HALLOWELL — Andrew McPherson, a former city councilor and acting mayor, qualified to run for an open council seat Tuesday, setting up what will likely be the only contested race on the municipal ballot in November.

Until Tuesday, George Lapointe, a Middle Street resident who served as Maine’s marine resources commissioner from 1998 to 2011, was the only declared candidate for the councilor-at-large seat vacated last month by Edmund Cervone, who is moving out of state.

On Saturday, Mayor Charlotte Warren said at the city council’s September meeting, set for Monday, she would appoint Lapointe to fill Cervone’s seat temporarily before the election. Her appointment would be subject to council approval.

But after McPherson’s entry Tuesday, Warren said she’d be looking for another placeholder to nominate for the seat ahead of the election, so as “not to favor either opponent over the other.”

Warren wouldn’t say today who she’s considering for the seat, but she expected her choice to become public when the agenda for Monday’s meeting is released on Thursday.

“My hope is to find somebody who is up to speed, who has municipal experience and who can jump right in,” Warren said.

On Sunday, McPherson, an engineer who lives on Chamberlain Drive, told the Kennebec Journal he would enter the race. Daniel Kelley, Hallowell’s assistant city clerk, said McPherson took out nomination papers Tuesday morning and returned them that afternoon with the necessary minimum of 50 signatures from registered Hallowell voters.

In an interview, McPherson, who served on the council from 1996 to 2006 and from 2008 to 2010, said he’s a staunch fiscal conservative and taxes were a main reason he decided to run.

In August, the city approved a $2.2 million annual budget that is 8 percent lower than last year’s. However, due to a school budget increase and a cut in state aid to municipalities, the budget is still expected to result in an 8 percent property tax increase.

“I want to make sure taxes never go up 8 or 9 percent in one year, that’s for sure,” he said. “People always say, ‘You can’t do anything about it.’ Of course there’s something you can do. You can cut spending.”

While city council president in 2006, he filled in as mayor after the late Barry Timson resigned in protest of the council’s vote to fire James Rhodes, then the city manager.

When McPherson ran for election to the mayoral post in his own right later that year, he finished third in a four-person race, with Timson reclaiming the seat by four votes over Cervone and 25 votes over McPherson.

In recent years, McPherson ran into some criticism from councilors and school board officials over Team Hall-Dale, the volunteer group he headed to solicit donations to pay for upgraded facilities at Hall-Dale Elementary School that the state wouldn’t pay for.

The original goal of the group, formed in 2004, was to raise $560,000 for a larger gymnasium, cafeteria and library at the school off Winthrop Street in Hallowell, which opened in 2006 with payment of those upgrades fronted by Hallowell and Farmingdale taxpayers, with the expectation that the private money would help pay off debt incurred.

By July 2012, Team Hall-Dale had handed over approximately $215,000. Then, McPherson said after he gathered $350,000 in pledges, many donors backed out due to the downturn in the economy.

McPherson gave RSU 2 another $26,000 in donations in August 2012. He said Wednesday that was the last check he gave the school district.

Since that money hasn’t been able to keep pace with debt service payments, Hallowell and Farmingdale taxpayers have been left paying off much of it.

There are no large donations in sight: McPherson said Wednesday there is only “a few thousand dollars” in Team Hall-Dale’s bank account. But McPherson said he’s assembling a group of volunteers to do “social media fundraising” for the group.

“It hasn’t really come together yet, but it will,” he said.

McPherson said he would continue fundraising if elected to the council. He would have to give up his seats on the boards of the Hallowell Water District and Greater Augusta Utilities District if he wins the council seat.

Other than the at-large seat race between McPherson and Lapointe, Hallowell’s ballot will likely be devoid of contested races. Candidates have until Sept. 10 to return nomination papers.

Mark Walker of Water Street, president of the city council, is running unopposed for mayor. Only Lynn Irish, of Second Street, is running to replace him as councilor from Ward 2, largely in the northern part of the city.

Councilor Mark Sullivan of Second Street is running unopposed for re-election in Ward 4 on the city’s southern edge, while Hallowell’s Dawn Gallagher is running unopposed for re-election as director of the school board of Regional School Unit 2, comprised also of Dresden, Farmingdale, Monmouth and Richmond.

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652
[email protected]

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