Editor’s note: PortsmouthNH.com sent a questionnaire to all 18 candidates running for Portsmouth City Council in the Nov. 7 election. Some of the questions were suggested by readers, while others were generated by the PortsmouthNH team. For information on polling hours, voting locations, voter registration, and more, contact the city clerk’s office.
Name: Chase Hagaman
Occupation: New England Regional Director, The Concord Coalition
Years lived in Portsmouth: My wife and I have lived in Portsmouth for going on three years, residents of New Hampshire for about eight. We are both originally from the Midwest, attended UNH Law, married at Rye Harbor State Park, and moved to Portsmouth to raise a family in this awesome and vibrant community we now call home.
Public service experience: I have been purposeful and passionate about public service and civic engagement from a young age. I currently work full-time for a nonpartisan, grassroots organization that educates on the importance of generationally responsible federal fiscal policy. Volunteered as a high school rowing coach from 2013 to 2017. Interned for the N.H. Department of Revenue, Concord City Solicitor’s Office, and Hillsborough County Superior Court – South during law school.
Q1: This year, the City Council has taken up several resolutions in response to comments or actions by President Trump.
A) Do you think it’s appropriate for the City Council to vote on resolutions concerning national/international issues?
As a citizen, I think it is important to stand against injustice, to protect freedoms, and to speak out. However, I also work for a nonpartisan, 501(c)3 organization, and I have to be careful to protect its ability to operate in diverse settings and work with and engage members of both major political parties.
Regarding city council, as a nonpartisan body tasked with governing local issues and representing residents, in most cases, I do not think it should vote on overtly partisan resolutions concerning national or international issues. My perspective could change if it is a national or international issue that pertains to local governance or authority.
Such actions, depending upon the issue, could also risk state and federal funding. Although I do not agree with resolutions that might single out an individual or party, there are times when I agree with the underlying principle of the resolution.
The principles that are strongly supported by our community could be better served by crafting city priorities, ordinances, plans, and programs that put those principles to use in a nonpartisan fashion.
B) Explain your position on the following resolutions:
- In April, in response to President Trump’s comments and executive orders regarding immigration, the council passed a “welcoming and diversity resolution.”
The principle of being a welcoming city that champions diversity is one that runs deep within our community. Portsmouth is the “City of the Open Door.” I support working to maintain what that motto represents.
However, I believe City Council, as a nonpartisan and local governing body, should avoid wading into national, partisan politics as much as possible.
- In June, after President Trump announced plans to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, Mayor Jack Blalock (with council approval) signed a letter supporting the goals of the accord.
This is another area where our local policy efforts and initiatives better represent how City Council should approach an issue. Instead of putting forth a resolution affirming an agreement of which we are not a direct party, we should simply choose to enact ordinances and regulations that reflect the standards and principles set forth in the aforementioned agreement.
In fact, I think Portsmouth is well on its way to doing just that with its eco-municipality status and many of its sustainability initiatives, which I support.
- In October, the council passed a resolution denouncing President Trump’s recent comments criticizing professional athletes who choose to take a knee during the national anthem.
Again, this is an area where perhaps a better way for City Council to support First Amendment rights is through how it conducts business and enacts policy. Our community is politically engaged, stands for others, and fights against injustice. Exercising free speech is part of the fabric of our city, and we encourage others to do the same.
Q2: Regarding the Prescott Park Arts Festival (PPAF), please share your thoughts on the following:
The Prescott Park Arts Festival (PPAF) is an invaluable asset to our community. It contributes greatly to the culture and local economy of Portsmouth. In fact, our city’s arts economy was recently valued at $58 million. We should work to reasonably address recent criticisms, while at the same time ensure the sustainability of the PPAF. To encourage a symbiotic relationship between the PPAF, residents, and the city, balance and compromise are needed.
The Prescott Park Policy Advisory Committee recently proposed its recommendations for the 2018 PPAF season. Its recommendations were based on months of conversations with PPAF leadership and the public and took into consideration several areas of impact to Prescott Park.
