WATERVILLE — Residents on Nov. 8 will elect two city councilors and two Board of Education members in wards 3 and 5, as well as two Kennebec Water District trustees, all for three-year terms.

The polls will be open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the American Legion hall on College Avenue.

Incumbent Board of Education member Joan Phillips-Sandy, a Democrat who lives on Cleveland Place, is running unopposed for her seat, as are incumbent water district trustees Jeff A. Earickson, of North Riverside Drive, and Michael J. Talbot, of Lantern Lane. Both are Democrats.

Nicholas Mark Champagne, a Republican, and Zachary William Whittemore, a Democrat, are vying for a council seat being vacated by Council Chairman John O’Donnell, D-Ward 5, who chose not to seek re-election.

Champagne, 29, of Collette Street and a professional engineer for A.E. Hodsdon Engineering, said he is running for council because he was involved with the recent citizens’ budget repeal process and talked with Republicans, Democrats and unenrolled voters as he went door-to-door collecting petition signatures.

Champagne said he heard from residents that they are struggling with steep hikes in their property tax bills and monthly rent payments as a result of the recent property tax revaluation.

“Many of my neighbors and friends urged me to run for council because of my experience, knowledge and passion for this city in addition to my fiscally responsible mindset, working with others to achieve results,” he said. “I want to leave behind a vibrant city (where) my young son and other area youth will want to stay, make a good living and raise their family.”

Whittemore, 22, of Crestwood Drive and a lead rental agent for Keystone Management, says he is running for council because he and his fiancee want to start a family in Waterville and he wants to help ensure the economy and environment are such that they are able to stay in the area.

“I love Waterville,” Whittemore said. “I’m originally from Madison. I have been in Waterville three and a half to four years.”

He said he has friends who have gone out of state for more career opportunities and some who have stayed in Maine, and the split is about 50-50. He’d like to see opportunities increase in this area, he said.

“With revitalization downtown, a lot of people are excited,” he said. “I want to keep that momentum going. This is going to be good for all of us.”

Aside from high property taxes, one of the issues Champagne said he has heard most about while talking with residents is that there is a “general disgust and distrust of city leadership, starting with the council as a collective,” Champagne said. “They are sick of the personal and political banter back and forth. They are fed up with smoke and mirrors.”

He says he wants to right that environment by instilling honesty, civility, respect and trust back on the council to try to gain back trust and respect among his constituents and city residents.

Reflecting on the municipal budget, Champagne said he plans to continue to fight, alongside Mayor Nick Isgro, a Republican, to keep the tax rate low, in order to keep neighborhoods intact and help attract new business and residents to the city.

“If we don’t maintain a competitive mill rate with area communities, we will continue to see more for-sale signs and lost commerce to Augusta and surrounding towns along the I-95 corridor,” he said.

He said he plans to focus on attracting new sustainable business to the city in order to increase tax revenue and offset the burden on residents, and continue to work with other communities to regionalize solid waste disposal.

Champagne said he is excited about downtown revitalization efforts and wants to explore every opportunity to invest in downtown businesses through grants and low-interest loans.

Reflecting on the city’s budget season this year, Whittemore said he thinks it is important that taxes are kept at a level where people can afford to stay in the city, but it also is important not to slash budgets to the point that vital programs are harmed.

“We need to really look at the budget with a fine-toothed comb and see what can be cut and what can’t, what is necessary and what isn’t,” he said.

Whittemore said he witnessed some contentious discussions at council sessions this year and regardless of political party, residents and those representing them must work together to find solutions.

“It’s beneficial for us and it’s beneficial for Waterville,” he said.

He also said he thinks it is critical that the city take into consideration business needs — to help protect the ones that are here and help draw new business to the city.

WARD 3 CITY COUNCIL

Meanwhile, Democrat Lauren Lessing and Christopher S. Smith, who is unenrolled, are vying for a seat being vacated by longtime councilor Rosemary Winslow, D-Ward 3, who chose not to seek re-election.

Lessing, 47, of Merrill Street and director of academic and public programs at the Colby College Museum of Art, says she is running for the seat because she saw a need when Winslow decided to step down. Lessing learned from her parents — by example — that giving back to community is important and when she and her husband moved here about 10 years, they were embraced by the community, she said.

“I really love this community,” Lessing said. “We are both amazed at how quickly and easily the town reached out to embrace us, and I think it’s really important for people to play a role in local government.”

