As the Nov. 3 election looms, Waterville mayoral candidates Phil Bofia and Jay Coelho debated a myriad topics virtually Monday night, including budgets, diversity and downtown revitalization.

Both candidates are former city councilors. Coelho, a 43-year-old Democrat, represented Ward 5 in 2019. Bofia, 33, is running as an independent. He formerly served on the city’s charter commission and was appointed to the Waterville City Council in January of 2019 to represent Ward 2 before falling in that November’s election.

Bofia and Coelho are vying to replace current Mayor Nick Isgro, who has served two three-year terms and is not seeking reelection. The candidates spoke extensively about their desire to make Waterville a place that welcomes all.

Bofia, who works as an IT Business Analyst for CGI in Waterville, said he’s running on a campaign of positive politics, economic vitality, and solar power and climate change.

“Phil Bofia has and will always work for the people of Waterville,” Bofia said.

Coelho, an entrepreneur who owns Waterville businesses You Broke IT and GRUB Bakery, said he wants to see everyone in the city united and thriving financially.

“We can always do better at what we’re currently doing and I look forward as your mayor to continue the work I’ve done over the years,” Coelho said.

The debate held over Zoom was hosted by the Morning Sentinel and moderated by Sentinel reporter Amy Calder.

The mayor of Waterville is not a role that carries immense power, but the mayor has the power in the City Council to break ties and veto decisions, and the mayor may issue proclamations.

Phil Bofia, candidate for Waterville mayor, speaks Monday night during a Zoom debate hosted by the Morning Sentinel. Screenshot from Zoom debate

“One of the most important functions of the mayor is to basically sell our city to community and investors,” Bofia said. “You are the one that sets the tone in the culture of our community.”

Coelho said he appreciates that the mayor position is not one of immense power. He said he’ll have an open door policy.

“I am not seeking a position of authority, I am looking to give a voice to the people who haven’t had one in the past,” Coelho said.

Both Bofia and Coelho want to attract new families and businesses to Waterville. They want to see Waterville’s population and businesses grow, including beyond Main Street. Coelho emphasized the importance of attracting visitors to Waterville beyond the tax base in order to encourage economic prosperity. Bofia spoke about the importance of inclusion.

With Waterville being a full service community of about 16,000 residents that balloons to about 25,000 during the work day, parking has been reported as an issue.

Jay Coelho, candidate for Waterville mayor, speaks Monday night during a Zoom debate hosted by the Morning Sentinel. Screenshot from Zoom debate

As businesses continue to come downtown Waterville, Bofia envisions a bigger problem when Colby College finishes the Lockwood Hotel and The Concourse renovations are done. Moving to two-way traffic on Main Street may also eliminate some spots, but some spots could return in The Concourse.

Coelho suggested adding parking meters and the potential of a private garage in the future. He also envisions giving Waterville residents parking passes for free.

“Having a parking issue downtown means people are going downtown, and that’s a good thing,” Coelho said.

Bofia disagreed about adding parking meters because it ads to the tax rate.

“Adding parking meters downtown would act as an additional tax, and that’s something that we can’t do,” Bofia said.

Both Coelho and Bofia spoke about the importance of leveraging positive relationships with state politicians to increase revenue sharing.

Bofia said the city does not always spending wisely, which directly translates to finances of Waterville Public Schools. Bofia believes the school budget has to increase because of inflation, but the recent increases are more than is needed because of a decline in student population.

“It seems like when it comes to budget season, the city is always debating with the schools about where to cut from one or the other,” Bofia said. “As someone who has looked at the budget line by line, I know there are opportunities.”

Coelho noted the schools are providing many more services than they once did. Budgets will always increase, whether it be the schools or the city. He believes teachers are underpaid.

“We can’t just take away all of their money and say, ‘Oh, fend for yourself,'” Coelho said. “Everything goes up, are there places to cut? More than likely.”

It’s no secret there’s been an effort to revitalize Waterville’s downtown area. Colby College has invested approximately $100 million in the downtown and the city is soon to embark start an over $10 million project to change Main and Front streets from one to two-way, improve sidewalks and more.

Coelho said it’s important to look beyond the downtown area for targeting improvements.

“You can’t even make it from Water Street to downtown without playing Frogger,” Coelho said. “It must be about every part of this city, every single resident.”

Bofia likes the way the downtown project is going but has questions. He said some longtime residents have raised issues about changing traffic flow, including turning the diagonal parking on Main Street into parallel parking.

“Right now, the people of Waterville feel like they’re being left out,” Bofia said. “I want to make sure they know that they will have someone that will listen to their issues.”

There was uproar when Mayor Nick Isgro proclaimed to continue recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day as Columbus Day, going against what the City Council decided. Bofia and Coelho said they’d make proclamations they feel are right, even if they differ from the council.

Bofia said any proclamations he makes would “lift everybody.” Coelho said his would “bring people together.”

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