GARDINER — Six candidates for three at-large Gardiner City Council seats talked about municipal tax policy, pay rates for municipal public safety employees and recommendations for preserving the city’s economic development gains at a candidate forum Thursday.

Sponsored by the Gardiner Library Association and held in City Council chambers ,the forum was the second of two scheduled for Gardiner voters to learn where candidates for public office stand on a series of topics.

Two of the candidates, Jon Ault and Maureen Blanchard, are running for re-election. William Barron and George Trask — who did not attend — have both previously served on the City Council. Timothy Cusick, Matthew Marshall and Maryann White are running for the first time.

Because Gardiner is a service center, city officials have debated the appropriate cost-sharing levels to seek from neighboring communities for using the Gardiner Public Library, Wastewater Treatment and Gardiner Ambulance so that Gardiner doesn’t subsidize their use.

White said she grew up in Litchfield and was able to use the Gardiner Public Library. Regionalization gives people the opportunity to use city services and gives the city the opportunity to earn some revenue.

“Being a good neighbor is important to me,” White said.

She also supports continuing the Gardiner Ambulance Service as a regional service. If there are other services to regionalize, she said, she would listen to constituents and bring those ideas forward.

Cusick said the wastewater treatment plant is already regionalized and that’s not likely to change. While some towns may pull out of the library partnership, he said, he’s most concerned about competition from private ambulance companies luring away one or more of the towns that pay Gardiner for ambulance service.

“We need continue to look for opportunities to regionalize,” he said.

Blanchard, who has challenged the funding structure that neighboring communities pay in the past, continued her stance.

“Gardiner residents pay $48.51 for the library” in their taxes, she said, while residents in other communities pay far less, ranging from about $2 to $10 per person.

“I have talked with Pittston, and they might leave,” she said. “They could go other places for library services and there are other options the Gardiner library could pursue, such as selling library cards.

“There should be a discussion, and there will be a discussion because the library association will supposedly come to council with a more fair and equitable solution.”

Ault said if Gardiner residents want regionalization, they have to reach out to other elected officials. A plan to consolidate the Gardiner and Hallowell water districts approved by both those communities failed in the Legislature because Sen. Earle McCormick, R-West Gardiner tabled the legislation.

Investments in infrastructure such as roads, sewers, communications and electric systems is costly; it can lead to increased taxes.

“I’m a roads guy,” Cusick said, “So infrastructure is important to me.”

Cusick, who works for the Maine Department of Transportation, started his career working for the city of Gardiner. The stormwater study currently underway is highlighting problems that existed in the 1980s.

“We need to put money in infrastructure, but maybe not all at once,” he said. “Once the study is finished, we need to start taking it on. We can’t afford to do it all at once. We need to invest in infrastructure but not raise taxes to do that.”

Marshall said if the city is to be successful in maintaining infrastructure, its tax base has to be expanded,

“The comprehensive plan may be a good plan, but maybe we need to change that plan,” he said. Expanding the tax base could be accomplished by recruiting a hotel or grocery store or other business.

“The urban-village atmosphere is nice, but the only way to generate the money to lower the mill rate is to increase the property tax base.”

Candidates also offered their opinions on economic development,

Barron said the Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center is important to the continuing revitalization of Gardiner’s downtown. “If we can get to the point where we can move upstairs (into the larger theater space), people will need a place to eat before the show and to eat or drink after the show.”

He singled out the work city officials have done to rehabilitate the former T.W. Dick properties at the edge of downtown and the coming reconstruction of the bridges in that area as two things that will “bring a new shine” on the downtown.

Marshall took a different position on Johnson Hall. He said he and some friends were hired decades ago to pull the seating out of the upper floors and nothing much has changed since.

Filling downtown buildings will not expand the tax base he said; drawing new business to the Brunswick Avenue corridor will.

Blanchard said she appreciates the work that city officials have accomplished in bringing and supporting businesses such as Common Wealth Poultry in Gardiner.

To continue its success, she said, the city should be poised to respond quickly to the needs of businesses, even if it means setting aside the state-mandated and approved comprehensive plan that outlines growth objectives for the city.

The forum was live-streamed on the internet, and it will be posted on the city’s website, gardinermaine.com later this week,

Gardiner voters will have a chance to choose which three will represent them for the next two years on Nov. 8.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ


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