By Leslie H. Dixon and Erin Place
Editor’s Note: This report has been updated to include Norway selectman candidate Corey Roberge. We inadvertently left him out of our candidates round up and apologize for the error.
OXFORD HILLS — Voters will go to the polls June 14 faced with myriad choices and decisions to make during annual town election.
To help voters in their decision process, the Advertiser Democrat has polled candidates for the contested Board of Selectmen races in four towns.
In addition to asking candidates for their town government and community experience, candidates were asked by the Advertiser Democrat to cite the largest issues facing their towns and what steps they would take to resolve the issues and secondly, if they had a choice of putting more money in the budget where would it go and why?
In Oxford, five candidates are running for two open seats on the Board of Selectmen. The seats currently held by chairman Scott Owens and James Goforth – who opted not to seek re-election – will be challenged by Floyd Thayer, Dana Dillingham, Mark Blaquiere and Joan Quinn.
Neither Owens, Blaquiere or Quinn responded to the questionnaire.
Dana N. Dillingham of Hebron Road is a jail operations officer at the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office. He is a U.S. Army veteran with years of supervisory experience.
Although new to the town political arena, Dillingham has been active in the community as a former youth basketball, softball, basketball and soccer coach.
Dillingham said that rising costs and a shrinking tax base is a problem many towns face.
“While Oxford is fortunate enough to have the Oxford Casino to provide revenue and future business opportunities, it is still a delicate balance of revenues versus expenditures,” he said. “Oxford Casino has been a great neighbor in the community and their expansion will invest even more money into the local economy. Keeping Oxford a welcoming community while balancing future economic growth must be maintained with forethought and planning.”
Additional funds should be placed where the most need is, Dillingham said.
“Additional money into any budget should always be prioritized based on need. Every tax dollar should be spent with careful consideration,” Dillingham said, emphasizing the word every. “Not one penny of taxpayer’s money should be spent just to spend it. If a town has extra funds but is fortunate enough to be in a position where it does not have a need to spend it, those funds should be returned to the taxpayers.”
Floyd Thayer, of Robinson Hill Road, and owner of Ed Thayer Inc., a trucking company and big rig shop, a heavy duty truck repair shop, is a former selectman, serving 12 years, a Budget Committee member and 11-year veteran Planning Board member.
As selectman, he said he was instrumental in hiring the former town manager, developing TIF zones, attracting new business and beginning the sewer project. He is also active in the community as an Oxford Fair board member.
Thayer said it is imperative to get the new town manager up to speed with Oxford issues.
“It is very important that the selectboard backs him and helps him feel like part of the team,” Thayer said. “Oxford has had very good luck attracting new business. Let’s keep it going. As a new selectperson, I would look at what’s best for the taxpayers of Oxford. It isn’t a job for someone with a personal agenda.”
Thayer said that Oxford needs to live within its budget but given extra money he would opt to improve roads.
“I think there are a lot of roads that need work, but as a past selectman, I also know that you are spending taxpayer money. We have to live within out budget,” he said.
There are two seats up for grabs on the Norway Board of Selectmen – with a three-year term – and three candidates seeking those positions. Selectman Mike Twitchell chose not to seek re-election and instead is seeking to fill the state representative’s seat for Norway, Waterford, West Paris and Sweden.
Bruce Cook, a longtime selectman and retiree, is seeking re-election. In addition to his time as selectman, Cook has served on the Budget Committee, Planning Board and Norway Comprehensive Planning Committee.
Currently, he is the treasurer for Norway Opera House Corporation, Norway Downtown and Shepard’s Lane Association and board member for Responsible Pet Care. He is a former member of the Rotary Club of Oxford Hills and served as the president and treasurer for the Norway Lakes Association.
Cook doesn’t believe there are currently any major issues facing the board or town, as “the town is operating pretty smoothly right now with an experienced town manager and staff,” he wrote in his candidate’s questionnaire.
Instead Cook said he wants to look to the future when it comes time for longtime Town Manager David Holt to retire.
“I feel with my experience in the business world hiring staff, I could serve the community in the selection process,” he said.
If he had the option to put money back in the budget, Cook would use it for upgrading the town’s streets and sidewalks, along with areas of the Town Office.
“We are doing an OK job but are barely holding our own,” he wrote about Norway’s streets. “Money could also be used to expand the Town Office (the vault) and a larger area for the Norway Police Department.
Tom Curtis, current Budget Committee member and retiree, believes the biggest issue facing Norway is for the town to realize its full potential.
