AUGUSTA — Four candidates are battling for two at-large seats on the City Council.

Two spots will go to the two top vote-getters among incumbent Councilor Cecil Munson, former Councilor Mary Mayo-Wescott, former state legislator, treasurer and head of the Maine State Housing Authority Dale McCormick, and political newcomer Tom Connors. It’s the only contested council race in Augusta.

Connors said he’s concerned the city is increasingly being referred to as a service center, which overlooks the many residents for whom Augusta is home.

“I’m trying to bring positive change to a community I think has lost its way, we’ve lost our identity,” said Connors, who is a newcomer to politics. “I’ve been here my whole life, I’m raising a family here, and I have no desire to move. I was raised, if you don’t like the way things are going, you change it.”

McCormick served three terms in the state Senate in the 1990s, was state treasurer for eight years, and more recently was head of Maine State Housing Authority until she resigned in March of 2012 following criticism from Gov. Paul LePage.

McCormick said she has fresh ideas and is “a hard worker, a fighter, and a terrier, but I have a positive attitude, and I want to help keep Augusta moving forward.”

Mayo-Wescott, who served four terms as a city councilor in the 1990s and early 2000s, said she has an exemplary record, cares deeply about the city, and can get things done. She has served as chairwoman of the Heart of Augusta, led the nonprofit Friends of the Flatiron group’s efforts to save the old Cony High School building, and said she strongly supports the efforts of the Augusta Downtown Alliance.

“I have a strong record, from writing a million dollar grant for economic development, to fighting for historic preservation,” Mayo-Wescott said. “I know the municipal budget better than anyone. I love Augusta, I want this to be a vibrant, viable community.”

Munson said he prides himself on his superior service to constituents, which he said has been the hallmark of his public service. He said the current councilors and mayor have worked hard to learn to compromise and “unlike Washington, we get things done.”

“I’m the guy that’s had the reputation as the go-to guy, the one who, when there’s a problem, you call me,” said Munson, who is currently serving his second straight term as an at-large councilor. “I’m not afraid to go before the state Legislature to discuss issues that impact the city, which I have done a number of instances.”

Munson said the biggest issues facing the city, and most other Maine cities, is how much the residential property tax weighs heavily on citizens, and how to help people struggling, financially, to get ahead.

“We need to have a fair and balanced tax program in the state, instead of just leaning on property taxes,” Munson said. “Augusta also has a large percentage of the population who don’t enjoy the same quality of life others do. I’ve been working with the Mayor’s Committee on Social Services, looking at housing, food, economic development, shelters and transitional living, to try to move that population into transitional housing so we don’t continue having people sit on welfare.”

Mayo-Wescott said what she sees as five key issues — economic development, education, historic preservation and community and social services — can best be addressed by the city following the recommendations of the 2007 Comprehensive Plan, which built on previous plans for the city.

“I think we have to get back to the strategic plan of 2007 and implement it,” she said. “That will give us our business plan for the future and move Augusta forward. You can’t go week by week, issue by issue, that’s just putting you in a holding pattern. And I want Augusta to go somewhere great.”

Connors said the city’s taxes are too high. He said there are too many administrators in the school system, and suggested looking into having city councilors, not the school board, be responsible for crafting the annual school budget. He said doing so could reduce the duplication of both the city and school department having finance offices, and free up school board members to focus on educating students.

He also said the city needs to improve the condition of its roads, to make the city more attractive to both residents and businesses, increase police patrols to make people feel safer downtown, and enforce building safety codes.

“I keep hearing Augusta is business friendly, but I haven’t seen that in action,” Connors said.

McCormick said Augusta’s neighborhoods have different concerns their residents want addressed, ranging from too many sex offenders to commercial development, but follow a similar theme — encroachment into neighborhoods. She said the best way to address those concerns is setting rules for development and planning, and follow them.

“I think people, homeowners, have a right to know the rules as they invest in their homes,” she said. “And it’s important to vary those rules only in extreme cases.”

She said Augusta should become more of a regional deliverer of services, for which it would be paid by other communities receiving those services, which could include fire and police protection. She also said she would like to see Augusta become a more walkable city, expand Lithgow Library, expand recycling, and promote the petanque courts in Mill Park.

Councilor Dan Emery, who holds one of the two seats open in the Nov. 5 election, is not seeking re-election.

Candidates for local office uncontested in the upcoming election include incumbent Patrick Paradis, Ward 3 City Council; Jennifer Day for Ward 1 Board of Education; incumbent Kim Martin, at-large Board of Education; and incumbent Katie Vose, Ward 4 Board of Education.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]

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