FAIRFIELD — The three men who are running for two open seats on the Fairfield Town Council have a difference of opinion when it comes to how much funding should go to local nonprofit organizations, including the Police Athletic League.

Richard Letourneau, 44, a Dirigo Engineering employee; Harold Murray, 55, a behavioral specialist at the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, and Aaron Rowden, 27, an attorney, are vying for the seats.

Murray, an incumbent, is seeking re-election after serving a three-year term, while the second vacancy was created when Chairwoman Tracey Stevens’ term expired.

The candidates spoke on their approaches to town governance, economic development, and budgeting, which they agreed would include big challenges for Fairfield in the future.

They had differing opinions on funding nonprofit community organizations, expenditures that make up less than 1.5 percent of the town’s total $5.4 million budget, but which tend to generate a lot of discussion among voters.

Voters approved about $80,500 in funding for nonprofit groups that provide services in Fairfield at the annual Town Meeting in May.

About $35,600 of the funding was for the Police Athletic League, which serves children and families from Fairfield, Albion, Benton and Clinton. The organization served about 1,300 children in 2012, nearly half of those coming from Fairfield. The organization’s total budget for that year was about $194,000, half of which comes from funding from the four towns.

Richard Letourneau, works as an inspector on the Summit Natural Gas pipeline as part of a contract between his employer, Dirigo, and the state.

A newcomer to town government, Letourneau said he doesn’t have all the information necessary to weigh in on many nonprofit funding issues, but he does support the athletic league.

“I’m in full support of the PAL,” he said. “That program has been the heart and soul of Fairfield for a lot of time.”

Letourneau said he feels that any money given to the athletic league is spent wisely, and that he would be likely to support an expansion of their services.

Murray, who has lived in Fairfield for 24 years, is vice chairman of the council.

He said the town would be better served by a town department of Parks and Recreation, rather than financially supporting the athletic league.

“I just feel that the sports programs for the kids should be run by the town,” Murray said. One reason Murray said he favored a town department over a nonprofit is that town departments are eligible for state and federal grants that he says could attract more funding to the area.

He said such a major switch would take time and planning to achieve.

“It’s going to be a long, hard road,” he said.

Rowden, who has mounted unsuccessful bids as an independent for the town council and the state legislature, has a law practice and is also the president of the town’s committee for Central Maine CATV, the local public access television station.

Rowden, too, supports the athletic league, which he sees as providing a cost-savings over a town department.

“Fairfield doesn’t have to have a parks and rec department to meet the needs that other towns do, because we have a nonprofit with lots of volunteers or who are paid a small stipend to run baseball games and football camps and things like that,” he said.

Rowden said the Police Athletic League is just one example of many nonprofit groups that get money from the town and improve the community.

At the Town Meeting, voters approved about $23,000 for various nonprofit groups — $3,000 for the Fairfield Historical Society; $5,000 for the Child and Family Services and Transportation program offered by the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program; $6,000 for the Fairfield Interfaith Food Pantry, $1,800 for the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter; $2,500 for Spectrum Generations, $1,500 for the Family Violence Project; $1,250 for the Hospice of Waterville; $100 for the Hospice of Somerset County; $2,000 for Kennebec Behavioral Health.

The voters also approved about $21,700 for four economic development groups — $500 for the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce; $100 for the Somerset Economic Development Corp.; and $12,654 for the Central Maine Growth Council; and $8,463 for the Kennebec Valley Council of Governments.

Rowden said he supports such expenditures, and that it is important to maintain a strong relationship between the town and local nonprofits.

“I think it should at least be maintained,” he said. “The people of Fairfield want those services and they do continue to support those services.”

Letourneau said he didn’t know enough about the issue to comment on it meaningfully.

“I’d like to learn more about it,” he said. “I do support their missions, but I don’t know how much the money going out is affecting the overall budget.”

Murray said he supports the missions of the nonprofit groups, but not at the expense of Fairfield’s tax-paying residents, many of whom, he said, are elderly and living on a fixed income.

“The causes are all good. But you have to take a stand and say, who are you going to help? If it comes down to the elderly in the state of Maine you need to protect the elderly within your community. You have to try to hold that line.”

He said the programs should be able to provide their functions with state and federal dollars, without tapping local government coffers as well.

Economic development, budgets

The three candidates also spoke about the twin challenges of promoting economic development in the town and preventing large increases in local taxes.

Letourneau was born in Fairfield and graduated from Lawrence High School. He served in the U.S. Army, and graduated from the Maine Maritime Academy with a degree in power engineering technology.

He said he’s concerned about the changes he’s seen in Fairfield.

“The town seems to be disappearing as far as the storefronts go,” he said. “A lot of the jobs are going away. I want to keep this a nice place.”

He said the town remains a good place to raise a family, but “we have to make it viable.”

Letourneau said he brings a thoughtful, unbiased approach to town issues and feels he can be a positive part of a team approach to problem solving.

He said he doesn’t have enough expertise to recommend particular strategies to keep taxes low or promote development, but that 20 years of construction management has given him experience in planning and budgeting.

“I’ve been paying taxes long enough, and I wanted to get my nose into it,” he said.

Murray said the biggest challenge before the council over the coming years will be finding ways to keep taxes low.

He said he is proud of his record over the past three years, during which the town’s budget has been flat or reduced each year.

“That’s going to be a challenge, to try to continue to do that,” he said.

Another big challenge, he said, is to develop a better relationship and find common ground with Fairfield-based School Administrative District 49, which has a budget that also impacts local taxpayers.

He said that, without being critical of the schools, he would like to work with them to find ways for them to operate more effectively.

He said the town has also made good progress on economic development in recent years, including with the $6.5 renovation of the Gerald Hotel and the introduction of a natural gas pipeline through the region.

Murray said he wasn’t taking credit for the pipeline itself, but that the council had a hand in negotiating a better deal for local taxpayers. He said the council is in the process of establishing a regional group that would advocate for loans that would help people convert to natural gas.

He said the council needs to be more aggressive in attracting businesses to Fairfield.

Rowden said the most important vote he will cast will be for the town budget.

“That ultimately sets the tone. That defines what we can or can’t do,” he said. “I plan to put a lot of energy into making the budget work.”

He said crafting a responsible budget will address what he said is the biggest issue in Fairfield — “the rate of taxation versus the benefits we receive for paying those taxes.”

He said he hadn’t identified particular areas in the budget he would cut, but would examine each individual expenditure with a critical eye.

“I think there is a mindset of governments that we have to do what we’ve always done in terms of paying and spending,” he said. “I think we have to put the options back on the table.”

Rowden said the fresh perspective he brings with his youth is an advantage.

“Lots of people have served a very long time with distinction, and that’s respectable, but people are looking at problems in the same way that they were when they were elected.”

He said he didn’t disagree with any particular decisions that the council has made, but that he would like to see a deeper and more aggressive approach to economic development in the town.

In uncontested races, Stewart Kinley and Arel Spaulding are running for two School Administrative District 49 board seats and Albert Hodson running for the Kennebec Water District seat. The terms are each three years.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287
[email protected]