WILTON — The four candidates on Tuesday’s ballot vying for one open seat on the Wilton Selectboard cite economic development as one of the most important issues facing the town.

Candidates Ruth Cushman, 66, Irving Faunce, 70, David Leavitt, 57, and Betty Shibles, 78, are competing for the seat being vacated by Selectman Scott Taylor, who is not seeking re-election. The board’s chairwoman, Tiffany Maiuri, is running uncontested for re-election to her seat.

Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Town Office.

Faunce, a Wilton resident since 2004, served on the board previously for a three-year term in 2007 and was re-elected in 2010, though he resigned in 2011 when he began a job in Penobscot that would keep him away from Wilton most of the week. Faunce ran last June for selectman and again in January, but lost.

Having paid attention to the town’s struggle in dealing with the dilapidated Forster Mill, Faunce said he is glad to see the project gaining momentum, with the town receiving a $200,000 federal grant last month to begin demolition of the building. Faunce said if elected, he would like to build off of this positive energy now abuzz in Wilton, centered around economic development.

“I feel that Wilton is on the verge of some good things, and there is some really good energy in the community now,” Faunce said. “I would like to obviously see more activity downtown.”

Revitalizing Wilton’s downtown is the focus of a $400,000 grant being put to use later this summer to make the downtown more walkable and spruce up some amenities. Faunce said the town needs to encourage more development downtown, and one out-of-the-box way to do that would be to look into moving the Town Office there.

“Downtown is sort of the heart of our community. It’s a place where we should encourage activity,” Faunce said. “(Moving) the Town Office downtown would bring activity and be much more convenient for many people.”

The Town Office now is on Weld Road, about a mile away from downtown. Faunce said the move wouldn’t happen overnight, but he thinks it is an option that should be studied and discussed.

Another concern for Faunce is the fact that with state revenue sharing down, the burden is being shifted onto property taxes in order to raise the necessary money for Regional School Unit 9.

Shibles, who was born and raised in Wilton, is also interested in furthering the development of Wilton’s downtown. After spending several decades out of state during her teaching career, eight years ago Shibles and her husband moved back to Wilton, where their children had settled. Having grown up in a time when Wilton’s downtown was thriving, she was shocked to come back to vacant storefronts and abandoned buildings.

“When I came into downtown, I was just taken aback of the terrible condition that the town is in,” Shibles said.

Upon returning to her hometown and seeing its state, Shibles began getting involved and joined several town committees and local groups. She sits on Wilton’s Downtown Committee and has attended several Maine Downtown Conferences, which are hosted by the Maine Development Foundation. Shibles is also a member of the Wilton Group, a community-based group that seeks to bring educational programs and opportunities for community discussion to town.

To re-energize downtown, Shibles has a twofold plan. First, have public discussion to understand what the young families and residents living in Wilton need and want for business. Second, she said she would like to see the town take action in dealing with abandoned properties that she thinks deter both people and businesses from moving into Wilton.

Shibles advocates establishing a town ordinance that would require property owners of abandoned buildings to register them with the town.

“We need a stronger ordinance. We need to know how many abandoned buildings we have and where they are,” Shibles said. “We’ve got to look to the future and be more progressive — and honor the past, but we can’t stay in the past.”

Leavitt, a Wilton resident of 30 years, shares Faunce’s and Shible’s desire for development but wants the town to focus on the opportunity for business development along U.S. Route 2.

“Realistically, there is not enough room downtown,” Leavitt said. “We need to promote the Route 2 corridor. We have to work to create jobs so we can encourage young people to stay. … There aren’t many opportunities for them (now).”

To create a “business-friendly atmosphere,” Leavitt suggests that the town work with the Franklin County Economic Development Council to promote a few pieces of land that are for sale on U.S. Route 2.

Leavitt works in Skowhegan as support services manager for Regional School Unit 54. Before working with SAD 54, he worked as the support services director of Regional School Unit 9 for 33 years. He has never sought public office before, but when the board proposed contributing $15,000 of taxpayer funding to help with the debt payments on the wastewater treatment plant, he was inspired to run. With only a portion of Wilton residents using the wastewater system, Levitt thinks only the users should pick up the cost of the payments.

“I want to be active in the town and make sure that as the town makes decisions, they’re reasonable decisions,” Leavitt said.

Cushman has spent most of her adult life working as a public servant in various Franklin County towns. Most recently, she was the town manager in Jay for more than 12 years; and before that, she was the town manager in Livermore Falls. She serves on the Wilton Finance Committee and is a certified code enforcement officer and tax assessor.

“I’ve seen municipal government from all angles,” Cushman said.

She thinks her experience in surrounding towns will help her bring ideas to the table to help address Wilton’s problems that the town may have not thought of before. “I think we’re at a point where we need to support each other and look at all the possibilities for our town,” Cushman said.

Cushman, like her fellow candidates, considers economic development an important topic in Wilton. She believes that the U.S. Route 2 corridor is prime for development.

Lauren Abbate — 861-9252

[email protected]

Twitter: @Lauren_M_Abbate

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