Racino, airport and parking garage are top issues for four Biddeford mayoral candidates

Posted Oct. 14, 2013, at 11:29 a.m.
Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant
Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant
Joanne Twomey
Joanne Twomey

BIDDEFORD, Maine — On Nov. 5, Biddeford voters will be faced with choices for the city’s mayor, two of whom have experience in the job.

The candidates include Perry Aberle, former two-term Mayor Joanne Twomey and current Mayor Alan Casavant, who is finishing up one term in that position. Karl Reed Jr. is also running as a declared write-in candidate.

Alan Casavant

Casavant is engaged to Patti Jalbert. He is a retired teacher. As well as being mayor, he is serving his fourth term as a state representative for House District 137 and previously served nine terms on the city council.

His first term as mayor saw major changes to the city, said Casavant. He said he’s running for re-election to continue that work and help the city “transition to the 21st century.”

Some of the changes Casavant credits his administration with are bringing civility and a positive attitude to City Hall and helping people take pride in being from Biddeford.

Also while Casavant’s been mayor, he said, the city purchased and closed the Maine Energy Recovery Company waste-to-energy incinerator in Biddeford’s downtown, a curbside pick-up recycling program was instituted, there was a joint branding of Biddeford and Saco as well as more marketing of the city to potential business looking to locate in Biddeford.

Casavant said he’s running for re-election because, “I don’t want to go backwards, I want to go forward … and keep going so Biddeford-Saco becomes a destination point, like it was when I was a kid.”

One of the major issues that has come up during this election is a proposed parking garage.

The proposal has been criticized by some but it’s been “mostly misunderstood,” said Casavant. “It continues to be conceptual.”

At this point, there is not a set location or funding source. Despite some who say it would be funded by taxpayers, Casavant said he would veto any plans that call for property taxpayers to foot the bill of a garage. Instead it would be paid for by users and other non-property tax sources.

But a parking garage, whether in the mill district, on Washington Street or another location, needs to be considered, he said, if people want the city to grow and raise new tax revenue through development in the mill district and the downtown.

Another issue that has been controversial is the Biddeford Municipal Airport.

In 2008, said Casavant, a significant majority of voters approved retaining the airport. There is a cost to closing it, he said. At that time, the projected cost to close the airport was $3 million. According to a new report by city staff, the cost to city taxpayers would be approximately $2.3 million, though the total cost including land, which residents probably wouldn’t be on the hook for, is more than $7 million.

“The airport is a good thing,” said Casavant, adding it could be a tool for economic development.

The possibility of a racino, which Biddeford voters overwhelmingly approved in 2010, but failed with voters during a statewide election the following year, could be back on.

Casavant said the last time around, he felt there was little transparency when a proposed harness racetrack-slot machine facility was being vetted during Twomey’s administration.

He has co-sponsored a bill on the issue to give him more leverage during negotiations, said Casavant, who added he would support a racino in Biddeford “if the people of Maine vote for it.”

Joanne Twomey

Mayoral candidate Twomey is a retired widow, the mother of two grown sons and grandmother of four boys.

Twomey served two terms as mayor, and lost her third bid two years ago to Casavant. She served three terms on city council and four terms as state representative for House District 138.

The former mayor said she’s running again, “because I have perseverance. I’m not giving up on the people of Biddeford,” and because “every time I go to the store, people were always asking if I was running again.”

In addition, said Twomey, the people “need somebody who’s going to be there [in City Hall] every day and not in Augusta” — referring to her opponent, Mayor and state Rep. Casavant.

Other reasons why she said she’s running is because she is upset about the increase of the mil rate since she left office in 2011 — during most of her administration there was a zero percent property tax increase — and she doesn’t like the gentrification of the city that she believes is taking place, she said.

While she is all for the removal of Maine Energy – she fought to get rid of the incinerator since it began operating in the late 1980s — Twomey said she didn’t think the city needed to pay $6.5 million to get rid of it.

Twomey said one of the main needs of the city is infrastructure improvements including the roads, the City Hall clock tower and lights on Main Street.

“I spoke to the elderly, and they’re scared to go downtown,” because of suspected drug dealing and the lack of lighting, she said.

While she said she supports mill redevelopment and affordable parking, there needs to be an anchor store or business before structured parking should be considered. Until some of these improvements are made and there is a greater need, the parking garage is “not a top priority,” said Twomey, “Maybe in the future.”

Regarding the airport, “I’m not for shutting it down, I’m not for expanding it,” said Twomey.

She said she’s against expansion because of its location near the schools and near residents.

“The only people benefiting from it are the pilots,” she said.

As to locating a racino in Biddeford, Twomey championed the idea and lobbied for it during her last administration and still thinks it’s a good idea. But she vehemently disagrees that Casavant can get a better deal for the city than she did.

Perry Aberle

Aberle is making his first bid as mayor. He is single. He is a business owner and graphic designer. In 1993, at the age of 18, Aberle was elected to city council for one term, making him the youngest person elected to that office. Aberle has also served on various city, school and cultural committees.

“I’m running primarily for lower taxes and more jobs,” he said.

As a way of lowering taxes, Aberle said his first priority if elected mayor would be to “evaluate all city-owned properties that are not making money, like the airport and ice arena.”

He said he has reviewed the city’s operations budget and found $500,000 in cuts that could be made to save taxpayers money.

In addition, said Aberle, “If elected, I’d like to negotiate with Saco on combining services and creating efficiencies.”

On one of the major election issues, he said, “I absolutely don’t support a parking garage.”

“There are so many other issues on the burner that need to be dealt with,” said Aberle, like city roads and the clock tower.

On the airport, he said, for years “it’s brought in absolutely no revenue.”

If the property were sold, Aberle estimated, it could generate $150,000 in tax revenue per year.

“We could finally take care of that issue and create jobs,” he said.

Another option to get the property on the tax rolls is to have those who use the airport buy it cooperatively, said Aberle.

However, he said, because of its location near public schools and a residential neighborhood, “it’s not the spot for an airport.”

“I absolutely support the racino,” said Aberle.

He said he believes it would create 1,800 jobs, and $2 million in revenue for the city.

“The tax increase we saw over the past two years would not have happened if we had the racino,” said Aberle.

Karl Reed Jr.

Reed, who is single, is running as a declared write-in candidate for mayor. This is his first bid for political office.

He said he plans to run for mayor because “the downtown is a ghost town,” and he wants to “bring [Biddeford] back to its former glory.”

Reed said he’d like to see small businesses get tax breaks.

He also said the city needs programs for youth. Young people could be busy “beautifying” the downtown rather than destroying it with graffiti, said Reed.

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