Five Rumford candidates seeking two select board posts
Candidates for the Rumford Select Board, from left, are James Theriault, Steve Dyment, Jon Starr, Mark Belanger and William Porter.

RUMFORD — Five people are seeking two open three-year positions on the Rumford Select Board.

The seats are presently held by Mark Belanger and Jeff Sterling. While Belanger is running again, Sterling has decided not to seek re-election.

Four other people have submitted papers to run for the Select Board — Steve Dyment, William “Bill” Porter, Jon Starr and James Theriault.

On May 23, a Meet the Candidates Night, sponsored by EnvisionRumford, was held before 40 citizens in the Rumford Falls Auditorium. Three candidates — Porter, Starr and Theriault — were present to address questions from master of ceremonies Randall Therrien.

Belanger and Dyment were not present, but answered the same questions by email.

The following are questions and answers from the candidates:

* Why are you running for the Select Board?

Theriault — “I’ve lived for all but two years in Rumford. I had served for 20 years as Mexico Police Chief. I want to see new businesses come into Rumford to help our tax base.”

Starr — “I have lived in Rumford for 17 years. I’m running because I feel this town is at the turning point now and I’d like to see the town grow and change direction and have a rebirth, so to speak.”

Porter — “I’m a lifelong Rumford resident. I see opportunities coming down the pike and we’ve got to start grasping onto some of them.”

Dyment — “I am running for the Select Board because I have seen this town that I love decline for years because of the massive spending. I would like to help Rumford start growing as much as it can again. Economic growth is so important.”

Belanger — “I am running for re-election because I believe there is much more work that needs to be done on economic development. We need to create an atmosphere to bring much needed jobs to the area. In tandem, we must look at ways to find savings and spend the taxpayers’ money more efficiently.”

* What do you Rumford’s current identity is and would you change it?

Porter — “I don’t think it’s as bad as everyone thinks. We’ve just got to clean up our act. You go down the streets; they’re not well kept anymore. The sidewalks gave grass growing up through them. You’ve got trees on the side of the road that should be trimmed back. It’s not like it used to be. But it can come back.”

Belanger — “Rumford has long been known as a paper mill town. We should embrace that and work at expanding new manufacturing wherever possible. We also live in a beautiful area with much tourism potential.”

Starr — “I think we gone from what people from away would call a thriving mill town to a dying mill town. I would like to see this town defined as a dynamic town, a town where there’s multiple opportunities.”

Theriault — “I do think the town does need a new image and first place to change is with the board that sits right here. The only way we’re going to change anything is to get more businesses and lower the tax rate.”

* What is it that you think Rumford really needs right now?

Theriault — “To make it more affordable and safe to live here.”

Starr — “We can make this town as appealing and attractive as possible for businesses. I don’t think it’s a matter of getting taxes down. It’s never the answer in itself. We have to make this town a place that when people come here and look at it, they see pride and a town that respects itself and invests in itself.”

Porter — “Prior to the last 10 years, we always had a plan in this town. Every year, we’re going to pave this road, put in these sidewalks. You could see what you were getting for your tax dollars. In the 10 years, we haven’t had that.”

Dyment — “I believe the select board needs to look very closely at the town budgets and see where savings can be found. Rumford needs jobs, jobs, jobs.”

Belanger — “What Rumford needs right now is job creation. When jobs are created and there is growth everything else falls into place. New business would naturally be open as the potential of profitability would be realized.”

* Do you think the town needs a fulltime economic planner?

Starr — “We do. These things don’t happen on their own. So someone dedicated to that is a responsible thing for a town to invest in. But you don’t take that position for granted. You look at what its accomplished, year after year, and see if it’s paying for itself.”

Theriault — “I would agree. You need someone who knows what strings to pull, where to go for grants, and spruce up the town. The money is out there. If we don’t take that money, someone else is going to get it. And it would pay for the salary of that person.”

Porter — “I’m involved in the plaza up by Marden’s. The way they fill that is that they (plaza owners) travel all over the country looking for opportunities. I’d have a difficult time with having an economic developer sitting here in Rumford behind his desk. It’s expensive to pay someone to travel to New York or California. My theory would be to hire a company to see what we’ve got and not pay them until they bring something in.”

Dyment — “I believe Rumford needs an economic planner, but we need to get the town on a sound fiscal path to have one.”

Belanger — “Instead of hiring another full-time employee with full benefits I would be more inclined to sub out to a firm that would work on a percentage of the results achieved.”

* Would you support a fulltime code enforcement officer?

Porter — “Don’t know about fulltime but we need a code enforcement officer. You go to these other towns; it doesn’t take them two or three years to get rid of a burnt building or whatever. There’s all kinds of that stuff around. It seems to take us forever to do anything.”

Dyment — “I agree with a code enforcement officer for one year on a fulltime basis to get the job under control. After the first year, the job should be part time.

Belanger — “As far a full-time code enforcement officer I would like to see the data as far as permits issued and other information to justify the position.”

Theriault — “We don’t need a fulltime one, but he or she should be very active in enforcing these codes regarding burnt buildings, vacant buildings.”

Starr — “I would lean towards a fulltime CEO because we have a bit of a backlog. When I look around town, I see the amount of buildings that should obviously come down.”

* Do you see opportunities for regionalization or consolidation?

Theriault — “It would benefit this whole River Valley if all of the towns combined. Not just the police and not just the fire, but so that there’s one town in the River Valley.”

Starr — “To me, Mexico and Rumford seem to be joined at the hip. I don’t see any why we shouldn’t consolidate. Police and fire are great ideas to consolidate and I’d capitalize on every opportunity to consolidate that we can.”