Issues facing the city include a population and tax base that have declined over the last 15 to 20 years and the need to ensure essential services such as police and firefighting while maintaining a tax rate that older people can afford to pay, according to Lessing.

Smith, 28, of Grouse Lane and lead desktop technician for Change Health Care, based in Augusta, says he is running for council because instead of turning away from issues, he wants to stand up and confront them.

“Waterville’s got a lot of issues right now,” he said, adding that he had an opportunity to work at his company’s North Carolina office but chose to stay in Waterville, where his extended family is, and he wants his children to be close to their relatives.

“Waterville has a huge budget issue,” Smith said. “Waterville spends too much money.”

He said he and his wife have to look at expenditures every day and decide what are luxuries and what are not and spend accordingly, and the city needs to do the same.

“No one in government is willing to do that anymore,” he said. “I want to know what is actually — and I do mean actually — essential. There are a lot of things we don’t need.”

Lessing said a lot of good things are happening in the city, which should help turn that trend around. With Collaborative Consulting promising hundreds of jobs, and Colby and the Harold Alfond Foundation donating $20 million to help jump-start downtown revitalization efforts, the city is primed to see the population increase and more families move into the city and buy homes, she said.

Lessing said she would look carefully at the city budget after taking the orientation workshop new councilors are given and work with other councilors and city officials to make the most appropriate decisions.

“I don’t think we should underestimate the extent to which national politics have bled down to a local level this year,” Lessing said. “I think we’re a divided country. I think that, at the local level, civility and consensus are incredibly important. My mission, if elected, is to get to know city councilors and build respect and help create an environment where we can work together.”

With the funding and enthusiasm in place for downtown revitalization, it will occur, Lessing said.

“I think having a vital, walkable downtown, especially for younger families — it’s the difference between choosing to live in a town and not choosing to live in a town,” Lessing said.

She said she would take her duties as a councilor seriously.

“I’ve been going around talking to people door-to-door and I wouldn’t stop that. When I was precinct chairman in Kansas, every time an issue came up, I’d walk through the precinct. … I think communication is vital.”

Smith said the City Council needs to cut budgets where they can be cut, as many residents are struggling.

“They’re having a hard enough time making ends meet right now. Everything is costing more and more, but our incomes are not necessarily reflecting that.”

The city also needs to look at ways to work more efficiently, he said. High school enrollments are declining and Waterville needs to consider regionalizing.

“I think Waterville and Winslow need to combine school districts into one,” he said. “We’re under one superintendent; why not make it one school district?”

Smith said he thinks the city’s partnership with Colby College on downtown revitalization efforts “is a great thing,” but he worries that young professionals will train to work at Collaborative Consulting, for instance, then leave for jobs in other communities if Waterville’s tax rate does not decrease.

“We need to make it a livable area,” he said. “When I’m paying more to the city of Waterville than I am to the bank for my house, it’s a little absurd.”

BOARD OF EDUCATION

On the Waterville Board of Education, incumbent Tiffany Y. Laliberty, a Democrat, is being challenged by newcomer Joel O. Dyer, a Republican, for Laliberty’s seat.

Laliberty, 40, of West River Road and a stay-at-home mother, said she is running for re-election because she has had a positive experience during the three years she has been on the board and wants to continue to serve so she can be a strong voice for Ward 5 residents.

“One of the most important issues that the board faces is to continue to provide a quality education while maintaining the lowest per-student cost in the area,” Laliberty said. “I truly believe that a strong school system is the foundation of a strong community. As a Waterville High School graduate myself, I take great pride in the fact that my two sons will be products of the Waterville school system as well. I’m really hoping for the opportunity to serve another term on the Waterville School Board.”

Dyer, 39, of Sterling Street and an AAA travel consultant, said he is running for Board of Education because he wants the best education for his children, as well as for other people’s children in the city.

“We need to be fiscally responsible, but at the same time allocate our resources in a way that will have the greatest impact on our students’ education,” Dyer said. “I see a future where it does not matter which political party you align (with). I think that we can put politics aside and work together to find the best solutions on the issues we will face together. We truly have a great school system, yet there is still plenty of work to be done. I feel I can offer a fresh look as well as voice of reason to achieve the goal of what is best for our students, teachers and administration.”

Dyer said the city needs to find ways to increase its surplus, right-size the budget and still offer high-quality education and ensure students have what they need to compete in an ever-changing job market.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17


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