Across the region, community leaders and elected officials are setting business plans and getting ready for a productive 2017. And with that comes setting goals for their city, town, organization and themselves.

The past 12 months have seen new businesses open, people assuming new leadership positions and the changing of the guard in several cities and towns.

Ryan Lilly helped the VA Maine Healthcare Systems-Togus celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2016, which included big celebrations at the Chelsea campus in September and November. Lilly said he has big plans and goals for the facility’s 151st year as it continues to change the way it cares for veterans.

Lithgow Public Library in Augusta opened a new multimillion-dollar building in August, so what does library director Betsy Pohl do for an encore? She hopes to continue to grow the library’s reach and provide additional service to teenagers, and the new building will help in both areas.

In Gardiner, economic and community development director Patrick Wright said he wants to improve communication outside of the community and to do a better job of managing his team of staff and volunteers.

Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, was elected to her first term as state senator in November representing District 14, and she already has put her name behind several pieces of legislation. She said she wants to partner with Senate Republicans to pass laws that have a positive effect on all Mainers. Rep. Jeffrey Pierce, R-Dresden, re-elected in November, said the state needs to do everything it can to slow down the opioid crisis before it gets too far out of hand. He also wants to see more money spent on improving the state’s roads.

Lynn Irish is rejoining the Hallowell City Council after not seeking re-election in 2015, and she has a lot of plans as the city prepares to undertake several big projects, including the Stevens Commons redevelopment and the reconstruction of Water Street.

Here are some details of their priorities.

Ryan Lilly, director of VA Maine Healthcare Systems-Togus

Lilly said the health care facility has some clinical vacancies that he hopes to have filled early in the calendar year. He said Togus is recruiting hard to get up to full staffing across some specialty areas.

With a new administration in Washington just a few weeks away, Lilly said Togus’ main goal remains to care for veterans in the best way possible.

“We expect the new administration will have its own ideas about what’s best for veterans and what’s best for the system,” he said. “It’s a goal of ours to see how that gels with what we’ve been doing and how quickly we can adapt to their changes.”

Lilly said that whether President-elect Donald Trump chooses to replace or retain current Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald, Togus and the VA system need to be flexible and able to adapt to the changing needs of veterans.

“Their needs are changing in how (veterans) want to communicate with us and how they want us communicating with them and the convenience by which they expect to access our services,” he said. “Being able to push information out in the modality they prefer, like Facebook or email or texting, is important.”

If technology continues to advance, Lilly said the speed of the changes are also going to increase, and the Togus staff must be ready for it.

As a director, Lilly said he is working hard to increase employee engagement, meaning making sure all staff members are fully invested in the mission and are working at the top of their capacity.

“There’s a lot of great work happening here and across the state,” Lilly said. “One of the challenges as you make improvements is making sure all employees are part of that process and strategy.”

Outside of work, Lilly would love to get his golf game back into what he called a “reasonable level” sometime in the next few years.

Betsy Pohl, director of Lithgow Public Library

Following up on something decades in the making is not an easy task, Pohl said. But having a new building that won’t constrain the library staff members or their imagination should help the organization reach its potential.

“We’re still getting used to a few things here, but so far, everything is working great,” Pohl said. “It’s a good time to be tweaking things here and there, because it’s a new system.”

Pohl said one of the library’s biggest goals for the next year is to reach more people by partnering with a lot of different organizations. She said the challenge so far has been so much demand that Pohl and her staff needed to take a breath and be realistic about what they can do.

“We’re trying to take things slowly and deliberately in terms of our partnerships,” she said.

Another thing Pohl is excited about is expanding the library’s service to teens. In the old building, there was no space and no real teen program; but teens have their own space in the new building, and Pohl is in the process of hiring a new librarian who specializes in working with teenagers.

“We want somebody to work for us while also partnering with groups like the Boys and Girls Club and the YMCA and schools to do some engaging programs, especially for at-risk teens,” Pohl said. “We want to make sure they are getting the attention they deserve, and we want to make sure they stay on the right track.”

The staff has been stretched thin since the new building opened, Pohl said, because they’ve seen a nearly 40 percent increase in the number of people using the library and the number of books checked out. She wants to make sure the staff can enjoy its time in the library, and she is looking at a modest increase in staff members to offset the increased demand.

“This staff has been through a lot these last few years, and they’ve come through with flying colors,” she said. “I want to be able to show my gratitude to the staff and the public for getting us to this point.”

Pohl said her family and friends have gotten the short end of the stick the last few years, so she wants to be able to spend more time with her adult daughters, her parents, her husband and her friends. She also wants to take a couple of vacations.

“Vacations were something that didn’t happen for me for over a year when this building was under construction,” Pohl said. “I want to take some time for myself, and I’m a crafter, which means I have some unfinished projects I want to complete.”

Shenna Bellows, state senator for District 14

When Bellows was on the campaign trail, the No. 1 thing constituents expressed concern about was property taxes. She said her New Year’s resolution is to keep as many of her campaign promises as possible.

“I’ve already introduced legislation to support lower property taxes by restoring the money the state gives back to cities and towns through municipal revenue sharing,” said Bellows, who represents Chelsea, Farmingdale, Gardiner, Hallowell, Manchester, Monmouth, Pittston, Randolph, Readfield, West Gardiner and Winthrop. “I’ve met so many seniors worried about losing their homes or who are working part-time jobs just to pay their taxes.”

Bellows said another focus of her first year in office will be on small business support and job creation. She wants to work with Republican colleagues to make Maine more enticing for young people.

