SKOWHEGAN — Five candidates, including one incumbent, are running for two seats on the Board of Selectmen. The election is scheduled for Tuesday.

Incumbent Selectwoman Darla Pickett is seeking re-election to the five member Board of Selectmen. She is challenged by Lake George Park manager Derek Ellis, developer Christopher Kruse, high school physical education teacher Soren Siren and real estate broker Ronald Blaisdell.

The term of office is three years.

Pickett is at the end of serving a year to finish retired Selectman Donald Lowe’s term. The other seat is vacant, having been occupied previously by Newell Graf, who was elected a Somerset County Commissioner in November.

The two winners Tuesday will join Betty Austin, Donald Skillings and Paul York on the board.

Among the important issues noted by all five candidates is the future of the Sappi Fine Paper North America mill and its valuation for taxes.


The Skowhegan Board of Assessors in April denied a request from Sappi to cut the property tax value of its paper mill on U.S. Route 201 by more than $137 million, which would have resulted in the loss of $2.3 million in revenue for the town. The paper mill is assessed for taxation by the town at $463,630,900. The company says the property should be taxed based on a value of $326,343,426. The difference — the amount by which the company says the valuation needs to be cut — is $137,287,474.

• Pickett, 70, said she wants to return to the board to continue work on the Sappi paper mill valuation for taxes and the town’s ongoing Combined Sewer Overflow project that separates storm water from town sewage treatment.

“Once you start it — the first year it’s kind of a learning process of how it works — I feel like now I understand a lot of it that I didn’t before,” she said. “I think that I lend a fairness to the board. I have no ax to grind. As a reporter, I learned balance and I think I’m fair.”

Pickett said the paper mill tax issue is the primary concern of town officials. She said it is too early before Town Meeting to know whether town taxes will rise dramatically.

Pickett said other priorities include police, fire and roads. She previously served on the Budget and Finance Committee and the Skowhegan Economic and Community Development Corp. and is on the Somerset Community TV board. She was a Morning Sentinel reporter for 24 years and is the mother of two and grandmother of three.

• Ellis, 43, ran for selectman last year, likes what he sees in Skowhegan and is running again to help the town move forward.


“It’s seems there is a lot going on here in town right now. There’s a lot of new stuff. There’s a lot of neat business ideas coming to town,” Ellis said. “The revitalization of downtown has got me thinking that things seem to be going in a positive direction, and I’d like to be part of that trend to help in whatever way I can.”

Ellis said as a property owner, he is concerned about the paper mill’s taxes. He said he would work toward keeping taxes from rising too much in light of possible reductions in state revenue sharing and the possible elimination of the homestead exemption.

“Where’s the money coming from? Property taxes,” he said. “The whole taxes business and where the money’s going. I like seeing new ideas and trying to bring new innovative business with some legs to it to Skowhegan. I think we’re kind of on the right track.”

He is married and has one daughter. He has a degree in environmental science from the University of Maine at Farmington.

• Siren, 45, a physical education teacher at Skowhegan Area High School for 21 years and current chairman of the Planning Board, said the paper mill valuation is the top issue facing Skowhegan taxpayers, along with making the town attractive to new business, such as ones that would be associated with the proposed whitewater park in the Run of River project. He said he wants Skowhegan to market itself as being “the other way to Greenville” and Moosehead Lake for recreation, so visitors will stop and shop in Skowhegan.

“I think we need to be careful how we grow our town,” he said. “We need to attract people that are going to be an asset, not a liability. I know there’s been a push recreationally for Run of the River. There’s been a lot of young energy that’s come into the town, so I think we need to tap some of those resources.”


Siren said the town should continue to try to not spend beyond the town’s means. He said being on the Planning Board has been a “great experience,” but he wants to take it to the next level and become a selectman.

Siren, who got his degree at the University of Maine, is a registered master Maine guide and whitewater raft guide. He is married and has two children.

“I have common sense and am level-headed,” he said. “I’m willing to find out all the facts and make sound and fiscally sound decisions.”

• Blaisdell, 63, is a part-time real estate broker and chairman of the Board of Assessors, the panel that in April rejected Sappi’s request for a tax abatement. He served on the Zoning Board of Appeals for several years, but never ran for selectman before. He also served on the state Board of Property Tax Review.

Blaisdell said the vote by the Board of Assessors in April was important to Skowhegan. He said the town already had given Sappi a $100 million tax break in 2014 “just because the way the economy is,” and it was time to stop.

“It was just unrealistic,” he said. “I feel very good about where we stand.”


Now, he said, he wants to apply that work for the town as a selectman.

“One of the biggest issues is the tax base. We all need to learn to live with something less,” he said. “All of the different department heads need to learn to live with less.”

For example, he said, the Community Oriented Policing, or COPS, grant gave the town a police officer for a couple of years, but later the town had to pay the officer’s salary and benefits.

“Any time there is a grant we jump for it, but where does that money come from?” he said. “Indirectly it still comes from us. I don’t think that’s good business.”

He said his object is to hold the line on taxes and to attract new business to town.

Blaisdell is married and has two daughters and four grandchildren.


• Kruse, 47, a new member of the Planning Board, moved back to Maine eight years ago from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he and his family were in the hotel business. He grew up in Jackman and lived in Skowhegan during his youth. He is owner of Bridgeside Market in Norridgewock and Olde School Apartments on the site of the former junior high school, which he originally wanted to turn into a hotel.

He previously served on the Norridgewock Planning Board.

Like the other candidates, Kruse said he will watch the Sappi tax abatement situation closely and push for fiscal responsibility in Skowhegan town government.

“People work hard for their money and they pay their taxes,” he said. “I just want to make sure we’re doing the best we can by them and running it like we would our own household.”

Kruse said as a businessman and developer, he knows how to plan and work within a budget to get the desired results by looking at revenue and spending and balancing the books. He said some belt-tightening will have to happen in municipal government.

“There’s good people on the board right now, and the town wants to do the right things. It’s just a matter of making the hard decisions sometimes,” he said. “I take what I’m doing seriously. I want to make things better. We need to grow the area. It’s not always about cutting expenses.”


He said projects such as Run of River are good at bringing new ideas and new business to town. He said it takes involvement by members of the community to get things done.

Kruse is married and has two children.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow

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