Porter — “I think it’s a good idea but we need to clean up our house before we start going into another agreement. It takes a lot of time and I don’t think we have that right now because we’ve got to take care of us right now.”

Dyment — “I would like to see grants pursued for the recreation of all children and adults. Possibly this is an area that Mexico might agree with. I would want it in Rumford though.”

Belanger — “I believe there are areas where regionalization and consolidation can work. You need willing partners to make that happen. We need to find a way to overcome the emotion with these proposed changes.”

* Do you feel it necessary for our budget to rise as much as it has? We have one of the largest budgets in the state, per capita. How would you address that?

Porter — “I don’t think you can compare Rumford to any other town. We do have a mill here. Our fire department has to be trained for hazmat. We’ve got Section 8 in every apartment house in Rumford. It just goes on and on. But I believe we can use the money better than how we’re using it.”

Starr — “We’re in an interesting situation with the population declining over the years. Sadly, you can’t say the police department is going to have 10 percent less crime because there’s 10 percent less people. Or that there’s going to be 10 percent less fires. The budget is based on population but is also based upon the town we have, the size buildings we have, the infrastructure we have in place, the miles of road we have.”

Theriault — “These department heads don’t have a lot of fat in their budgets. They can’t because the people that sit on the board here and the Finance Committee scrutinize all the budgets. The cost of living, everything, goes up. There’s no way to cut taxes unless you layoff people.”

* Should Rumford continue to have a highway department that continues to do road reconstruction or should they bid out those type of projects?

Theriault — “We have a highway department. We have to pay those people to do something. We have the supplies and equipment. If it’s cheaper for the highway department to do those roads, then that’s what should be done. If it’s cheaper to bid them out, then that’s what should be done.”

Porter — “The problem isn’t the town garage. As far as building streets go, there’s no talent anymore. There’s no expertise in anything.”

Dyment — “I would like to see the town garage converted from a construction garage to a maintainence garage. Then I would like to see the Parks Department merge with the highway department. This would allow a new department to do all maintenance of the town. The town could be spruced up and the fields taken care of by the highway department and the town would look so much better. All Highway jobs could be bid out. This would reduce overhead because some equipment would not be needed.”

Belanger — “This is something that should be looked at seriously by the new board as far as levels of service in relation to our population.”

Starr — “This is about doing what makes sense for the town. I haven’t crunched the numbers of contracting versus having our highway crew to this. The issue is can we keep our road crew busy fulltime is part of that.”

* Do you have in mind any specific tax cuts? If so, how would you go about doing it? Or are there other cost-saving mechanisms that could be put in place?

Starr — “I’d like to see the town look at things a little more creatively. Instead of having a tax cut, if you could give someone a tax rebate or something along those lines. If you do something on your property as far as beautification or maintenance, you get a tax credit back. You’re giving someone something for something in return.”

Porter — “As far as everything goes, we need a bigger tax base. That’s what it boils down to. That would help out everything.”

Theriault — “You’ve got to help yourself before the town can.”

Dyment — “Our budgets are climbing terribly. For a town that had around 13,000 to around 5000, we should not have a budget over $6 million. All departments should be evaluated for proper staffing levels.”

Belanger — “This is another level of service issue that should be worked on by the new select board.”

* As a way to rid blight and encourage investors, are there any programs that the town could put in place to help encourage fixing up buildings versus tearing them down?

Theriault — “I don’t see how we give the property owner anything unless the townspeople voted to do that. I don’t think that’s up to the Board of Selectmen.”

Starr — “Ultimately yes, especially for commercial development. Certainly, you’d jump through a lot of hoops for a very large business to come in and hire a lot of people. I’m much less excited about doing something for residential. Sad as it is to see buildings come down, one less dilapidated three-story building coming down is not going to bring tears to my eyes. Elevating the residential market is not something we need to do.”

Porter — “Right now, we’ve got TIFs (Tax Increment Financing) in half the town. Why do we need any more? With Section 8, there’s enough subsidies out there as far as apartments go.”

Belanger — “I am not aware of any programs to address this issue. In the past, it has been the decision of the board of selectmen to remove multi-unit buildings that have been tax acquired. I believe we are moving in the right direction with this issue.”

* What do you as some of Rumford’s best assets and what would you do to highlight and use those assets to make Rumford the town you envision?

Porter — “We got the falls, and the mill. The Island is unique; we need to get some businesses down there. As far as opportunities, Poland Spring. Geologists say we’ve got plenty of water. Within five years, 10 years, they want to put a plant here, employ 20 to 40 people at $20 an hour. That’s an opportunity we should not pass up.”

Belanger — “Rumford has many assets, from the beautiful Falls and river to the architecture of many of its buildings. We have a paper mill that has given a livelihood to many of its citizens and in turn made other businesses thrive. The best asset of Rumford is its people. I believe by working together we can promote the area and create true growth.”

Starr — “The falls are extraordinary. I’m part of a group of folks with Rumford Ahead! that’s trying to reopen the trail on the back side of the falls. Clear some of the trees and shrubs so you can see the falls. We should capitalize on that and turn that area back there into more of a park like it used to be years ago, with picnic benches so people could take a lunch there.”

Theriault — “Rumford is an excellent recreation area. I’m trailmaster with the Rumford Riders ATV Club and hopefully will be involved with the new hotel. With people skiing, snowmobiling and ATVing, there’s a lot of money out there to be had.”

The Meet the Candidates Night can viewed over Local assess channel 7.

The election for the candidates will be held from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, June 13 at the American Legion.

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