Approximately 60 people attended a forum for Madison Borough Council candidates Tuesday evening at the Madison Community House to hear the four candidates give statements and field audience members' questions.
Two three-year seats are up for vote, with Democrats Astri Baillie, a former councilwoman, and Ben Wolkowitz running against GOP nominees Board of Health President John Hoover and Carmen Pico.
The event was hosted and moderated by the League of Women Voters, with audience members submitting questions about electric rates, taxes, Health Department contracts and the dismissal and reinstatement of Madison's borough administrator earlier in the year.
Attendees wrote down questions on index cards, and before long moderator Louise Murray had a stack of them, many about similar subjects.
On the issue of taxes, Hoover criticized what he said was an average 6 percent annual tax increase the years during Baillie's tenure on the Council, and said the increases have been under 3 percent in recent years. Wolkowitz said tax increases are smaller because of a new, state-mandated tax levy cap and the 6 percent increases were lower than the state averages at the time.
A question about the possibility of Madison losing some of its Health Department contracts drew spirited responses from Hoover, the Board of Health president, and Wolkowitz, who said the lost contracts are "disturbing" and part of Hoover's record.
Wolkowitz said Madison was formally notified it is losing two of its five Health Department contracts, and a third contract has said it won't be renewing. He said the Health Department should not be autonomous and the Council should have a say in how it's run.
Hoover said he was glad to clear the air on the issue. He said the five contracts expire at the end of the year. A contract with Springfield and an expanded contract with Chatham are on the verge of being signed, he said.
"I don't think we're going to lose any money," he said. "I think we're doing really well."
Wolkowitz asked for a chance to respond, and the moderator said she could tell it was an important issue and gave the candidates another minute to respond.
Pico offered his minute to Hoover, saying people were "attacking" Hoover on the issue.
Wolkowitz said it wasn't an attack, but the candidates are running on their records and voters need to know what the records say.
"I hope we don't lose all three," he said. "I could be wrong and I hope I'm wrong."
Hoover said the Health Department has saved money and made the department more efficient by reducing full time staff, changing animal control providers, automating marriage and dog and cat licensing, adding a time tracking system for employees and giving sanitarians computer tablets to avoid duplicating work.
Check back for more information and a link to the RosenetTV video of the debate.