SURRY — Democratic candidates for state and county office spoke with voters in town hall Wednesday night, focusing much of the discussion on property taxes and the effect of state budget cuts on towns and cities.
“I think it’s time we started pushing back on the cost shifting of the state and the budget crunches that do nothing but increase our property taxes,” said John G. “Jack” Wozmak, a Walpole Democrat running for county commissioner in Cheshire County’s District 1.
The small gathering — six candidates and about a dozen voters sitting in a small circle of chairs — allowed for an informal back-and-forth.
Different candidates ticked off various ways they said lawmakers had chipped away at state revenue and state support for municipalities. That included business tax cuts, the state’s withdrawal from contributing to local pension obligations and a change that effectively removed a small tax for putting one’s real estate into a trust.
In an echo of Democratic soul-searching elsewhere in the country, politicians and voters in the room said the party needs a clear, convincing message on property taxes and state investment in communities.
To Wozmak, that message is: “There’s no such thing as a cut. It’s a transfer.” Cuts to state agencies can leave counties picking up the slack, he said. “Those expenses do not go away.”
Addressing the frequent liberal gripe that poor and middle-class Republicans vote against their economic interests, Terry M. Clark said Democrats bear the blame.
“That’s our fault, because we’re not able to frame the argument like they are,” said Clark, a Keene city councilor running for Cheshire County treasurer. “They’re able to frame arguments in a very simple way that make(s) people believe that that’s what’s gonna help me. But we don’t do that.”
Wednesday’s forum was organized by Surry resident Caroll Lothrop and others. N.H. Sen. Jay V. Kahn said similar events, meant to highlight down-ballot state and county races, are in the works for other towns before the Nov. 6 general election.
The two-hour discussion kicked off with the candidates making their pitches to voters. Some described the duties of the more obscure offices, sneaking civics lessons into a campaign stop.
“If you own a house, you will have a deed in my office, and our office holds all the deeds back to 1771,” said Cheshire County Register of Deeds Anna Z. Tilton, a Keene resident running for reelection against Libertarian Darlene Lester of Winchester. “And when a house is sold, that deed is reported to my office. If the deed is not reported to my office, it didn’t happen.”
Every year, Cheshire County Sheriff Eliezer “Eli” Rivera of Keene said, he and his deputies serve about 3,000 court papers, make about 3,200 trips shuttling inmates to or from court and transport 60 to 80 people who have been involuntarily committed to a mental-health facility.
“We put a lot of mileage on our cars,” he said.
Rivera, first elected in 2012, is running against Earl D. Nelson of Marlborough, a Republican, and AriaDiMezzo Baker, a Keene Libertarian.
Clark said his experience with budgets in the private and public sectors — including as a member of the Keene City Council’s finance, organization and personnel committee — has prepared him for the job of treasurer. He called it a relatively well-defined and uncontroversial position.
Clark faces one opponent, Libertarian Kenneth Kelly 3rd of Winchester.
The current county treasurer is Wozmak, who also works for the city of Keene as manager of Dillant-Hopkins Airport in North Swanzey and who previously served as Cheshire County administrator for more than 16 years.
Wozmak is challenging incumbent Cheshire County Commissioner Peter L. Graves, a Walpole Republican, in the election.
In addition to property taxes, Wozmak listed two key issues. He said the county should help find a regional solution to improve the area’s overtaxed emergency services, and play a similar role in the opioid crisis. (Wozmak served as the state’s senior director for substance misuse and behavioral health for about a year in 2015 and 2016.)
N.H. Rep. John Mann of Alstead talked about his support for public education and for efforts to improve energy efficiency, a topic he works on in the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee.
Mann is running for a fourth term in the district representing Surry, Marlow and Alstead, against Republican Anne Cartwright of Alstead.
Kahn, a Keene resident who represents District 10 in the Senate, said his priorities are addressing the state’s workforce needs, including through expanded career education and student-loan reimbursement incentives; improving mental-health care; building a “21st century infrastructure” that includes everything from roads to Internet to the energy grid; and addressing high property taxes.
Kahn is running against Republican Daniel C. LeClair of Swanzey and Libertarian Ian B. Freeman of Keene.