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: Scott Forte
Occupation: Realtor, Pilot, Entrepreneur
Years lived in Portsmouth: 5
Public service experience: 0
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?
Resolutions are basically worthless. They don’t really have much more political power than a petition signed by the public. The City Council’s time should be focused more on impacting change locally than voicing an opinion nationally.
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.”
I did not read the resolution itself and cannot make an educated comment on its content. In general, I feel resolutions are a waste of time if they do not have a specific action item attached which will change an existing law or create an avenue for a new law to be made.
• 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.
I did not read the letter/resolution itself and cannot make an educated comment on its content. If the resolution was part of an organized national movement by cities and towns with a specific action item which requested the president to not pull out of the Paris climate accord I would have voted in support of it.
• 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.
This was a waste of council time. This was not a city council issue.
• Should there be fewer PPAF events each year?
I feel if Prescott Park Arts Festival could have events every single day, it should. The hours of events need to remain reasonable for both the residents and the festival. The arts in this town, PPAF included, bring in millions in revenue for local restaurants and businesses. The more valuable we can make these businesses, the higher they will sell for, and the higher their appraisal value will be, in turn lowering all of our taxes. In addition, the presence of PPAF in the park helps reduce the use of the park as a homeless-hangout and a place for people to use drugs (as it used to be). Prescott Park is a great bonding place for the community. It is an opportunity for us to be together, have fun, and get to know one another. We need more places/activities in town for us to connect as a community. Arts bring both a social and financial benefit to the town and need to be supported.
• Should there be limits on audience sizes?
Only if safety of the audience is the driving factor.
• Should PPAF events end earlier?
No, the PPAF events should not be required to end earlier. Most end fairly early already and do not push the current curfew.
• Should the volume of events be reduced?
No, in recent years the volume level has already been reduced. I do not feel it needs to be reduced further.
• Is consumption of alcohol during PPAF events a problem that warrants stricter enforcement?
No, stricter enforcement is not warranted.
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?
As much as they can. It is the system that is limiting transparency. Dissemination of information through public channels is the limiting factor. For this reason, I feel the city should implement a new community website designed for specifically voting and commenting on relevant issues. Each issue should be prefixed by all the facts — real facts. Voting, commenting, and historical recording of questions could be implemented like StackExchange.com (the #1 tech/Q&A/voting site in the world).
B) Do you think city government has been accessible enough for residents? If not, what can be done to make it more accessible?
All government is not accessible enough to citizens. It’s a big problem. Issues should not only have limited blocks of time where they can be discussed for a few hours. Issues should be open and talked about 24/7 for weeks. To accomplish this, see the previous answer.
“The City” should not add more housing supply. “The Market” should add more supply to housing. Land in the West End and along Route 1 are ideal candidates for development. Density of mixed-use projects, and the governing zoning, is going to be the largest contributing factor to decreasing the individual tax burden, naturally making new development more “affordable” for young professionals and senior citizens. Targeting young professionals and senior citizens with smaller units, 600-900 square feet, will increase housing without burdening the school systems. Government subsidization is not the solution. Subsidization is a burden to the taxpayers.
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?
Yes, parking nets $4.8 million per year. The real question is, does parking really need to be a profit center for the town? Employees and employers could greatly benefit with a workforce-parking sticker that was paid annually for a reasonable fee, maybe $250/year.
B) Do you think Portsmouth should develop a neighborhood parking program for people who live in the city? If so, how would it work?
A workforce parking in combination with a residential parking sticker would greatly decrease the number of cars parked in residential neighborhoods. Residents should be able to park for free in their neighborhoods, but also be allowed to buy a parking sticker that allows them to park anywhere in town for a reasonable annual fee, again maybe $250/year.
Q6: Do you think the city should cut spending in order to lower taxes? If so, where specifically would you make cuts?
Residents want lower tax bills, but we want to maintain our quality of life. I believe we should spend conservatively, and look into all options for decreasing spending without jeopardizing quality of our police, fire, and education system. While cutting the budget is a solution, it will be an uphill battle. Hypothetically, if we could shave $1 million from the budget, which is a huge cut, that would only be about about $8/month per household on average. I pay more for Netflix. To get the residents what they want — lower tax bills — we need to build more homes, ideally affordable homes people my age can afford. More homes means more people to share the burden, which means lower tax bills. We also need the commercial appraisal values to increase. As both a commercial and residential realtor, with an MBA with a specialization in finance, who deals with developers on a regular basis, I feel I am the candidate best positioned to assist with both the assessment and housing issues of Portsmouth.
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?
No, the value of the land is not reasonable at the price of $10 million.
B) Should the city proceed with efforts to take the land by eminent domain?
We should look into all other options before taking the land by eminent domain. The use of eminent domain will set a precedent, as well as possibly jeopardize the relationship between the residents of Portsmouth and “The City.”
Q8: What is your stance on the regulation of short-term rentals, such as those offered through Airbnb?
Innovation, and new innovative industries, should not be over-regulated too early. We need to see where innovations like Airbnb and Uber go before regulating them. We need to tread carefully if we want entrepreneurship and innovation to flourish in our town. Rooms and meals tax is a good regulation that should help taxpayers. On the state level, we need to tell our state representatives we want more of the rooms and meals tax to come back to the town.
Q9: What is your stance on allowing Keno gambling in the city?
I don’t like gambling, but I like freedom more. If the town, as citizens, want Keno to be allowed, we should have a public vote requiring at least 65 percent in support of it with a minimum of 80 percent voter turnout. Personally, I feel if people knew how much they could make by investing in themselves, it would not even be a discussion. We, as humans, have unlimited potential to do amazing things! We have an abundance of opportunities to invest our time, talent, and money in; why choose to gamble it away?
Q10: Looking 10 to 20 years into the future…
A) What do you see as the biggest challenges facing Portsmouth?
Voter-turnout, housing, micro-housing, zoning, individual tax-burden, regulation of cannabis, energy development, incentives for renewable energy programs, water purification and treatment, transportation, and, of course, parking.
B) What do you see as the city’s biggest opportunities?
In my humble opinion, we live in the greatest city in America. If we run this city properly, it can be used as a model for all cities in America. We need to strive to have the best education system in the country. We need to strive to have the safest community in the country. We need to strive to be the epicenter of entrepreneurship and innovation.
C) How can the city start preparing for these challenges and opportunities now?
First: Elect smart, talented, motivated individuals to all positions in government. Second: Leverage technology to change the way issues are addressed and voted on. We can bank online; we should be able to vote online. Quorum is needed to hold a meeting, quorum of resident voters should also be required to pass legislation. Location and time are two of the biggest contributing factors to the lack of voter-turnout and involvement on government issues. Both could be solved with an online issue-education, discussion, and voting system.
It’s a surprise! But you can see me dance in the “Thriller” dance during the Halloween Parade! Second row from the front, second person from the left, right next to my beautiful wife Lauren (third from the left)!
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.)