GARDINER — Seven candidates are seeking the three at-large city council seats in Gardiner, and only two incumbents are running for re-election.

In this southern Kennebec County city, the city’s share of the property tax bill consistently has moved downward in recent years, partly because of city policy and, this year, because of an increase in valuation. But increases in Gardiner’s share of both the School Administrative District 11 budget and the Kennebec County assessment have kept tax bills higher than a number of the candidates would like, and that puts taxes at the top of list of concerns for many of them.

Gardiner has a seven-member City Council, consisting of one member from each of the city’s four wards and three at-large seats. This year, the at-large seats are up for election. Scott Williams, who has served three terms and is running for the House District 83 seat, is not running again.

The office of mayor is also up for election, but incumbent Mayor Thom Harnett is running unopposed.

Three of the candidates for the at-large council seats are political newcomers.

Maryann White, 49, is a middle school mathematics teacher at Lawrence Junior High in Fairfield; she has also been a bookkeeper and accountant.

White said she wants the best for Gardiner, the city where she and her husband chose to live.

“People are worried about being able to keep up with (property taxes) and stay in their homes,” she said. “I plan on promoting the local downtown and supporting small business so that we can broaden our tax base and not have to raise the mil rate. We need to brainstorm and come up with meaningful incentives that will attract and keep small businesses in our downtown area. I do not believe that any city can simply cut its way to prosperity.”

She said she’s honest and hardworking, and she wants Gardiner to grow and prosper for many generations to come.

Matthew Marshall, 48, is a project manager at a technology company after more than 22 years in the Navy, from which he retired as a master chief petty officer.

His top issue is the property tax.

“Current elected officials have failed to understand that it is fiscally impossible to have a thriving community that is both an urban village and a service center without significantly broadening the city’s tax base,” he said.

Filling downtown buildings with businesses brings people to Gardiner to spend money, but that fails to increase Gardiner’s property tax base because downtown buildings have been on the tax rolls for decades. Marshall, who grew up in Gardiner, said he would focus on developing the Brunswick Avenue corridor to broaden the tax base, and he would promote communication with the SAD 11 school board to ensure the well-being of children whose parents are faced with increasing property taxes.

Timothy Cusick, 54, is a superintendent of operations for the Maine Department of Transportation for Region 1, based in Scarborough. He started his career working as a city employee in Gardiner.

“I see numerous homes for sale due to high property taxes, and we cannot continue to have people leaving the city,” Cusick said. “We need to focus on building a strong tax base.”

To strengthen the city, he said, he would work with Gardiner’s Economic Development Committee and the Planning Board to get more businesses to locate along the outer Brunswick Avenue corridor. The city of Gardiner has a strong and dedicated workforce, and to continue that, he said, “we need to ensure we are paying competitive wages like the surrounding cities and towns are.”

PREVIOUS SERVICE

Two candidates have served on the city council before.

William Barron, 58, is an account manager for a financial services company. In addition to serving a term in Gardiner, he also served a term on the Portland Board of Education.

Gardiner is moving in the right direction, he said, and he wants to work to continue that trend.

“We need councilors who will take the time to understand the complexities of government and trust that the city manager and his staff have the best interests of the city in mind,” Barron said.

His top issue is the city’s tax rate. He acknowledges that Gardiner’s share of the tax rate has declined over the past five years, but the overall rate, which includes School Administrative District 11’s share as well as the Kennebec County assessment, is still too high relative to surrounding communities.

“We need to continue to press the state to get to 55 percent funding of K-12 schools and return to 5 percent revenue sharing,” he said. “We also have to continue the work on regionalization of services. Our agreement to provide ambulance services to partner communities is an excellent example of what can happen when we work together.”

George Trask, 62, is retired and has served on the council three times, most recently in 2010-11.

“A lot of people are not happy with the taxes, and I am one of them,” he said. To broaden the tax base, he supports developing the outer Brunswick Avenue corridor. “We did a comprehensive plan, and it was mentioned that we could use another grocery store out there. It hasn’t happened. The road is so highly traveled, it doesn’t make sense why every everyone is concentrating on the downtown. We’re paying the bills for all their fun times.”

He said tax increment financing deals have not helped taxpayers. The deals allow municipalities, during the term of the TIF district, to avoid a reduction in state aid to education, and other negative tax effects, if property taxes generated by new development weren’t so sheltered and directed for a specific use.

He said he’s not against the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Gardiner, but he opposes the city’s donations to that and several other non-profit organizations, because he said it’s a mandate. If people want to donate, they should be able to choose to, not be required to through their taxes.

SEEKING RE-ELECTION

Jon Ault and Maureen Blanchard are both running for a second term.

Ault, 31, is co-owner of Honeysuckle Way Flower Farm, and he works part time at both the Gardiner Food Co-op, which he helped found, and Maine Cap N’ Stem Mushroom Co. He said he’s seeking re-election because he has a passion for public service and playing a role in bettering his community.

Ault said his top issues are retaining and attracting residents and businesses, expanding the tax base through smart growth and balancing concerns about the city’s tax rate with supporting an acceptable level of municipal service.

“If you are concerned about Gardiner’s tax rate, be prepared to elect the right people to both the council and the State House,” he said.

As state government has failed to meet its statutory responsibilities in municipal revenue sharing and education funding, he said, and pushed unfunded mandates such as the required cost share for maintaining state roads, local governments have cut services or levied higher property taxes to make up the difference.

He supports completing the work spelled out in the city’s comprehensive plan, which includes adjusting zoning along the Brunswick Avenue corridor, and making good use of the many volunteers who serve on city committees and community organizations. He also supports making investments to retain city staff members and augmenting their skills.

Blanchard, 54, is semi-retired. She said she’s running to make sure the taxpayers of Gardiner and their tax dollars are respected and to ensure their hard-earned money is being used property and is not wasted. Her priorities are taxes, public safety and combating drug addiction and trafficking of illegal drugs.

“Since I was elected to the City Council, I have asked tough questions,” Blanchard said. “Without the questions asked, we would not know that taxpayers are paying more for services received from the city compared to (those received by) the surrounding towns.”

Those services include access to the Gardiner Public Library. Neighboring communities pay Gardiner for access, but not at the same level that Gardiner taxpayers do.

Blanchard said in the last two budget discussions, she pushed for lower taxes.

“In the last budget discussion, I asked for a complete rollback of the tax increase from the previous year,” she said. “That request was turned down by a vote of the City Council. The council then elected to do only half of my request.”

The election will be held Nov. 8.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ


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