SCARBOROUGH, Maine — Citing a desire for more family time and the demands of a park ranger job in Rangeley, Scarborough Town Council Chairman Ron Ahlquist has decided not to seek re-election.
Ahlquist announced his withdrawal from the race at the end of the Sept. 18 Town Council meeting, just before banging the gavel to end the meeting.
Later, in a phone interview, he explained his decision and discussed his tenure on the council.
“It is time for fresh eyes to look at things,” Ahlquist, who has served 10 of the last 13 years on the council, said. He is concluding his second, one-year term as chairman.
The Mitchell Hill Road resident and Scarborough native said he will not rule out future service. But he said his desire to spend more time at his camp in Greenville and the travel to Rangeley Lake State Park made devoting time to the council a difficult commitment for another three-year term.
Ahlquist was the last of five council candidates to file nomination papers, on Sept. 4. His departure leaves former Councilor Judy Roy, former Councilor Carol Rancourt, 2012 council candidate William Donovan and 2012 state House of Representatives candidate Jean-Marie Catarina seeking the two seats.
Ahlquist said the current council is the best he ever served with, although he has initial reservations about leading it.
“For me, it was frustrating, because as chair, I have to be at my best behavior,” Ahlquist said. “It’s not in my nature. I would rather be on the sidelines. But I think every councilor ought to enjoy the experience of being chairman.”
Working through a political landscape including a contentious land swap in Pine Point, abating traffic congestion in Dunstan Corner, controlling parking at Higgins Beach, municipal and school financial crises and the current question of regulating dogs on town beaches, Ahlquist said he enjoyed the political give and take – if not the tenor of the arguments.
“There are always people against you, no matter what you want to do,” Ahlquist said.
He said his support for closing access to the lower end of Payne Road between U.S. Route 1 and Beech Ridge Road was wrong, but Ahlquist said he always voted in the best interests of the town.
He said the 2009 land swap with Lighthouse Inn owners Nicholas and Peter Truman continues to be a source of contention with Pine Point residents. The land obtained by the town was turned into Snowberry Park, a pathway to the beach with a two-car turn in lane for visitors to unload vehicles.
“They don’t know why they were against it, they were just against it,” Ahlquist said. “(But) councilors have to make tough decisions.”
Pine Point Resident’s Association member Judy Shirk said it was complicated and the results have not been all positive.
“Several hundred citizens signed a petition and over 80 speakers addressed the council urging them not to close and give away Depot Street, an historical public road to the beach front,” Shirk said in an email. “Snowberry Park is 22 feet wide. It was well-done but could have been much larger had the council not given away public land. Scenic views are gone. Access is restricted.”
Ahlquist applauded the municipal workers who deferred contracted pay increases three and four years ago as the town grappled with the recession.
“We do that constantly,” he said about looking at town spending. “I don’t think the answer is just cut, cut, cut.”
Council vigilance on finances is made easier by skilled staff, Ahlquist said as he praised Town Manager Tom Hall, Town Clerk Tody Justice and Finance Director Ruth Porter among other department heads.
“It does take an incredible amount of time, so it is important to hire the very best staff we can,” he said.
As waterfront property owners appeal increased valuations made by former Town Assessor Paul Lesperance in 2012, Ahlquist said the revaluation should have been done sooner.
“We have those people living on Higgins Beach, and for the first time, they are being assessed a fair property value and they don’t want to pay it. It is very upsetting to me,” Ahlquist said.
Appeals have been heard or are in progress on 94 properties in Pine Point, Higgins Beach and Prout’s Neck after valuations were increased by 17 percent to 25 percent.
Don Petrin, a Riversands Drive resident who met with Maine Revenue Service officials to discuss methods and data used by Lesperance, said in July the meeting was needed because Ahlquist and the council would not look into Lesperance’s work.
Ahlquist opposed the motion Wednesday amending the Animal Control Ordinance to ban unleashed dogs throughout town properties, but ultimately voted for the wider revisions to the ordinance.
In his experience as a park ranger at Crescent Beach in Cape Elizabeth before shifting to Rangeley, he found banning dogs on beaches the best policy and was supportive of the initial effort to end “voice control” at town beaches.
Ahlquist said a low point in council relationships came in May 2012, when Councilor Richard Sullivan Jr. was charged with failing to disclose a conflict of interest by two other councilors.
“They were trying to ruin and discredit him,” Ahlquist said of the charges lodged because Sullivan’s brother, Dan Sullivan, had a landscaping contract with the town while Sullivan sought to overturn a policy requiring organic products be used for pest management.
Sullivan was cleared after an hour-long, closed-door meeting.
Business expansion and a better climate for development should remain a high council priority, Ahlquist said, repeating his stance that councilors have been generous when it comes to final approval for school spending.
“We are not going to give education a blank check,” he said. Councilors have the final say, but no line-item control in School Department budgets. The current $39 million education budget was passed by councilors in June after $623,000 was cut.
Contention and candor marked Ahlquist’s tenure, but he said there was also great pleasure.
“I have enjoyed every minute of it,” he said, “despite tough decisions.”