Candidates running for two open Orono Town Council seats want to attract new businesses and young professionals to town. Most are concerned about the town’s high property tax rate. And one wants to form a resident militia.
Terry Greenier, Daniel LaPointe, Laurie Osher and Adam Toothaker are running for the two open council seats in Orono’s municipal elections, which will be held Tuesday. The winners would serve three-year terms.
In interviews this week, the candidates agreed on a few things. They were concerned about the prospect of borrowing more than $14 million to repair and add on to the town’s school buildings. And as the town considers rules governing commercial marijuana operations in town, none of the candidates wants an outright ban on marijuana businesses, but they back the town’s current moratorium.
The candidates have key differences, too.
Voting takes place from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Orono Town Office upstairs in the council chambers. Also on the ballot will be several proposed changes to the town’s charter and an uncontested school board race: Incumbent Geoffrey Wingard is running for re-election. Some Orono residents will also vote in a special Maine House election.
Here are the Town Council candidates.
Greenier, 51, would be new to Orono’s Town Council, but he’s the only candidate who has served a full term on a town council. From 2011 to 2014, he served on the Town Council in Fort Fairfield, where he founded I Care Pharmacy, a mail-order pharmacy business.
He moved to Orono three years ago and lives with his husband, Edward Greenier.
“Let’s face it: This is a tough job and I know firsthand how much time and commitment the position takes,” he said. “My experience as a past councilman as well as a successful business person affords me skills that I believe are necessary to be an effective town councilor.”
Greenier said his top concerns are providing housing options for young professionals and offering better Wi-Fi service to attract businesses to Orono.
Greenier, an independent, was the only candidate who didn’t cite high property taxes — Orono’s mill rate of $27 per $1,000 in property value is higher than surrounding towns’ — as a cause for concern.
“For that price that we pay, we have a lot of services other communities don’t have,” he said.
“Most of the people I’ve talked to are OK with that.”
LaPointe, 66, wants to form a volunteer, resident militia under the assessor’s office. One division, he said, would address maintenance of town properties. A forensic accounting division would ensure tax dollars are spent correctly. The militia would also back up emergency responders and focus on town recreation, he said.
LaPointe, the only Republican in the race, said he aims to “remove the socialist ideology that has infected Orono’s governance.”
LaPointe has lived in Orono his whole life except for the time he spent traveling as a sea captain. He said he is concerned about the percentage of land in Orono held by land trusts, which reduces the value of land subject to property taxes.
“Our taxes have gone through the roof,” he said. “I have great concern about the elderly in our community to be able to own their homes.”
LaPointe, who runs a recycling business, LaPointe Enterprises Inc., is also against the schools’ proposed facilities update.
“I understand the needs of the children,” he said. “What I’m saying is the RSU and its stewardship has fallen short.”
While LaPointe thinks the town’s current moratorium on marijuana operations is justified, he favors the business growth commercial marijuana operations would bring.
Osher, 58, is the only incumbent, only woman and only Democrat on the ballot. She’s running for a full term on the council after she won a special election to fill a vacancy in November 2017.
Osher, who runs a business that helps homeowners and small commercial properties improve their buildings’ energy efficiency, said Orono has been struggling due to revenue sharing cuts that happened under Gov. Paul LePage. She said she wants to help figure out how the town can keep offering the same local services.
She’s running for a full council term because she said she discovered during a career working for the U.S. Forest Service, then teaching soil and water quality at the University of Maine, that large-scale changes had to go through local approval first.
“All politics is local,” she said. “Every time I’d think I’m going to do something really big, it turns out the local people had a lot of control over it.”
Osher’s 17-year-old twin sons, Zivi and Noam, attend Orono High School. She said she loves Orono for its progressive approach.
“Orono is a place where we might be able to make changes that other people are too scared to try or even think of,” she said.
Toothaker, 47, calls himself “professionally retired.” He served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 20 years, then worked as a government contractor before settling in Orono four years ago.
Toothaker, an independent, has no previous political experience, but Orono’s high tax rate motivated him to run.
“I had no intention of running for Town Council and being involved in town politics at all, but the taxes in Orono are higher than state average and the surrounding town average,” he said.
He said he hopes the town’s property taxes don’t price him and his wife, Joanna, out.
He believes he can help find alternative revenue streams and savings, citing the Belfast’s municipal solar array that has offset 90 percent of municipal electrical costs and Howland’s cost-cutting attempts in recent years.
Like some of the other candidates, Toothaker said he’s opposed to the potential RSU 26 borrowing plan to upgrade school facilities, primarily because of the added strain on property taxes.
“I know the school needs maintenance done, but I don’t think it needs a performing arts studio or an athletic field,” he said, referring to some building projects included in a school district facilities study.