Candidates share viewpoints at Chesterville forum

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CHESTERVILLE — Five candidates for three selectmen seats shared their views on town issues at a forum Tuesday night.

Board Chairman Guy Iverson is seeking re-election to a three-year term. His challenger is Edward Hastings IV.

Ross Clair and Amber-Jean Fuller are seeking to fill the remaining year of Paul Caldwell’s term.

Selectman Tyler Jenness is running for a one-year term.

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Barry Matulaitis, editor of The Franklin Journal and Livermore Falls Advertiser, served as moderator and provided most of the questions asked. 

Opening statements  

Clair said he has lived on the Burroughs Road for 35 to 40 years. He served on the school board, has run for selectman in the past and because of his busy schedule wanted to test the waters with a one-year term.

Fuller said she lives on Gordon Hill and hopes to serve the town.

Hastings said he is a lifelong resident. He lives on Dutch Gap Road and has worked for various town departments. Being a selectman would give him an opportunity to speak on the issues rather than complain about them.

Iverson said he has been a selectman for 4½ years. The town came in under budget two years ago by $82,000 and again last year by $134,000, he said. The town needs to stop spending money irresponsibly and take care of the people who have lived here all their lives, he said. 

Jenness said he moved to town four years ago. He is a member of the Fire Department, a temporary worker for the highway department and works for the Maine Department of Transportation. He was elected to the board in November 2016 and wants to continue.

Would you change the hours the Town Office is currently open or keep it the same? How many people do you think should be working at the Town Office and what should their roles be?

Clair said he doesn’t spend much time at the Town Office and doesn’t know all the particulars. The employees should work hand in hand with the selectmen. There seems to be some communication issues.

Fuller said the current hours are working well. There aren’t many complaints now; things seem to be leveling out.

Hastings said there has to be communication among the employees, the board and the people. He liked the former system of a full-time town clerk and town treasurer which provided continuity for residents.

Iverson said the office needs self-starters, people with initiative. The code enforcement officer and the assessor work 25 hours a week. Their combined salaries are $32,000. The town’s infrastructure is falling apart and money should be taken from the Town Office and put into roads.

Jenness said the hours could be scaled back to what they were previously. He would talk with the people in the office and the townspeople to see what they want. 

What are some of the ways operations at the Town Office could be improved?

Clair said it’s a balancing act. Employees need enough money to get to work. He’d rather give a raise and keep employees happy than hiring new ones.

Fuller said no changes in the Town Office are needed. Focus is needed on the meetings and stop tabling items.

Hastings said talk to those who work there to learn what is affecting them. One problem is the lack of praise for employees. A consistent person at the Town Office is needed who has assurance she won’t be undercut or micromanaged. That person is the face of the selectmen.

Iverson said there is a fine line between keeping people and protecting the budget. The town books weren’t being closed nightly so the hours were changed to allow that to happen.

Jenness said there needs to be better communication from employees and selectmen. Each person working here has multiple roles.

Are there any town ordinances that need to be improved or clarified? If so, which ones and how would you go about doing this?

Clair said he wouldn’t second-guess the Planning Board and code enforcement officer. The town is diversified and officials can’t always go by the book. It all depends on the individual and the circumstances.

Fuller said the Shoreland Zoning Ordinance needs to be updated.

Hastings said there are ordinances that board members may not be aware of. They all need to be kept in a single book where people can have access to them. The Planning Board should suggest changes, especially where ordinances conflict.

Iverson said the town follows the stronger ordinance when there are conflicts. He would change the land use ordinance so property owners could do what they wish, so long as it doesn’t affect neighbors.

Jenness said all ordinances should be updated to meet state minimums.

Like many small towns, gossip, rumors, innuendo and outright lies often percolate through Chesterville. How much will having a town website cut down on this and what are some of the ways town officials can prevent misinformation from spreading?

Ross said people should call and offer to help if there is an issue, rather than starting a rumor.

Fuller said the proposed town website would take away from the community. Part of being in a small town is going to the Town Office to get dog licenses and socialize.

Hastings said a website is an essential place for getting factual information.

Iverson said he keeps a folder of facts on what he has worked on. A website would be great for communication.

Jenness said the website will be decided at town meeting. He favors one because better communication with townspeople is needed. More people would come to the Town Office because they’d know what’s happening. Selectmen meetings could be recorded and minutes put on the site.

What can Chesterville do to better maintain its roads at a cost that’s still affordable for taxpayers?

Clair said a five-year plan is needed. Borrowing money to pave more roads at once could save on unit costs. Bulk purchases with another entity could also be cheaper.

Fuller said she is opposed to borrowing money. 

Hastings said the road foreman’s input is paramount. He could help develop a plan with input from the people doing the job. The town should be able to forecast if it is going to be underbudget and in August ask voters to spend extra money on paving. The town came in $130,000 underbudget last year and some of that money could be used.

Iverson said the money left over last year will be used instead of borrowing money while waiting for taxes to be paid starting in August. Town roads should be looked at to spread the paving around.