“The town of Norway, this little bit of Heaven at the brink of the Appalachian foothills of Maine, is a diamond in the rough,” he wrote. “The lake and ponds draw innumerable souls to them and could help to drive this town to much greater heights.”
To do this, Curtis thinks selectmen “should take the lead in bringing together all forces that wish to have a voice in the remaking of Norway from a sleepy, but harmonious town to one where all recognize and work to fulfill the potential that it has.”
He credits his free time as a retiree and experience on the Norway Downtown Economic Growth Committee and Norway Lakes Association to make him the right candidate to do so.
If Curtis could put money back in the budget, he would allocate for roads and bridges as he says they’re in serious need of repair.
“Their upgrading would also be beneficial to the long-term financial well-being of Norway,” he said.
In addition to serving on the Budget and Norway Downtown Economic Growth committees, Curtis is the vice chair of the Norway Memorial Library Board of Trustees and Oxford County Republican Committee, president of the Diane E. Curtis Medical Scholarship Committee and a member of the Maine Music Society and First Congregational Church Choir.
Allan Moone, who is the current Budget Committee chairman and a Senior Solutions engineer, wants to serve his town now as a selectman.
The biggest issues facing the selectboard are increasing property taxes and an unbalanced budget, according to his questionnaire. He advocates for a comprehensive review of departmental capital and operational expenses.
“To balance the budget we as a community have two choices; increase revenue or decrease expenses,” Moone wrote. “1. Increasing revenue results in higher property taxes for all citizens of Norway or attracting more business development for a stronger commercial tax base. 2. Decreasing expenses requires a thorough review of anticipated capital expenditures, departmental budgets and town of Norway debt services.”
Before Moone would stick more money back into the budget, he’d rather take more time crafting the spending plan.
“We need to first fully understand our revenue and expenses, balance the budget and seek ways to be more economically efficient,” he wrote. “Once we achieve that, then we can responsibly look at where additional spending is needed and explore ways to fund it.”
Corey Roberge, a current Budget Committee member, is self employed and works for Ride Source Inc. Now he wants to join the Board of Selectmen.
The biggest issue that’s facing the town is the potential loss of revenue sharing with the state in 2017, he said. For 2016, Norway received $429,000 in revenue sharing, according to the Office of the State Treasurer, which was used to develop the town’s budget.
“[Gov.] Paul LePage is looking to get rid of revenue sharing in the state of Maine, the way I understand it,” Roberge said. “It’s a lot [of money]. We already pay enough in property taxes as it is. The money is going to have to come from somewhere.”
As a member of the Budget Committee, he said it’s important for the town’s budget to remain flat and to not raise taxes. Roberge said if any money could be added back into the budget, it should be put in reserve because of the uncertainty of the future of revenue sharing.
If elected as selectman, Roberge would like to help combat heroin and alcohol addiction, along with teen pregnancy, in town. He said he sees a lot of people struggling with these issues every day in his job and noted he is a younger guy who has the energy to help others.
Also coming down the pike is the impending invasion of the emerald ash borer that local experts say will devastate Norway’s ash tree population once the invasive insects reach Maine. Roberge wants to work with Jeannie Federico of Oxford County Soil and Water Conservation District to minimize the impact to the town’s trees and is willing to volunteer his time to do so.
In Paris, three candidates are vying for two seats on the Board of Selectmen – each with a three-year term – after incumbents Sam Elliot and Robert Wessels opted not to run for re-election.
Rick Little decided he wanted to step up his service to the town by running for selectman. He is currently serving his second term on the Budget Committee and Norway Paris Community Television, both as vice chairman.
He is also a member of the two ad hoc Paris Revitalization and Paris Renewal committees. Through the latter two committees, he has helped organize community events at Moore Park. Little also volunteers through the American Legion and at the annual Kiwanis Bike Rodeo.
The biggest issue facing the board is accountability to the taxpayers of Paris, he said.
“The town has suffered from a lack of consistency in positive leadership in the past several years, and deserves a Board of Selectmen which, in partnership with the town manager, will accurately assess the needs of the town, balance those needs with the fiscal limitations of the town budget, and evaluate cost-saving options that can continue to provide our needed services, all the while respecting the monetary burden that these services place on our taxpayers,” Little wrote in the questionnaire.
As for putting more money in the budget, he said it depends on the town’s needs and where the funds come from. Little would prefer to focus it on youth services as “our youth are our future.” If the town were to receive money from state subsidies or grants, he advocates to develop a plan to attract and retain new businesses and families to call Paris home.
“This would increase our tax base, and lighten the overly burdened seniors who are struggling to make ends meet,” Little said.
