RUMFORD — Voters going to the polls on Tuesday will be asked to elect two people to fill three-year terms on the Board of Selectmen.
Six candidates are vying for the positions, including two incumbents: Jeff Sterling and Jolene Lovejoy. The candidates are Candice Casey, James Windover, Mark Belanger, and Patrick Ryan.
All were asked how they plan to grow Rumford's economy if elected.
Sterling said he would try to convince people who vote against economic development projects that have come before selectmen and the town to instead support them.
He said that last year, Rumford attorney Tom Carey presented a plan to create a zip line park in Rumford, but it was voted down. He said the same happened when a Massachusetts wind farm developer proposed to site part of a wind turbine project on Rumford hills.
"It's not us that say 'no' to things," Sterling said. "There's almost a professional group here that wants to say 'no' to everything."
Sterling said he would continue to collaborate with Mexico selectmen to offer tax-increment financing to bring cheaper natural gas here, and to improve marketing efforts for Puiia Business Park.
"We were more aggressive with the budget by putting more money (in the business park) to make it look more alive and presentable," he said. "Again, that takes a 'yes' vote. We just can't do it. It takes a 'yes' vote."
He said he wants to keep town services strong to entice new businesses to the area so owners would know there is adequate protection.
"The board can't do it on its own even though we're getting blamed for not doing it," Sterling said. "There are a lot of other factors that go into it, but a lot of it is just saying 'yes' to something."
Lovejoy said she will "work diligently to change the current negative image that Rumford is being labeled with" to "restore 'Pride of Place' in the town that we call home.
"If I were looking to establish a new business in Rumford, I would only need one trip to town to be very discouraged by all the current negative signs throughout our community," she said.
The negativity, she said, might lead people to think Rumford isn't a positive place to live or do business. Lovejoy said new jobs are critical and believes that with the pending paper mill merger of Verso in Jay and NewPage in Rumford, more jobs will be created.
"We need (dedicated community volunteers) who will be willing to put in the time and energy necessary to help guide our town as we edge our way toward our own economic recovery," she said.
Lovejoy said Rumford must continue working with local economic development groups, demolish tax-acquired buildings to remove blight and repair or replace downtown sidewalks.
Casey said she sees Rumford as having two major obstacles that must be addressed if a business or industry is to consider opening up shop here: blight and schools with bad grades.
“We have all been told that making a good first impression is critical to any relationship," she said. "This is just as true when it comes to an investor scouting locations as it is to a personal relationship. When a community has terrible roads, dangerous sidewalks, lots of litter and lots of blight as Rumford has, a potential investor says to themselves, 'They aren’t respecting or taking care of what is theirs, (so) I can’t expect them to respect or take care of what is mine as employees or as neighbors,' and they drive right on through to the next potential community with their investment dollars.”
Casey said she will "work towards reestablishing the sense of community Rumford once enjoyed with neighborhoods bonded together to take care of the streets, sidewalks, yards and homes."
She said that as a member of RSU 10, Rumford finds itself "in a school district with seven F-graded schools, one D-graded school, and three C-graded schools.
"An investor looking to establish a new location is going to look to see that the schools will provide their children and the children of any professionals they have to bring in with a quality education; RSU 10’s record says otherwise," Casey said.
She said that because of this, investors "can’t expect to find qualified workers out of these schools.
“If elected to the Board of Selectmen, I will call upon (selectmen) to pressure Rumford’s school committee delegation and the superintendent to consolidate the schools to facilitate educating, but also to evaluate every program, practice and each person working with our children to determine if they are performing in a way that educates, and remove them if they are not.
“As we build a healthy, strong community with good schools, we will attract economic development because of our spirit and our strengths,” Casey said.
Belanger criticized the current board of selectmen and said its current economic development efforts are "erratic."
"It's a stop-and-go policy with no clear vision and, to me, it's had little success," he said. "I think the town should take a more active approach, not passive. It's not a very aggressive pace."
He said town leaders need to decide "what we want and give it direction and funding.
"The Puiia Business Park could be marketed better, as well as our TIF districts," Belanger said. "Nobody seems to know what the hell they are. There is a lot of potential."
He said data center businesses and a wood pellet mill should be pursued for Rumford. He also wants to reduce taxes, seeing that as a way to encourage new businesses to come to town.
"I think a pellet mill would be great here," Belanger said. "It should be aggressively explored, which will have to be done if we want to survive."
Windover wants to lower the tax rate, "because right now, the one imposed on us is 30 mills," he said.
He also wants to change Rumford's direction.
"The way Rumford's going, for some reason, they keep on increasing services," Windover said.
Additionally, he said town leaders aren't putting money into economic development where they should be. Windover said the town should be consulting with an economic development firm rather than adding to the payroll and benefits doled out by increasing personnel.
"I will take a fresh approach (if elected)," Windover said. "There are all kinds of things out there."
He also said selectmen should be seeking new ways of funding things rather than relying on taxpayers, such as when the paper mill came to town looking for help and town officials "turned a blind eye to them."
Ryan was unavailable, but stated in a letter to the editor of the Rumford Falls Times newspaper published on June 4, that he was born in 1964 in Rumford and raised here.
He said he has maintained a home in Rumford, but made a living in Europe working for an industrial boiler company in the 1990s. He started as a welder and left as a field engineer to start his own business, Ryan Mechanical Services, in Rumford.
To grow the town, he said Rumford must reduce its tax burden on individuals and its paper mill.
"For Rumford to stop its decline (to say nothing of its growth), the town's budget must be reduced and brought into line with other Maine towns its size," Ryan said.
He said he believes personnel reductions through cross-training to combine positions and eliminating other positions are solutions.