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Name: Jim Splaine
Occupation: Safety and Training Program of nearby Amusement Park (35 summers), business consulting, writing, current Portsmouth police commissioner, part-time at local supermarket
Years living in Portsmouth: Lifelong, first 21 years in the old North End.
Public service experience: Portsmouth City Council, 16 years, elected first time in 1969; five terms as assistant mayor; School Board member, one term; chair of the 1988-1989 Charter Commission, an elected group of nine members who totally rewrote the City Charter for the first time in 100 years; six years as N.H. state senator; 24 years as N.H. state representative, representing Portsmouth; currently Portsmouth police commissioner, elected in 2017.
Q1: What can the city do to increase its supply of affordable housing?
For an economically diverse population, we need to provide various options for housing. We need to be innovative in providing encouragement/incentives for developers to build real affordable housing in all parts of our community. We should partner with the Portsmouth Housing Authority to create mix-use housing on carefully selected lots in parts of our community, including expanding the Gosling Meadows neighborhood — which is close to many community services and jobs, including at Pease. Encouraging lower-cost smaller housing and pre-manufactured housing at Pease and elsewhere, while protecting our existing neighborhoods, should be an option to evaluate. We should work more with neighboring cities and towns on a regional basis on this matter. I also think that our general policy as we invite/welcome new businesses to locate or expand here is to encourage that they pay a livable, sustainable wage to all of their employees, so that they will be more able to afford to live here. I like the concept of “summitry,” bringing together stake-holders of an issue to come up with positive solutions. Real affordable housing ventures for Portsmouth and our Seacoast could use this approach.
Q2: Are there specific areas in the city budget where you think spending cuts can be made? Are there specific areas where you think spending should be increased?
Our spending on city administration and on consultants should be carefully evaluated. We should implement a zero-based budgeting approach to examine every department and spending project for justification. I also suggest two other approaches: bottom-based budgeting, which I define as asking each department to tell the City Council the least funding that they can continue their services, without cutting employees, and challenge them to identify a 10-percent reduction in costs without cutting employees or services. I think that efficiencies and streamlining should be examined across the board. The other approach I advocate is pricetag budgeting, which would assign an actual cost of activities in each department, project, and service as to what it actually costs to accomplish that activity. “Tagging” that price, or cost, would bring awareness to administrative staff, all employees, and citizens as to what it costs to keep a light burning in a room for an hour, or driving a truck or staff vehicle for a week, or undertaking a construction or maintenance project, or hiring an employee. This is not “penny-pinching” — it is making us aware of where our taxpayer dollars go. On spending priorities, I think funding for education, law enforcement, and fire protection is investment that we must make in an ever-changing and challenging world. In coming decades, our young people will face difficulties, and opportunities, that today we can only imagine — and they must be prepared for that. It is our obligation to help them now.
Q3: Do you support a citywide ban on single-use disposables such as plastic bags, plastic straws, and Styrofoam containers?
When I was assistant mayor, I advocated an ordinance to ban single-use disposables. The problem is that since the N.H. Legislature has not yet approved legislation — which I supported this past spring — to allow municipalities to set such regulations, we have to be concerned that there would be a lawsuit in any ordinance we pass. And Portsmouth does not have a good record on challenging lawsuits. I think logic requires us to continue work on the state level to obtain a statute allowing communities to regulate, and in the meantime consider how we can have the best policy, with some flexibility, for disposables and Styrofoam containers on city-owned land and events. We should also work with businesses and organizations on educational efforts to explain the value and cost-savings — there are many environmentally and economically — by reducing single-use products. “Recycle, Reuse, or Don’t Use” is something that should be part of our mindset. We can do a better job in city government on that, including not using plastic water bottles, disposable coffee cups, or unnecessary chemicals for maintenance in city buildings.
Q4: Regarding the McIntyre redevelopment project:
A) Do you support the Redgate/Kane plan?
No. On Dec. 20, 2017, I am proud to have been the “1” city councilor on the 8-1 vote to begin the process that was undertaken, which, within a month, had identified one developer to lead the project plans. I opposed that process because it could have been — should have been — much more inclusive from the start and not rushed under the assumption that there was a pending deadline for plans, which we later learned there was not. I met with Michael Kane last May over coffee for an hour and a half and I respect him — but I think he was put in a corner by city management on this plan.
B) Do you think the Council should step back and consider other plans, such as the one put forth by Bill Binnie?
Yes. I think that we have time to get it right — there is no pending “deadline,” as we had originally been told, and that 2.2 acres of land in the center of our downtown will, once developed, be like it will be developed for many decades. We should revisit McIntyre, involving the considerable and diverse talent of our community in design ideas, listening to their input for vision, and then asking for specific proposals. I have no particular preference for the plan offered by Mr. Binnie, but I do think that the plans offered by “Revisit McIntyre” have much to like, and by revisiting the project and involving the collective “we” may identify exciting and visionary options not yet considered. The future of Portsmouth deserves our patience on this matter to make it the best that it can be.