Public comments that followed were largely in support of maintaining a lively PPAF by not putting substantial limitations on it. Still, several agreed with the policy committee’s recommendations, or even suggested more stringent requirements.
Many of the committee’s recommendations are referenced in my answers below.
- Should there be fewer PPAF events each year?
The policy committee recommended establishing concrete start and end dates for the festival, with better guidance on scheduling parameters, limiting the total number of concerts and the number per week, and instituting “non-performance” and “low-impact” days each week.
Most of these policy recommendations already appear to be in practice — one “non-performance” day and one “low-impact” day especially. Limiting the number of concerts to two per week will likely be the most impactful, as this last PPAF season saw some weeks with three concerts.
However, I do not believe the number of PPAF events each year should be reduced at this time. The number of concerts, movies, and total events has actually decreased since 2015.
Current and future agreements with the PPAF should continue to tweak guidelines until we determine the best avenues to address growth, noise, and safety concerns. PPAF has been cooperative with those efforts to date, and I expect that will continue.
- Should there be limits on audience sizes?
A concern of mine, and expressed by residents, is that safety could be an issue at some events that draw larger crowds in such close quarters. However, before setting an arbitrary limit on audience size, I would want to know how the policy committee concluded that 3,400 people should be the park’s maximum capacity, talk to the fire and police departments to understand and address safety concerns, and craft a plan with the help of the PPAF regarding traffic mitigation and public use of the park even on event days.
- Should PPAF events end earlier?
The policy committee recommended setting new “hard stop” times for events — 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Under the existing agreement, end times were based on the type of production in the park. Musicals and movies were permitted to have a “hard stop” time of 11 p.m., while concerts had a “hard stop” time of 10 p.m.
I understand the desire to shorten event durations, but the new, universal end times may simply reduce the number of non-concert-related events — like movie nights — because sunset occurs later during the summer and sunlight interferes with such productions.
As a result, I would suggest having universal “hard stop” times on certain days, but provide exceptions for events that would likely be impacted by the presence of daylight.
- Should the volume of events be reduced?
The PPAF has been cooperative and helpful as the city continues to work to address concerns related to volume levels at events.
The city has set sound limitations and utilizes in-show indicators to help govern sound levels. The latest Sound Management Study resulted in a recommendation that existing sound equipment be upgraded and reduced, and that said equipment should be angled differently to limit the amount of high-decibel volume (well over 90 decibels for large concerts and crowds) that carries into surrounding neighborhoods.
I think putting the study’s recommendations into effect would yield positive results and help strike a balance. Moving forward, the city will have to determine what the appropriate sound limitations should be and if they need to change from their current levels.
The Prescott Park Master Plan could also help address resident concerns while at the same time enabling the PPAF to thrive.
- Is consumption of alcohol during PPAF events a problem that warrants stricter enforcement?
Existing measures of enforcement, at least according to the city’s agreement with PPAF, are quite rigorous on the issue of alcohol consumption. I do not believe additional measures are currently necessary.
I have not personally seen alcohol being consumed at an event in the park, but I have heard from residents that they have seen attendees sneak in alcohol or leave appearing drunk. I have also heard that if alcohol consumption is spotted, authorities are quick to take care of it.
Prescott Park is governed by, and the PPAF is subject to, the requirements of a trust, city and state law, and a memorandum of understanding between the city and the PPAF that provides for formal notice of the ordinance banning alcohol in parks, the city ensuring there are signs advertising the ordinance, PPAF giving verbal reminders from the concert stage and posting notices on the PPAF website.
The PPAF also pays for a police detail to, in part, enforce the no-alcohol policy.
Q3: Regarding government transparency and accessibility:
A) Do you think the council has been transparent enough over the last two years? If not, what can be done to improve transparency?
I do think the Council has been transparent over the last two years (a plethora of data is available online or at request by the public), and I think the Council has sought to improve upon transparency along the way.
However, as with all things, I do think the Council can continue to improve and should be more proactive and creative in communication with residents.
B) Do you think city government has been accessible enough for residents? If not, what can be done to make it more accessible?
To me, accessibility translates to availability and communication with residents. I believe effective communication is the end goal for the current Council, and their effort to engage in public dialogue sessions exhibits that.
