BUCKSPORT, Maine — Roger Raymond only intended to stay 10 years when, in 1985, Bucksport’s elected officials decided to hire him as manager of the struggling mill town.
More than a quarter century later as Raymond finally moves on, his touch as town manager is visible throughout Bucksport.
A milelong walkway now winds along a Penobscot River waterfront once marked by trash and neglect. Residents enjoy recreational amenities not found in towns several times Bucksport’s size. And a revitalized Main Street boasts an active paper mill on one end and well-preserved, historic storefronts with few vacancies on the other.
“We’ve got a beautiful community, our finances are top notch and the fact that you basically adopted Bucksport as your hometown is a credit to you and for what you’ve done for this community,” Bucksport Mayor David Keene told Raymond.
Keene made his comments on Thursday, April 19, one day before Raymond formally stepped aside after 27 years on the job. Michael Brennan, the former city administrator for Bancroft, Iowa, began as Bucksport’s new town manager Monday.
The April 19 council meeting was, according to Raymond, his 822nd since he began working for the town. Earlier that evening, he participated in his 2,110th council committee meeting.
“I’m ready to leave tomorrow, officially,” a laughing Raymond told council members, whose lengthy candidate search meant Raymond stayed nearly five months longer than planned.
The fact that Raymond would count the number of council and committee meetings he attended is not necessarily surprising given his reputation for meticulousness, particularly when it comes to budgeting. This was evident, once again, later that meeting when he walked councilors through the municipal budget line by line.
And not everyone always agreed with Raymond’s “bottom line” approach to budgeting, his bluntness and his tendency to stand his ground on issues.
“He was never unreasonable, but he would get his point across. And, oftentimes, he was right,” said Jeffrey Robinson Sr., a current and longtime member of the Town Council. Personally, Robinson called Raymond “a pleasure to work with.”
Arguably one of the most visible products of Raymond’s tenure for anyone who stops in downtown Bucksport is the riverfront walkway.
Raymond and other town residents recall that, up until the late-1980s, Bucksport’s riverfront was like that of many old mill towns in Maine: dirty, polluted and a dumping ground for tires, appliances or anything else no one wanted.
Soon after Raymond’s arrival, a new treatment plant and sewer system were built to stop wastewater from flowing into the Penobscot. Work on the walkway began in 1988, and selectmen still talk about how Raymond himself — working on Saturdays with a town employee — built the section near the town hall.
Today, the landscaped, brick walkway curves along the edge of the Penobscot behind Main Street for roughly a mile to the Verso mill, all the while offering views of Fort Knox and the iconic Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory. It is heavily used by locals and visitors.
A bronze plaque located along the waterfront near the town hall recognizes Raymond “for his years of dedication and commitment to the development of the Bucksport waterfront.” And Raymond lists the waterfront among his proudest accomplishments.
“It has helped improve the image of the community and certainly has helped improve morale as well,” he said last week in his now-former office overlooking the river and the walkway.
The street side of Main Street also has received Raymond’s attention, from the potted plants that he personally maintained to the historic building facades that were refurbished and maintained with the help of grants he and council members pursued.
Robinson and others also credited Raymond with instituting forward-looking financial strategies that steadily built reserve accounts and capital improvement accounts throughout municipal government. So when the town needs to replace equipment, maintain or even build new town buildings and make other capital expenditures, municipal officials often pay cash from those reserves rather than assume additional debt.
For instance, the Bucksport Fire Department hopes to replace a 30-year-old firetruck later this year at a cost of up to $265,000, paid for entirely from a “fire equipment reserve account” containing nearly $300,000.
Oliva Jacques, who served on the council that hired Raymond in 1985, said he was impressed with Raymond’s financial skills and ingenuity, whether he was creating reserve accounts or asking the expanding mill to save excavated rocks for the town’s use as riprap along the reborn waterfront.
“I can’t say enough about Roger Raymond, the things he has done here,” said Jacques, a longtime former council member who still attends nearly every meeting.
For his part, Raymond said he also is proud of the fact that Bucksport is far less reliant on the mill — now operated by Verso Paper — for tax revenues. In 1985, the mill constituted 71 percent of the municipal tax base, compared to roughly 43 percent today.
He also pointed out that Bucksport has significantly expanded its recreational amenities, offering miles of trails, multiple lighted athletic fields, a skating rink and an irrigated football field.
“We have certainly invested in them, but these are facilities that are widely used,” he said.
Rather than retire, Raymond has joined the Eaton Peabody Consulting Group to work with other municipalities. His first job will be as interim town manager in Milo, which is searching for a new top administrator after the previous manager abruptly resigned.