Q5: What can be done to clean up and prevent PFAS contamination and other chemical contaminants on the Seacoast?
I was one of the first locally to advocate for cleanup of the Haven Well and for addressing the Coakley Landfill — teaming up last year with several Seacoast-area N.H. state representatives in successfully bringing a right-to-know law court action to get information from the Coakley Landfill Group. I also supported the legislation that was eventually adopted to examine managing of Coakley. I also have advocated for similar efforts for the long-ignored Jones Avenue Landfill, which could become more of a problem in coming years with sea-level rise unless we mediate now.
Q6: Do you feel that development in Portsmouth — particularly of luxury condos, hotels, and other large-scale buildings — should be curtailed?
Yes — we need to encourage smaller, less-dense development concepts and ideas and not just focus on our downtown. Million-dollar condos do little to help the people of our community and can be counterproductive as costs and taxes keep going up. Portsmouth is attractive primarily because of our history and historic buildings, and affordability citywide for our residents is not being addressed by luxury condos. At the very least, whenever a hotel or some of the large-scale buildings are constructed, the businesses and corporations thus locating should be encouraged to pay livable, sustainable wages for their employees. I think that it is a responsibility for city government to speak up on this.
Q7: What are your feelings on the idea of building a permanent covered stage in Prescott Park for festival events?
I think that we should be open to some approach that would allow such a stage, but the concerns raised over that idea as it was proposed a while ago are problems that would have to be met. Prescott Park is a beautiful park that, as we invest in improvements in coming years, will become even better, and making sure that it serves many functions is important.
Q8: Should the city add more bike lanes and/or take other measures to improve bicycle safety and/or reduce motor-vehicle traffic downtown?
Encouraging alternate methods of transportation is a good idea. In fact, we must. We cannot make all the parking lots and garages we will have to build if we don’t find alternatives — our ever-growing community, not just our downtown, will bring more cars into our community. In years, perhaps people won’t need to own personal cars, but for now we have to consider more conventional alternatives — such as encouraging car-sharing, trolleys, and bicycle use. When I was assistant mayor, I supported the exploration of bike lanes, and when done well — with neighborhood and citizen input as part of the process — it can work well in many parts of our community. It is a work in progress that makes sense, providing we listen to and involve our residents in decisions.
Q9: Are there any significant projects that should be undertaken outside of the downtown area and Islington Street corridor?
For an economically diverse population, we need to provide various options for housing. Affordable housing, including the allowance of more pre-manufactured housing — which can be considerably less expensive than stick buildings built over a hole — should be encouraged in the upper Woodbury Avenue area and Lafayette Road area. I live in an area where there are about 40 homes commonly called “mobile homes,” and we have other areas with another 200-plus similar homes in our community. They are more affordable than other choices. For years, I have suggested allowing repurposing of some of our single-level shopping centers on Lafayette Road and Woodbury to include low-cost more affordable housing. We should support the Portsmouth Housing Authority in possible mix-used housing expansion in the Gosling Road neighborhood — which is located near numerous services and job opportunities, and encourage businesses at Pease to build supplementary housing for some of their workforce. That could be a win-win for the businesses as well as employees.
Q10: A times this summer, there were road closures on Islington Street, Woodbury Avenue (by the traffic circle), Maplewood Avenue, and other roads all at once. Is there a way to reduce the heavy concentration of road work that creates detours and traffic congestion in the summer?
By coordinating and planning development schedules, road closures and detours could be substantially reduced. That takes informational exchange between city staff, developers, residents, and state road personnel.
Q11: What actions should be taken at the city level to address climate change?
We need to partner with our neighboring communities along the Seacoast to protect our shorelines and rivers and substantially reduce our carbon footprint as quickly as possible. In government, we need to reduce our energy consumption, whether it’s in the vehicles we use and operate in public services or for city staff, having energy audits and more awareness of the lights and energy we use in all city buildings (pass by any city building at midnight and there will be lights on with little activity), and encouraging our businesses to do the same. We need to use fewer chemicals in city operations, especially in our maintenance operations, and evaluate the benefit of “natural state” in parts of our fields and roads rather than doing as much mowing and weed control as we do, as well as encourage more park land. Greenery benefits us in many ways.
Q12: Name one of the biggest challenges and one of the biggest opportunities Portsmouth will face in the next 10 to 20 years.
Our biggest challenges will be to make Portsmouth and our Seacoast more protective of our environment, and more affordable for an ever-growing economically diverse population. Our greatest opportunities include identifying ways to work together and cooperatively with our neighboring towns and cities — from the tri-city area of Rochester, Somersworth, and Dover and nearby towns from Durham, York, Kittery, and Seabrook on protecting our coastlines and rivers from growing sea level, developing cost savings and efficiencies for shared services, improving an inter-connective transportation system, and handling our solid and liquid waste with the next levels of technology. The opportunities for creativity on these matters using a regional approach abound.
BONUS: What are you gonna be for Halloween?
Ah ha! If I told you that, people would know it’s me when I sneak up and scare them, and they might scare me back! :)