However, city government as a whole could stand to improve its communication. The latest example of the need for improvement was how the recent property revaluation went about.
The city should better advertise and increase its use of traditional media, social media, e-mail, and physical notice for upcoming meetings, agendas, and issues to be discussed.
City Council should lead that effort in how it governs and interacts with residents. Continuing to explore new and creative ways to involve residents in government processes is key.
Q4: Housing costs continue to rise in Portsmouth. Do you think the city should add more housing supply to ease pricing pressure? If so, what land could be used for this purpose?
I support efforts to promote more affordable housing as we try to manage the cost of living in our city, but tackling this complex issue will be difficult and may take years.
Additional inventory can help relieve some pricing pressure (theoretically), but the city has limited control over adding housing supply. Its primary tool for impacting housing is zoning.
Portsmouth should continue exploring the idea of adapting zoning laws to new community needs, incentivize certain housing types and density levels, and consider welcoming new forms of housing inventory. All such efforts should be done in a way that helps preserve the historic charm and culture of our city and blends developments with surrounding neighborhoods, which has proven difficult in recent years.
Most areas where housing could be added are presently private property. As a result, what the city can do best is plan and prepare so that if such property enters a development phase, it can help address housing affordability issues.
The ongoing and proposed projects in the Frank Jones Brewyard, for example, seem to hit all the right buttons — utilizing a historic structure for mixed-use, maintaining the fabric of the surrounding neighborhood, encouraging walkability, proposing green space, and adding housing inventory with some workforce housing included.
Q5: Regarding residential and workforce parking:
A) Do you think Portsmouth should develop a downtown parking program for people who work in the city? If so, how would it work?
Although the city already has a parking program for downtown employees in the off-season, I would like to see it expanded and improved upon via additional parking and public transportation, where possible.
The city could explore utilizing more satellite parking lots and increasing shuttle services to those lots. One example is the parking lot and shuttle used during season at Connect Community Church. The city could explore expanding that agreement to year-round, and could consider other similar public and private partnerships.
It would also be ideal to offer parking rate discounts to downtown employees and Portsmouth residents, but such a program would have to seriously weigh budgetary impacts and would have to be factored into the city’s overall parking plans.
B) Do you think Portsmouth should develop a neighborhood parking program for people who live in the city? If so, how would it work?
The city is currently engaged in a comprehensive parking needs study, which is done every five years. Any proposed neighborhood parking program should factor in the results of that study and feedback from residents.
Q6: Do you think the city should cut spending in order to lower taxes? If so, where specifically would you make cuts?
City councilors should be vigilant stewards of financial resources, capable of balancing competing interests while forming and evaluating city spending policies and priorities. That is what it will take to maintain our quality city services and a reasonable residential tax burden.
City spending has grown to $109.7 million for Fiscal Year 2018, and that level of spending required an increase in revenue. Since the state limits how the city can generate tax revenue, most is collected via property tax. Individual tax burdens are largely determined based on the interaction between property values and the property tax rate, which the state requires to be the same for both residential and commercial properties.
It is important to note that much of the city’s budget is dedicated to vital services or areas of spending over which the city has limited control. For example, approximately 80 percent of the total budget is dedicated to the school system, fire and police departments, debt service, and county taxes.
The city budget has been increasing in large part because of personnel related costs, such as salaries and wages set by contract, healthcare, and retirement, toward which the state no longer contributes. Increased debt service has played its part as well, as the city has engaged in a backlog of projects that required bonding.
As I have been going door-to-door and talking to residents, few have mentioned a desire to see less of an investment in city services, but they do want better accountability and a more effective city government.
With that perspective in mind, finding savings for taxpayers will require more community involvement in the budget process, smart city planning and contract negotiation, setting spending priorities throughout departments, identifying forms of new revenue, and showing fiscal restraint where possible.
Q7: The council is attempting to take 4.6 acres of land containing a city sewer line from Toyota of Portsmouth owner James Boyle. In March, Boyle said he was seeking about $10 million in a settlement offer, but no settlement was reached.
A) Should the council have settled with Boyle at the amount he requested?
