June 18, 2018
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Orono voters fill council, RSU slots in local elections

By Dawn Gagnon, BDN Staff

ORONO, Maine — Residents returned two incumbents to the Town Council for another three years and picked a new RSU 26 school committee member who also will serve for three years in local elections Tuesday at the town office.

Winners of the two council posts were Mark Haggerty, the top vote-getter at 344, and Thomas Spitz, who trailed closely with 329 votes, according to tallies provided Tuesday night by Town Clerk Donna Emerson. Daniel LaPointe, a retired merchant marine now running his family’s automobile junkyard and recycling business, received 87 votes.

Haggerty and Spitz each have three terms of council experience under their belts.

Haggerty said he ran for a fourth term because he felt he had made positive contributions toward such initiatives as “smart growth,” reflected in changes in Orono’s Forest and Agriculture zone, planning for economic development efforts on Kelley Road and the town’s comprehensive plan update as well as work on single-family rental property issues.

“The Town Council has also moved forward with public-private redevelopment projects at the Webster Mill and the former Katahdin site downtown,” he said. “Additionally, [the] council has adopted a tax-increment finance district that will shelter tax revenue from the state and allow us to use it to foster development of an area that largely covers the downtown.”

Spitz said he ran for a fourth council term because he felt the time he has served has been productive, citing the construction of a town library, the cleanup and redevelopment of the Webster mill property, the Black Bear Express and the Katahdin site redevelopment.

“I believe that Orono residents want to preserve our dynamic neighborhoods and the special atmosphere of our town, while enabling thoughtful and reasonable development,” he said. “Appropriate development will generate tax dollars, provide needed housing and add to the Orono experience.

“The governor’s plan to withhold revenues from municipalities likely would result in an increase in our property taxes of 25 percent or more,” he said. “We hope this will not happen, but if it does, our council will be facing some very difficult decisions. Experience with prioritizing the town’s needs, as well as experience working together as a team, will be crucial.”

Jennifer Mehnert won the RSU 26 post with 326 votes. Her opponent, Margaret Lukens, received 133 votes. The two were seeking the position formerly held by Eric Voelker, who opted not to seek re-election.

Mehnert, who grew up in Orono, holds a master’s degree in social work and has three children in Orono schools, said she ran for the RSU position because she wants to contribute to “a dynamic and vibrant future for our small community schools. There are many ways we can improve what we offer to students and families while keeping our core values of a small, community-based school as our driving factor.

“The [RSU 26] board needs individuals who will ensure it operates with the degree of professionalism and competency needed to engage in meaningful oversight while also developing a clear vision for our schools’ future. We also need a voice in Augusta, and presenting at committee hearings is something I have done many times,” she said, adding that Orono is committed to high quality education delivered by dynamic community schools.

“The questions is how we build those schools without any greater tax burdens,” Mehnert said.

Voter turnout was low for the elections, coming in at about 5 percent, according to the town clerk.

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