Old Town council candidates see tough times, decisions ahead for city

Posted Oct. 19, 2011, at 11:18 p.m.

OLD TOWN, Maine — Five of the six candidates for three open City Council seats agreed Wednesday night that Old Town has tough fiscal times ahead and needs to look at ways to save, consolidate and — if necessary — make cuts.

The five candidates at the forum were:

• David Mahan, City Council president and assistant director for operations at the University of Maine’s Student Recreation and Fitness Center.

• Bill Lovejoy, a former city councilor and electrical engineer who said he has worked for 18 years with paper mills.

• Stan Peterson, a longtime shop and technical education teacher at Old Town High School.

• Vern Buckley, a first-time candidate and management employee at Verso Mill in Bucksport.

• Joseph Pluff, another first-time candidate who specializes in budgeting and cost analysis in the manufacturing industry.

The sixth candidate, Linda McLeod, principal at Indian Island School, could not attend the forum because she’s attending a work-related conference in Arizona. She did not respond to an email request for an interview on Wednesday.

During a lengthy question-and-answer session with audience members, Mahan and Lovejoy, both of whom said they have previewed the budget for the next fiscal year, said they saw a daunting challenge ahead for Old Town.

“It’s going to be as ugly as last year,” Lovejoy said, adding that the town could be looking at another 1 to 3 percent mill rate increase.

The candidates agreed that tough cuts and creative cooperation might help limit the ache.

Mahan said the council would look to the heads of the city’s departments for recommendations on what cuts might be best while avoiding weakening “vital departments” such as emergency and plowing services.

The candidates said there might be ways for departments to consolidate efforts and save money while not losing their ability to provide vital services.

Buckley argued that the city needed to spend more wisely and not invest money in projects such as building a technology park that aren’t guaranteed to pay back the investment.

“I’m used to hard times, and it’s pay as you go,” Buckley said. “You don’t spend it if you don’t have it.”

Cutting costs was a big topic at the forum. Peterson and several other candidates said the city and its department need to get creative in finding ways to consolidate or reduce costs.

Peterson said he would like to see action and research into consolidating Old Town’s police or fire chief position with Orono’s — an idea that has been thrown around before but never acted on.

Openness from the city and council could go a long way toward helping the town stem problems in the next fiscal year, according to Pluff.

“The budgeting process needs to be fixed,” Pluff said. “It needs to be transparent for both the City Council and citizens.”

Pluff said that if elected he would use his experience with budgets to make the numbers more accessible to the general public. That change would include grouping income from Juniper Ridge Landfill with the town’s other income.

Also attending the forum were three candidates for two open seats on the RSU 34 board.

The incumbent, Ron Sagner, has served on the board for the past 19 years. Stephanie Phillips and Anne Dieffenbacher-Krall stepped up during the meeting to field questions from the audience and offer their names as write-in candidates.

They all have children who are working their way through or have graduated from Old Town schools.

Each also said they were disappointed that Orono and Old Town high schools have not been able to hash out an agreement to merge into one regional school.

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