PARIS — Could this town really be the third-worst place to live in Maine?

It is, according to the “infotainment” website, While town officials have offered tongue-in-cheek responses, which they say is how the designation should be taken, others have taken it to heart and want to make the town a better place to live and do business.

In a piece titled, “These are the 10 Worst Places to Live in Maine,” author Nick James explained how the numbers were crunched. RoadSnacks analyzed 50 of the Pine Tree State’s municipalities with populations of more than 5,000. Data were gathered from the government census, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Sperling’s Best Places and crime statistics from the FBI.

The criteria included population density, highest unemployment rates, adjusted median income, high housing vacancy rate, education and high crime. While Paris came in as the third worst, Skowhegan took the top spot, Augusta was second and Lewiston ranked ninth.

“Paris is a rural place in the middle of nowhere an hour north of Portland,” James wrote. “When I say rural, I mean rural. It’s one of the most desolate places in Maine.”

“Say what you want about, ‘I choose to be away from everyone.’ Sitting at home all winter watching Patriots and (Bruins) games by the fire can get old eventually,” James wrote.

Interim Town Manager Michael Madden said by email that he thinks the town got a bad rap.

“We are certainly not in the middle of nowhere. We are the halfway point between the casino and Sunday River,” Madden wrote. “I have not been here that long, but I have definitely seen more ‘middle of nowhere’ places in Northern Maine.” 

He added, “The test in the city is do you have a McDonald’s, Burger King and a Dunkin’ Donuts? My answer is yes! And we have KFC and Taco Bell to boot,” Madden added sarcastically. “No one else has a Market Square. Of course we’d love a little more in terms of cultural activities and boutiques and shops, but we’re working on it.”

That’s what business owner Dennis Creaser would like to see in Paris, where he’s lived since 1990 and considers home. He thinks the town should look at North Conway, N.H., as a model of what Paris could be.

From his jewelry shop on Main Street on Tuesday, he said the New Hampshire town is a short 45-minute drive and resembles Paris in terms of topography. Neither place has a lake. North Conway does have a few advantages over Paris — no sales tax, a ski resort and motels people want to stay in.

“I am not saying we don’t have shopping opportunities and nice places to eat here, but over there it’s the norm and here it’s the exception,” he said.

Back at RoadSnacks, James noted Paris residents’ low income.

“You know what gets old?” he wrote. “Not having any money. The people in Paris have the smallest household income of anyone else in the entire state at right around $30,000 a year, after cost of living adjustments.” 

Selectman Janet Jamison said Monday night the article is a bunch of baloney, but she did think it was kind of funny. 

“Certainly, there’s seriousness at the end where (it mentions the median low income of $30,000) in town and lots of people think we have lots of money and others know damn well we don’t,” she said. “Because I’ve said, ‘It’s a poor town,’ and I’ve been told by (town officials) in the upper management, ‘No, you’re not a poor town.’”

While North Conway is a great model, Creaser said Paris doesn’t even have to look that far to see a town that’s decent.

“One major advantage Norway has over us is a real sense of community over there. When you walk downtown, you can feel it,” he said, noting the people in the town next door have definitive goals and an unrelenting drive to get stuff done.

“Maybe Main Street (in Paris) is too spread out,” he said.

Creaser said he’s pro-business and always votes that way, but he thinks Paris should support small-business owners instead of trying to bring in big corporations.

“Big-box stores don’t do anything to improve community sense,” he said. “They just displace local businesses. I am not saying there isn’t a place for McDonald’s, but Norway doesn’t have any of those on their main drag.”

Paris resident Peter Kilgore asked selectmen at their meeting Monday night for an update on projects suggested by Sandy Swett, who penned the town’s Strategic Plan last year. Some of her ideas include beautifying the town with flower pots and signs in Market Square, developing and marketing the town’s trail system, securing the vacant Paris Utility District building and transforming it into a recreation center with a boat launch and turning the Mildred Fox School into an arts center.

Jeanie Stone, who heads the ad hoc Revitalization Committee, which has taken on some projects from Swett’s plan, said she doesn’t believe Paris is the third-worst place to live in Maine. She said the rural town is beautiful, though she’s had some frustrations in working to help move it forward.

“It’s discouraging if you’re trying to get something going in a positive way,” she said. “It is my only hope that with some new people (on the Board of Selectmen), we’ll be able to move forward in a better direction. The Revitalization Committee is about 2 years old now. We’ve made some progress, but it’s a struggle.”

Selectmen promised an update by their next meeting in two weeks. Kilgore suggested Monday that the town host a community day, inviting townspeople and employees to spend a Saturday cleaning up the streets.

Creaser said he would love to participate in such an event, if it wasn’t on a day he was working at his shop. There’s been talk in the past about hosting such events, but they never come to fruition, he said.

[email protected]’s 10 Worst Places to Live in Maine

1. Skowhegan

2. Augusta

3. Paris

4. Caribou

5. Presque Isle

6. Waterboro

7. Waterville

8. Old Town

9. Lewiston

10. Sanford

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