Not being a party to the suit and privy to all the necessary financial and legal documents, I cannot say whether a $10 million settlement would have been appropriate.
Without all the facts and figures, I think it would be inappropriate to determine what would have been an appropriate settlement amount, or if a settlement would have been advisable.
No matter, the city and Mr. Boyle were far apart at the time, evidenced by the fact that the eminent domain taking was approved by City Council with a $345,000 payout to Mr. Boyle.
B) Should the city proceed with efforts to take the land by eminent domain?
The city has already initiated taking the land by eminent domain, and a Rockingham County court has ruled the city is now the owner of that 4.6 acres, pending an appeal by Mr. Boyle.
Although I am not an attorney focused on this particular area of law, whether I like it or not, the law regarding eminent domain is pretty settled. If just compensation is provided, and certain criteria are met, the government can take private property for public purpose or public necessity.
A judge, or perhaps the Board of Tax and Land Appeals, will likely make the final determination on whether the taking of Mr. Boyle’s property, in order for the city to manage a sewer line, meets the eminent domain legal requirements.
Q8: What is your stance on the regulation of short-term rentals, such as those offered through Airbnb?
I am not opposed to the use of Airbnb in Portsmouth, but it should be effectively regulated and managed — with resident feedback — in order to protect neighborhoods and abide by state law.
The use of Airbnb is currently limited by Portsmouth zoning ordinances. Any business owner that hosts people for a fee must follow ordinances pertaining to bed and breakfasts and hotels.
Neighboring towns do permit short-term rentals like Airbnb, but have enacted specific regulations governing their use. Hosts are also required to collect a 9 perecent Meals & Rooms tax for the state.
Airbnb has the potential to provide a benefit to residents, our local economy, and our budget. However, at least anecdotally, given that roughly 50 percent of our city is comprised of renters who often cannot sublet, the use of Airbnb may naturally end up being quite limited.
Q9: What is your stance on allowing Keno gambling in the city?
I have never been a fan of funding education through gambling, and it seems odd that in a state where we do not even permit casinos, we are willing to fund kindergarten with Keno.
The debate at the state level was more philosophical than political, and the state even appears to acknowledge the inherent issues with promoting gambling by taking 1 percent of revenues from Keno to fund efforts combatting gambling addiction.
The state also seems to be undercutting Keno as a funding source for full-day kindergarten by permitting each city and town to determine if they will allow Keno gambling.
I would listen to resident input on the matter, but my initial thought would be to vote against Keno in Portsmouth.
Q10: Looking 10 to 20 years into the future…
A) What do you see as the biggest challenges facing Portsmouth?
So much can and will change over the next couple decades, making it difficult to predict what will be our biggest challenges. Looking ahead, I see several long-term challenges:
- Ensuring a fiscally responsible budget that does not overburden taxpayers.
- Adapting to a changing natural environment.
- Meeting the needs of and adjusting to demographic changes.
- Adapting to technological advancements that will impact everything from transportation to the types of businesses that call Portsmouth home.
B) What do you see as the city’s biggest opportunities?
With such a vibrant and welcoming city, opportunities abound, but three of great importance to me, include:
- Attracting young professionals and families that want to invest in and become part of our community.
- Taking advantage of emerging industries to further diversify our business community.
- Reinforcing and investing in the arts so that Portsmouth holds on to its unique flair and culture.
C) How can the city start preparing for these challenges and opportunities now?
The good news is that we are already well on our way. With rezoning efforts, smart spending, and informed and strategic planning, Portsmouth is working to position itself to embrace opportunities and address its challenges.
I hope to help our next City Council continue to be forward and long-term thinking, face some of our tough decisions head on, bring together our community, and effectively represent residents as we plan for the future.
BONUS: What are you gonna be for Halloween?
We have not decided yet, but my wife and I will probably go to the Halloween Parade as some character combo, like Bonnie and Clyde or Popeye and Olive Oyl.
See responses from other candidates
(Candidate Brenna Cavanaugh declined to participate, citing time constraints. Candidate Rick Becksted did not reply to messages left by phone or email.)