WATERVILLE — The mayoral candidates addressed a controversial pay-as-you-throw trash collection system, tax-exempt property and a failed attempt to rejuvenate the former Levine’s building Thursday night at their final public appearance together.

About 80 city officials, legislators, candidates for local and state offices and others turned out at Thomas College for the event, hosted by both Thomas and the Morning Sentinel.

Democrat Steve Aucoin, Republican Nick Isgro and City Councilor Karen A. Rancourt-Thomas, a Democrat running with no party affiliation, are vying to become the city’s 53rd mayor, replacing Karen Heck, who is unenrolled and is not running for re-election.

James Libby, a Thomas professor and the college’s academic dean, posed questions to the candidates from the college, Morning Sentinel staff and the audience.

He asked if the candidates support pay-as-you-throw and whether they think the city’s solid waste ordinance should be changed to reflect that the program is in place.

Isgro, 33, a controller for Skowhegan Savings Bank, said he does not support pay-as-you-throw as is, with residents having to pay $2 for “flimsy” trash bags manufactured out of state, and said people must discuss the issue and find alternatives. He cited a program used in Scarborough, where residents use two containers for waste — one for trash and one for recycling.


He said that as he has campaigned door-to-door, people have told him they are thrilled with the recycling aspect of the new trash collection system, which reportedly is saving the city $4,000 — more than city officials expected.

“I think we need to come together between now and June and we have to come up with a joint solution,” Isgro said.

He was referring to a referendum to be held in June for residents to decide whether to repeal or keep pay-as-you-throw. The council voted 5-2 earlier this year to approve a $37.2 million municipal and school budget that included pay-as-you-throw. Isgro said he does not think the ordinance should be updated now.

Rancourt-Thomas, 50, and a teacher’s aide at Waterville Junior High School, voted against the budget because she does not approve of the trash collection system, she said.

Rancourt-Thomas represents Ward 7, the South End area of the city where, she said, the majority of residents do not want pay-as-you-throw.

She said city officials did not listen to residents who objected to the program, saying the way it was put into effect was undemocratic.


“When we stray from that (democracy), then there’s something wrong,” she said.

She added that if residents next June vote to keep the program, then the ordinance should be changed.

Aucoin, 68, a former city councilor who represented Ward 7 and is maintenance director of the Alfond Youth Center, said pay-as-you-throw works for him but the issue is not about him — it’s about a lot of people who are pressured into buying trash bags they can not afford and that are manufactured out of state.

He said the issue needs to be fleshed out.

“I think in the interim I would shy away from revising any ordinances and let’s work the bugs out,” he said.

As to whether tax-exempt institutions including churches, colleges and hospitals should pay taxes, Aucoin said it is an issue he has fought for years because of the aggregate effect of what he says is a third of the city that does not pay taxes.


“If I were running a business, I would not accept one of every three customers not paying,” he said.

He said everyone must come to the table to discuss the issue. He emphasized it is not just about Thomas or Colby College or the chamber of commerce or churches.

“It’s the aggregate problem that exists that handicaps our development,” he said.

Isgro said the reality is that officials could go to Augusta to try to change the law about tax-exempts but the thousands of dollars that would be spent on lobbyists could instead be spent in the city. And, he said, officials would come back to the city empty-handed.

He said that, as treasurer of the Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers, he knows that if the organization had to start paying taxes, it would mean fewer underprivileged children going to summer camp, fewer teen parents getting help and fewer children getting clothes and toys for Christmas.

“Frankly, I prefer not to be the Grinch that stole Christmas,” he said.


Rancourt-Thomas said she also did not want to be a Grinch, but it is time for all the nonprofit organizations to come together and say what they can do for the city.

She said she sees students from Thomas and Colby volunteering at the junior high where she works and that is great. But times have changed, she said. Municipal revenue sharing has not been forthcoming from the state and if the state did what it promised, Waterville would not be in the situation it is in, she said. Legislators in Augusta, she said, need to advocate for the city.

“Waterville is in a quandary,” she said.

Libby said City Manager Michael Roy has said he has no intention of working with Michael Soracchi, the owner of the former Levine’s building on Main Street downtown, since negotiations between the city and Soracchi’s bid for a city loan broke down. Soracchi had renovated apartments on upper floors of the building and had planned to draw retail businesses to the lower floors. Libby asked if there is anything a mayor can or should do about the issue.

Aucoin said a mayor can step in when negotiations break down because of animosities or personality issues between two parties.

“I think that that’s just a position where a mayor can act as an intermediary,” he said.


Aucoin and the other candidates said they do not know all the facts about the Levine’s negotiations. Isgro said he has had conversations with city councilors about the issue and he would not want to second guess them or other city officials. Rancourt-Thomas said that a mayor must reach out to people wanting to do business in the city and in this case, maybe the issue could be resolved.

“We don’t know,” she said.

Libby read a question from the audience about the city’s plans to further support the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter.

“My plan right now would be to wait until the next budget comes out,” Isgro said, adding that the shelter is one of the greatest charitable gifts the city has. Rancourt-Thomas said the shelter is a great success but agreed the city can not yet decide on further funding. Aucoin said the shelter is a regional shelter and the pressure to fund it should not rest solely on Waterville.

Amy Calder — 861-9247


Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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