Brewer candidates discuss raises for city workers at candidates forum

Brewer school board candidates Ben Umel (seated, from left), Michael Hutchins and Janet McIntosh and Brewer High School trustee candidate Mark Chambers listen to a question from the audience at Tuesday night's candidate forum. The Brewer Education Association event was hosted by member Kim Kelley (left).
Nok-Noi Ricker | BDN
Brewer school board candidates Ben Umel (seated, from left), Michael Hutchins and Janet McIntosh and Brewer High School trustee candidate Mark Chambers listen to a question from the audience at Tuesday night's candidate forum. The Brewer Education Association event was hosted by member Kim Kelley (left).
Posted Oct. 18, 2011, at 10:48 p.m.

BREWER, Maine — Two of the four City Council candidates who are running for the seat now held by Mayor Joseph Ferris said they would try to give city employees raises even if it meant taxes would increase.

Ferris and former council member Manley DeBeck, who served for 12 years, said they could not support employee raises in today’s economy.

“In these tough times a lot of people don’t have jobs,” Ferris said at Tuesday’s meet the candidates forum hosted by the Brewer Education Association. “I think our employees are well paid and we kept them employed. I think that’s a fair swap.”

It has been three years since city employees have been given raises and all departments, including the unions, have been “asked to share the pain and they have,” said DeBeck, an 18-year Eastern Fine Paper millworker who now works at the Miller’s Workshop apparel store.

Keeping all the city’s employees working is better than making cuts or raising taxes to provide raises, he said.

“Would you rather have a raise or would you rather have a job?” DeBeck said.

The men and woman who protect the city, those who plow snow off streets in the middle of the night and others who work hard for the city deserve to take home a little more money, said Matthew Vachon, a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service.

“I would like to see where we can cut … to get these folks what they deserve,” said Vachon, a Freemason and member of the Masons’ Scottish Rite.

Homemaker Patty Preble, who says she was kicked out of school when she was in the seventh grade, said she’s all for a city employee raise.

“If there was any way I could even give them a nickel raise, I would,” she said. “I don’t want to raise the taxes so high that nobody can afford them, but maybe enough to give them a raise.”

Ferris, a lawyer who runs his own law office, said he was disappointed when school officials gave raises last year and added, “the early warnings we’re getting is that the school’s state share is going to go down,” which means the city probably will pay more for education in the coming budget cycle.

Four people also are running for the two open seats on the Brewer School Committee now held by Chairman Mark Farley and member Calvin Bubar, who has decided not to run.

Farley is running for his seat against Michael Hutchins, a retired teacher who taught at Brewer High School for 25 years, longtime educator Janet McIntosh, who recently retired as principal of Washington Street School, and resident Benjamin Umel, who is a middle school football coach and has four children enrolled in Brewer schools.

Farley was not at the candidates forum but sent a message that was read.

The school board candidates each stressed their desires to serve their community and make the School Department the best it can be.

“I’m very proud of the work I’ve done,” said Hutchins, who served as the high school’s Key Club adviser for 25 years, student council adviser for a decade and football coach for two years. “My whole career was based on service. As a school board member I know I can continue in that vein.”

McIntosh, who served two terms on the City Council, one year as mayor, said the school board will face budget and other challenges in the next few years that she’s ready to tackle.

“I am committed to public education,” she said. “It hasn’t been just a job to me, it’s been my mission.”

Umel, a FairPoint employee who has been climbing local telephone poles for 14 years, said he doesn’t have as much board experience as the three other candidates but he does have the passion to make Brewer schools the best they can be.

“I’m willing to put in the extra effort,” he said.

The City Council and school board seats are for three-year terms.

Former school board member Mark Chambers is the lone candidate running for a five-year term as a Brewer High School district trustee.

Local elections will be held at the same time as state elections on Nov. 8.

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