Jenness said he has experience with roads, having worked for the Maine Department of Transportation. If a clay or mud-base road is paved, it’s still a bad road. Gravel roads should stay gravel. 

What should selectmen do to have their meetings more organized?

Clair said he would join up with another town to bring in someone more knowledgeable. It may appear to cost more money but would be more efficient.

Fuller said selectmen would need to work together so someone is in the office on a daily basis to get things done. An agenda or a plan to follow through at meetings is needed.

Hastings said he agreed with Clair. It’s important to have continuity, agendas are paramount to keep on track and get things done, and moving meetings to the larger room would stop the side meetings.

Iverson said when he joined the board agendas were a way to keep people from speaking. Public involvement and open government are favored.

Jenness said an agenda is needed. Public input is valued, but business comes first. Another person rather than a selectman should be taking notes.

With all of the snowstorms Chesterville has dealt with this winter, road maintenance has been extremely challenging for the small road crew. How can costs to taxpayers be minimized while still keeping the roads safe, and do you think the town needs to have additional employees to help with winter road maintenance?

Clair said Chesterville has unique roads. The selectmen should work one on one with the road crew, find good people to fill in and pay them a good wage.

Fuller said the town has two full-time and one part-time person. Hiring another full-time person rather than paying overtime makes sense.

Hastings said the town had three full-time people at one time but one was cut. He said defer to the foreman to see why part-time people can’t be hired. Supporting and making workers feel valued will make it easier to keep them, he said.

Iverson said retired part-time workers are the answer.

Jenness said he would like three main drivers and three constant spare drivers for the three routes. And overtime is a necessity.  

Do you favor citizen involvement in selectmen meetings?

Clair said yes and no. Sometimes there is a lot going on. If people are willing to give up their time and they can add to an article, he would like their input but they can’t carry on too long. 

Fuller said being in the larger room is the perfect setup. Everyone can see and hear. 

Hastings said the current involvement is good, but they must follow the agenda to stay on topic.

Iverson said there must be open meetings.

Jenness said he supports public input.

If a year closes significantly underbudget, do you favor using the surplus for tax rebates or to reduce the tax rate?

Clair said every year is different and depends on the circumstances.

Fuller said voters should give their opinions and the board decide based on that information.

Hastings said if the town comes in significantly underbudget, ask why. Was the town asking too much or failing to do something? It’s the people’s money; they need to say where it’s going.

Iverson said turning money back today means borrowing money soon.

Jenness said he would ask what was spent and what was saved. Money should be put back into the department it came from.

Do you favor a balloon budget? (A balloon budget is different from a line item budget where approved amounts can’t be exceeded.)

Clair said the town has been conservative and is happy where it is now.

Fuller said a line item budget would be the best bet.  

Hastings said Chesterville uses a lump sum budget where department heads are bound to keep within a given amount. It allows some leeway. More special meetings would be needed to address overages were a line item budget used.

Iverson said the lump sum budget is not as strict and he favors what is being done now.

Jenness favors the balloon budget.

What is the plan to collect back taxes? What is the plan to sell property that has been taken for back taxes?

Clair said there are a lot of elderly people in town and some people are struggling. Be firm, make sure money is being spent wisely.

Fuller said the town should work closely with those falling behind. People shouldn’t be afraid of losing their home.

Hastings said the unpaid taxes are a huge problem. If people haven’t paid in three years, it needs to be looked at on a case-by-case basis. Make sure the town is doing what it should be to hold people accountable.

Iverson said it is a very serious issue. People get stuck in bad situations.

Jenness said the town needs to actively work to get those overdue property taxes. For properties acquired by the town, if the town doesn’t need them, liquidate them.

Closing statements   

Clair said there are a lot of good things happening in Chesterville. “For every negative, you ought to find a couple positives. There are things we can do as a community that won’t cost a lot of money,” he said.

Fuller said everybody wants change but it’s got to come slowly.

Hastings said money has been saved from the budget but not used to reduce taxes. Employees don’t have much security. “I will listen, communicate and be open to work with the board to continue in a positive direction,” he said.

Iverson said he wants to continue in the direction the town is going. Selectmen have taken charge and are not letting employees run departments. “I work for you,” he said. “You didn’t have a voice when I came here. There has been good sound budgeting by the selectmen to control costs.”

Jenness said he would like to continue moving forward. There has been a lot of employee turnover. Good or bad, the town needs to move forward, he said.

pharnden@sunmediagroup.net 

Ross Clair is seeking election in Chesterville, March 13, to fill the remaining year of the selectman term vacated by Paul Caldwell.

Amber-Jean Fuller is a selectman candidate in Chesterville to fill the year remaining on the term vacated by Paul Caldwell. Elections are March 13.

Edward Hastings IV is seeking the 3-year selectman seat in the Chesterville elections March 13..

Selectman Chairman Guy Iverson is seeking re-election for the 3-year term in Chesterville. Elections are March 13.

Selectman Tyler Jenness is seeking re-election for a 1-year term in Chesterville on March 13.

Chesterville residents attend a candidate forum Tuesday night. 5 candidates seeking 3 seats on the board of selectmen answered questions and said why they were running.

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