideas and vision for the success of the city of Dover. I encourage any community members to reach out to me with questions, suggestions or other feedback, and I hope I have earned your vote for City Councilor of Ward 2 on November 7th.