Scott Buffington, a business owner and member of the Paris Revitalization and Renewal committees, decided to toss his hat into the selectman’s ring because he said the town of Paris is overtaxed, which is the No. 1 issue the selectboard is facing.
“Why open a business or move to Paris when you could save 26-58 percent on your tax bill by doing the same thing in a neighboring community?” he asked in his questionnaire response. “We no longer have the manufacturing to support a fully loaded municipal budget. We need to cut $900,000 from the budget to meet the state average tax rate and be competitive with the towns around us.”
As part of those cuts, Buffington champions eliminating the Paris Police Department and contracting with the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office. He noted the Fire Department is no longer there to simply fight fires and the town should “develop a rescue service ordinance that allows us to bill for EMS calls, car accidents, haz-mat spills, and other rescue services. We need to start off setting the costs of this ever-evolving service.”
Buffington would not add any additional money back into the town’s budget at this time – “no more money from current taxpayers!” In fact, he was disappointed the administration budget did not cut more and increased its budget.
“Sharing code enforcement and tax assessment with other towns will provide savings,” he wrote. “Get the town clerk out of the back office and start helping more on the front counter. Use some creative scheduling to stagger shifts.”
Buffington agrees with Little that the town needs to grow in business and residents. He wants to develop a tax increment financing zone.
“Paris has an impressive infrastructure to support just about any business,” Buffington wrote. “ Lets offer some incentives to do that. Get the word out … Paris is ready and can support these efforts.”
Chris Summers is a self-employed electrician who trying his hand at town politics for the first time.
For community involvement, Summers currently serves as the president of the Rotary Club of Oxford Hills, is a member of the Western Maine Addiction Task Force and volunteers with the ski program at Shawnee Peak.
He believes there are a number of challenges facing the selectboard, including the town’s mil rate, people in power putting their interests ahead of the town and concerns from taxpayers falling on deaf ears.
But the biggest obstacle is having Paris regain its positive image back. Summers posits there’s room to work with the state Department of Transportation with the upcoming rebuilding of Route 26 from Market Square to the high school to improve that stretch of town’s physical appearance.
“Positive constructive cooperation is needed throughout town,” Summers wrote.
As for more money in the budget, he asked, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have extra money in the budget?” But if there were some left over, Summers would allocate it for analysis for road improvements.
“None of us have to look far to see one that could use additional repair,” he said about the town’s roads.
In Buckfield, there is one open seat on the Board of Selectmen and Board of Assessors – for a three-year term – and two people seeking election to it.
Cheryl Coffman, incumbent and selectmen chair, works as a patient account representative.
Prior to being elected the selectboard three years ago, Coffman played a role to get a number of programs up and running in the community. They include serving as a liaison to between the high school and community for a 21st Century grant to establish Community Day and develop a local gym and after-school programs. She wrote she was also integral in developing the local television station through a cable company.
The biggest challenge facing the Board of Selectmen is property taxes, Coffman said. The best way to deal with this is “support reasonable budgets” from town departments and implore state representatives to increase revenue sharing. The town also needs to advocate for other forms of local tax relief, including increasing the amount of the current Homestead Exemption, she wrote.
As for putting more money in the budget, Coffman only advocates to do so if it will not raise taxes. And then it should go toward the town’s summer roads program. She noted the 65 miles of roads in town, which are a challenge to maintain.
“Dollars spent are directly impacted by the current cost of energy, which often reduces the number of projects that can be completed each fiscal year. Increasing this budget would improve access to our lovely community and decrease wear and tear on vehicles,”Coffman wrote. “This would in turn encourage businesses to establish here, increasing the tax base and lowering our property taxes.”
Michael Iveson, a retired business executive, currently serves on the town’s Budget Committee, Economic Development Committee and Planning Board. Town Manager Cindy Dunn previously said if he’s elected as selectman and assessor, he will have to resign from all of the other boards. Iveson also is a member of Kiwanis.
He posits the biggest challenge facing the Board of Selectmen and Buckfield itself is economic development.
“I believe we need to concentrate on methods to attract business, specifically tax abatements to make the investment more attractive than surrounding towns,” Iveson wrote.
He believes the town should eye potential tourism opportunities to bring people and businesses to Buckfield.
“The town has some attractive riverfront property, which could offer kayaking and stream fishing,” Iveson said. “The town also has hiking trails and snowmobile trails that should be promoted.”
If any money were to be added to the budget, he’d like it to go back into economic and/or tourism development.
“We will improve our tax revenues if we can make the village more attractive through new businesses,” Iveson wrote.