AUGUSTA — City Council and Board of Education candidates sought to set themselves apart from their opponents in how they’d address local issues at a candidates forum at Lithgow Public Library Wednesday.

Council candidates were asked by the moderator what issue the City Council is not currently working on that they feel is critically important, drawing a variety of answers.

Corey Wilson, who represented Augusta in the state House of Representatives from 2012 to 2014 and who is in a three-way race for two at-large spots on the council with Mark O’Brien, a former city councilor, interim mayor, and school board chairman, and political newcomer Jim Paulette, said he’d work to help the city develop a long-term economic development strategy. He said that should include having an outside firm study the viability of different types of businesses for the city.

“We need a long-term strategy to attract businesses and keep the businesses we have to ensure a vibrant future for the city of Augusta,” he said. “Part of that is going to be tax incentives, and we need to encourage public-private partnerships. We should have a 20- to 25-year strategy for the city, so we can say the future of Augusta is going to be better.”

Paulette said an issue not currently being addressed is the revitalization of the Sand Hill area of the city.

“I feel it has largely been forgotten about,” he said. “I’d like to spearhead a massive revitalization effort for Sand Hill, encourage the creation of a large Tax Increment Financing district for Sand Hill. And encourage the development of blighted or really any property on Sand Hill. It’s the heart of the city, where it all began.”

O’Brien said there aren’t many issues that he feels don’t have the attention of the council, but said he feels it is important the city not lose sight of multiple issues, including the city’s relationship with the state of Maine, which has a substantial amount of property in Augusta, and the upcoming revision of the city’s comprehensive plan.

He also said, “It’s important to nurture our relationship with (the University of Maine at Augusta). And I would still like to see the build-out of utilities to the Riggs Brook Village area of the city. And I still have a dream of train service returning to Augusta.”

There are two contested races for City Council and one contested race for Board of Education to be decided Nov. 8.

The race for Ward 3 City Council pits Stanley Koski, a former three-term city councilor, against Jarody, who uses only one name and has previously run unsuccesfully for City Council and the state House of Representatives, and Harold Elliott, who ran unsuccessfully for the council in 2012.

Elliott said providing services to the homeless is a problem that needs to be addressed in Augusta. He said he thinks allowing Bread of Life Ministries to open a centralized location to provide services to homeless people, potentially at the for-sale St. Mark’s Church property, could help.

“Instead of (Bread of Life) having three or four buildings throughout Augusta, that’s a very nice place over there” at the St. Mark’s site, Elliott said. “I know people say ‘not in my neighborhood,’ but I think that could be a good solution over there.”

Jarody said the city is in a housing crunch due to losing a number of apartment buildings to fires and code violations in recent years.

“Augusta is in the midst of a housing crunch, and if our (economic development) plans go as we hope, it’s only going to get worse,” Jarody said. “If we plan to draw the population Augusta once had back to Augusta, we’re going to have to come up with a long-term solution of where to house them.”

Koski said every potential cost-saving option should be considered by the city.

“Augusta has an aging population and a shrinking population. That means fewer people to carry the property tax burden,” he said. “In the private sector, competition keeps costs down. That mechanism doesn’t exist in the public sector. So we should be more innovative and spend time trying to find ways to provide service at the lowest cost possible.”

Moderator Martha Currier, a member of forum organizer Augusta First, a non-partisan organization which seeks to raise awareness of local elections and issues, but which doesn’t take positions about them, joked with candidates that the forum “is going to be nothing like what happens at 9 o’clock,” referring to the televised, expected-to-be-contentious presidential debate.

She said some of the questions for the candidates were written by Cony High School students who attended the forum, some were written by her, and others were submitted by members of the approximately 50-person audience gathered at the library Wednesday.

The contested school board race pits incumbent Edward Hastings against newcomer Holly Kiidli.

Among the questions school board candidates answered was what they would do to improve local students’ test scores and the quality of education that is paid for by taxpayers.

Kiidli responded that while standardized tests are part of how students and the quality of their education should be evaluated, those alone don’t show what is going on in classrooms or in kids’ lives. She said forums should be held with parents and students.

“Unless we’re asking the right questions, other than having them fill in a bubble or provide a number, we’re not going to get an adequate answer of what’s going on in the classroom,” she said.

Her opponent, Hastings, said the school system needs to get input from teachers and the community.

“There is definitely merit to standards, but the people with our children are the ones who are going to know where we need to go,” he said. “Do we need to increase programs? Probably. But we’ll need to look at the budget.”

Candidates were also asked how to increase parental involvement in schools.

Staci Fortunato, who is unopposed in her bid for a Ward 1 school board seat, said supporting parent-teacher organizations is essential, as that is where seeds are planted in parents that can make them stay involved in the education of their children.

Kati McCormick, who is unopposed for Ward 4 school board, said everyone in the community needs to be better at making connections with each other. She said Augusta has a great community and people in it just need to find each other.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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