This is part of a series of candidate questionnaires with local candidates released ahead of the November 2 elections.
Name: Matt Gerding
Address: High Street, Somersworth, NH
Occupation: Science teacher in college
Education: BS in Microbiology from UNH, Master in Public Policy from UNH
Civic experience: I am currently an At-Large City Councilor in Somersworth – elected in 2019 to represent the city. I chair the Cultural Commission and am a member of the Public Works and Environment Committee, Government Operations Committee, Historic District Commission and a former member of the Election Review Planning Commission and the Somersworth Commission Plaza. I am also the treasurer of the Somersworth Democrats and a member of the Stonewall Democrats’ executive committee. I have also been a teacher for almost eight years, six of them in Somersworth. While I was a teacher, I also worked with Somersworth Youth Connection in their after-school program and their summer program.
Campaign website: MGerdingNH.com
Favorite Movie, Book or TV Show: My favorite author is Jesse Ball, but due to the fall weather, I was motivated to start reading “The Stand” by Stephen King. My favorite movie is “2001: A Space Odyssey”, but I like all kinds of movies: horrors, thrillers, comedies, etc. shows. I think, however, that my all-time favorite TV show is “The Wire”.
What would your three priorities be if you are elected or re-elected?
If I am re-elected, I would like to focus my efforts on solar energy, the environment and infrastructure. Currently, the city is exploring the possibility of joining the New Hampshire Community Power Coalition. This coalition allows municipalities across NH to work collaboratively to increase the availability of solar power throughout NH. Beyond joining the coalition, I would like Somersworth to continue developing solar energy projects to help offset the electricity used by buildings and municipal services. To help preserve the environment, I would like to continue to implement the plans outlined in the Mayor’s Monarch Challenge. These plans include preserving important habitats for monarch butterflies, educating residents about the importance of this species, planting native wildflower gardens throughout the city, and transforming Ash Street Park into a garden of butterflies. For infrastructure, I would like the city to increase its investments in roads, sidewalks and green spaces. These investments will improve the city for our residents and attract development.
What is the city doing well and where can we improve?
Our schools have been shining examples of what can be accomplished when a community values education. We have schools filled with phenomenal staff who work tirelessly to ensure that all students in Somersworth receive a high quality 21st century education. Our staff and schools are award-winning, and Somersworth Youth Connection – our before and after school care program – has received a 21st Century Community Learning Center grant more than any other program in the area. This energy, care and investment all face adversity as the state of New Hampshire continues to underfund schools across the state. Our efforts here in Somersworth show that we are capable of meeting a challenge, and I know we will continue to strive for excellence if the strong collaborative relationship between school board and city council remains.
One area I would like to improve is in waste management services. The cost of recycling and garbage services has increased recently, and I think the city would benefit from having municipal composting. As a member of the public works and environment committee, I advocated for a compost bin in our public works building. This compost bin is free to all Somersworth residents and can help reduce waste and the number of bags residents have to purchase, saving them money. However, this is a small step towards a bigger solution. I would like the city to continue to explore more comprehensive options such as collecting compost or creating a municipal food waste composting site – perhaps in partnership with a local composting company. This will not only help Somersworth to be more sustainable and environmentally friendly, it could also save the town and its residents money.
Does Somersworth need a development strategy? What would you do?
The best strategy to attract development to our downtown is for the city to continue to improve infrastructure such as roads, sidewalks and green spaces. By having a well maintained and walkable downtown with plenty of parks, trees and gardens, the city will shine and attract development. The city has already made great strides in meeting these priorities: we have worked on improving our parks – like the Veterans Memorial Park, we have done a sidewalk assessment, and have plans in place to start improving. sidewalks, we have increased funding for road improvements, and we have already implemented and completed comprehensive street projects – such as the ongoing cemetery road project – that fully replace and improve the infrastructure of roads to start from nothing. Other plans in place include redesigning Ash Street Park and distributing planters to downtown businesses. As important as these things have been so far, I would like the city to continue to increase its investment in projects like these. Our current level of funding for roads, sidewalks and green spaces has only allowed the city to maintain, but not increase, the rate of improvement.
Can Somersworth do more to increase the supply of affordable housing in the city?
The pandemic has exacerbated a housing crisis across the country. Already reduced housing supply and the desire of many to move from cities to more rural places like NH have led to dramatic increases in rental and real estate prices. Somersworth must prepare to capitalize on this desire for people to relocate to our community, while ensuring that our current residents can continue to afford to live here. One way to help stabilize the housing market is to build or develop more housing. Somersworth has so far done a great job in this area, with several new residential developments. However, more could be done, notably by redeveloping buildings in our downtown area and creating market-priced housing in the heart of our community. These changes would certainly help the continued revival of our downtown area, and more housing would help keep prices from rising due to continued demand. Currently Somersworth has the most affordable housing of the three cities and it is important that we preserve this type of housing as development increases. In Somersworth, we also have a handful of charities that provide transitional housing to residents, and it is important that the city works in coordination with these and other nonprofits to help ensure these residents may remain in Somersworth.