“If we are going to bring young people back to the state, we need reliable, high-speed Internet access, because they need to be able to connect to the larger economy,” said Bellows, of Manchester. “The Legislature needs to support it in the budget and in the policies we make.”

She wants to work with Republicans because the only way to be successful advocating for the people who voted for her is to work in a bipartisan way, she said. To that end, Bellows is excited to be a part of a bipartisan bill to help support people treating their well water.

Bellows’ well at her home in Manchester has higher-than-recommended levels of arsenic, so her top personal goal is to get the water treated. She and her husband have been buying bottled water, and she said that must stop this year.

“Like everyone else, I’m going to make a perennial goal to exercise and eat healthier, but I’m not going to run a marathon,” she said. “We also definitely want to watch more movies.”

Jeffrey Pierce, representative for District 53

Pierce, who represents Dresden, Arrowsic, Georgetown, Phippsburg, Woolwich and part of Richmond, said fighting the opioid problem should be a priority for every legislator regardless of political party.

“We need stricter enforcement, more treatment and more education,” Pierce said. “If we don’t do all three of those things, we’re going to fail.”

Pierce worries that the crisis is getting too far out of hand, that controlling it will become harder, and adding the legalization of recreational marijuana may muddy the waters a bit.

“We have people dying almost every day here because of heroin addiction,” he said. “There’s been marijuana smoking for a long time in Maine, but how will things like smoke shops and edibles be handled?”

The longtime Dresden resident said he would like to see more roads paved in his district and in the state and said there is a need for increased infrastructure spending. But he said while out on the campaign trail, nobody told him they wanted any specific new law or regulation.

“For me, my approach is that if it’s good for District 53 and if it’s good for Maine, I’m in,” Pierce said. “If it’s not, then I’m out.”

Legislators need to remember to look at everything from the perspective of a resident of their district and a resident of Maine, Pierce said. He’s met many of the new members of the House and Senate and said they are good people.

“We can all get behind 95 percent of the things we deal with,” he said, “but it’s the other 5 percent that gets written about because it’s so easy to draw dividing lines.”

On a personal level, Pierce has few complaints. He said he’s blessed with a great wife, two great children, fat cats and a lazy dog. He’s been busy plowing roads and working on the framework of a house, so exercising as part of a New Year’s resolution is far from his mind.

“But I do need to leave the doughnuts and Danishes alone when they have them out for us at the State House,” he said. “But there’s nothing like a doughnut in the morning.”

Patrick Wright, Gardiner official

One of Wright’s main goals is improve communications and public relations for the Gardiner community.

“I think we’ve seen some really important and great changes, and the community is growing in a profound way, but one of the things we don’t do a good enough job of is sharing those things with the rest of the world,” said Wright, who serves as economic and community development director for the city of Gardiner and executive director of Gardiner Main Street.

He also wants to continue to empower his staff and the volunteers of Gardiner Main Street, a nonprofit organization working to promote community development. Wright has 30 regular volunteers and around 200 that he regularly keeps in touch with, and he is always looking for better ways to manage them and honor their work.

In more tangential goals, Wright wants to have the city’s redevelopment plan complete for recently obtained buildings, and he wants to be well on the way to securing investments and tenants for those spaces. The public phase of the Johnson Hall Capital Campaign is set to begin in early 2017, and Wright also wants to see sales at the Libby Hill Business Park and the replacement project at the former T.W. Dick site underway or even complete.

“The Main Street model is built on community involvement and collaboration, and we need to be intentional about the extent and depth we can rely on volunteers for certain tasks,” Wright said. “A lot of our focus is sometimes diluted, and we’re going through the process of developing transformation strategies for our community.”

Personally, Wright wants to continue to put himself in a position to grow, which he said means putting himself in uncomfortable positions outside of his comfort zone. He also wants to spend more time with his family, including his two children, who are 11 and 9.

“Community service is a 24/7 job and I take it home with me,” he said. “I want to achieve a better work-life balance and make sure I’m giving my family as much attention as they deserve.”

Lynn Irish, incoming Hallowell city councilor

Matt Morrill acquired the former Stevens School campus from the state in April and is working to redevelop the 54-acre property into a mixed-use centerpiece of Hallowell real estate. Irish said getting the property to finally produce tax revenue for the city is important.

“If the city supports the infrastructure improvements, the potential payback could be huge,” said Irish, who owns WhipperSnappers Quilt Studio on Water Street between Central and Winthrop streets. “But a lot of people I talk to don’t feel that way because of what happened in Augusta with the (Kennebec) Arsenal property,” which was purchased by a North Carolina-based developer in 2007 but has yet to be developed.

Irish said keeping city expenses down is key because of the upcoming Water Street reconstruction project and the need to acquire space on Central Street for more downtown parking. She supports the bond issues related to the city’s projects, but she knows not everybody does, especially when it comes to the Stevens Commons redevelopment.

“There are a lot of people who don’t support putting public money into a private enterprise, and I get that,” Irish said. “I try to listen to what people are saying.”

Irish will be sworn in at the city’s Tuesday inauguration with new councilors Kara Walker and Maureen Aucoin-Giroux, along with incumbent Lisa Harvey-McPherson. Irish said it’s a relatively young council.

“I’m hoping we are politer and have less contentious meetings,” she said. “I think we as a council can get a lot done, especially if we don’t get bogged down with minutiae.”

Another of Irish’s goals is to see more retail businesses come to the city’s downtown historic district. When she first came to Hallowell 13 years ago, she saw a mix of retail and restaurants; now, she said, Hallowell is a city of bars.

“People came to the restaurants and then went shopping, or people went shopping and then went to the restaurants,” she said. “We need to get more retail business to get that mix again.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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