WATERVILLE — Former City Council chairman and Planning Board member Erik Thomas will face off against Mayor Nick Isgro in the November mayoral election, since city Democrats Wednesday night chose Thomas to be their nominee at the City Democratic Committee caucus.

Thomas 31, was chosen by a show of hands from a crowd of about 100 at the caucus, held on the second floor of the Alfond Youth Center. The session constituted a reconvening of an earlier caucus held July 10 in which members voted to postpone taking nominations for mayor to give people more time to consider candidates.

Thomas, who lives in Ward 7 and is owner of Digital ImageWorks and Sweet People Productions, previously was a Ward 4 city councilor. Former Councilor John O’Donnell nominated Thomas and Tom Ferris, an attorney, seconded O’Donnell’s motion.

Thomas said it was nice to see so many people at the caucus, concerned about the community. Councilors and members of other municipal panels don’t get paid much to do their work, which is mostly volunteer, he said.

“Let’s give them all credit for the work they do for their city,” he said. “Whether you agree with them or not, they’re not easy positions.”

Thomas said that whether he wins or not, he thinks it is an important time for the community to talk about priorities. Budgets are tough, he said, and “at some point, we are going to have to talk to public employees about sacrifice.”

Ward 5 resident Ed Okishoff told Thomas the process “is all about budgets” and he did not see how problems can be solved with so much tax-free property in the city.

“It’s true. This is one of the problems we face in the city,” Thomas said, adding that Waterville is a small geographic area with churches, colleges and other nonprofits that are tax-exempt.

“Certainly we’ve worked with Colby College, with Thomas College, the hospitals,” Thomas said. “They have been great partners. They’ve stepped up to the plate.”

Colby bought a police cruiser for the city, according to Thomas, who said when he was a councilor, the college spent $150,000 to pave the public portion of Mayflower Hill Drive. Okishoff said that those are Band-Aids, not solutions to the problem.

Thomas said that with the Trafton Road interchange project and expected development in that area, downtown revitalization and other efforts, hopefully things will improve.

“I think everything has to be on the table, including looking at that question,” he said, adding that taxing nonprofits would take a lot of change at the state level, and the city does not have power to tax churches.

Former Ward 7 Councilor Steve Aucoin, also a former mayoral candidate who lost to Isgro, pursued the tax-exempt issue, asking, “When do you think austerity coming back becomes starvation?”

Thomas said people look at a lot of things when considering moving a business or family to Waterville, and taxes are one of them; but when the city starts deferring road maintenance, not buying needed police cruisers and depriving schools of resources, the attraction lessens.

“These are things that will make people decide not to move to town — or to move out of town,” he said.

The city has been good at keeping infrastructure up to date and the water and sewerage districts do a good job upgrading their systems, according to Thomas.

“And so people whose main concern are taxes have to remember those are all well and good until they go to sell their house,” he said, adding that if roads are crumbling and schools are under par, people will not be apt to move here.

While taxes can’t be collected from tax-exempt entities, the city should talk about charging a fee for services, according to Thomas.

In other matters, Julian Payne was nominated to run as the Democratic candidate for the Ward 5 Waterville Board of Education seat held by Mary Ellen Fitzpatrick, who took the position when Tiffany Laliberty recently moved out of the district.

Payne, who led an effort to promise to repeal the city budget last year if it presented with a tax rate people could not afford, got 18 votes Wednesday. Fitzpatrick got seven and candidate Jessica Graham received four.

Payne was part of a group that called itself the “People’s Council,” which attended city meetings and gave input on budget issues. He said Wednesday that that group is disbanding. He said that if elected, he would serve on the school board with an open mind.

“I thought long and hard for this position and I think I can serve,” he said.

Earlier in the meeting, he, Fitzpatrick and Graham took questions from Ward 5 voters. At one point, Payne complained that Ferris was slipping questions to people in Ward 5 to ask of the candidates. Steve Crate, a former city councilor, objected to Payne’s claim that that was improper.

“Mr. Ferris can come and talk to anyone of us if he wants to,” Crate said.

Later, Ward 5 resident Brad Sherwood said that, at a public meeting, Payne insinuated there was a smoking gun and that people were lying and purposely misleading the people.

“Those words were never used,” Payne retorted.

He said that during budget discussions, school officials claimed Educare Central Maine students were not included in the count of Waterville students, but he learned from the state that they were. Educare Central Maine is an early childhood education program located next to George J. Mitchell School. Payne said when he made a presentation at the public meeting Sherwood was referring to, he said the facts presented there misrepresented the Educare students.

At that, school board member Pam Trinward, a former state representative, marched to the front of the caucus room, clearly angry with Payne.

“I’m very sorry, but you’re misrepresenting it,” she said.

Payne then addressed Eliza Mathias, chairwoman of the Democratic City Committee, who also was elected caucus chairwoman Wednesday.

“You know, Eliza, this is really degenerating,” Payne said.

Trinward said what actually happened was that school officials were not sure whether Educare students were included in the cost-per-pupil figures and they checked with the state to find an answer.

“You are really misconstruing what happened,” Trinward said.

Mathias then asked for a vote; but before that, she said there were clearly feelings among people that need to be healed.

“We have a great deal of healing to do as a community to bring civility back,” she said.

At the July 10 Democratic caucus, at which voters decided to postpone nominating candidates for mayor, former City Councilor Karen Rancourt-Thomas, the only Democrat to announce her interest in seeking the nomination to challenge Isgro in November, voted against postponing and said she viewed the decision to postpone “atrocious.”

She later announced she was leaving the Democratic party, joining the Republican party and supporting Isgro. Besides Thomas and Isgro, John Levesque, 46, an independent, also is running for mayor. Rancourt-Thomass had run for mayor in 2014 as an independent against Isgro and Aucoin.

Isgro, 36, a Republican, has said one of the reasons he is running for re-election is to see through important revitalization work in Waterville that involves multimillion-dollar investments downtown.

At the July 10 meeting, incumbent Councilor Nathaniel White, D-Ward 2, was nominated as the candidate for his seat and incumbent Waterville Board of Education member Susan Reisert of Ward 2 was chosen as the Democratic candidate to run for re-election. Ward 4 Democrats voted for Chris Rancourt as the nominee for City Council. In voting for a nominee for Ward 4 school board, Mary Ann Bernier, the incumbent, was chosen. Incumbent Ward 6 City Councilor Winifred Tate was nominated for her seat, as was incumbent Ward 6 school board member Elizabeth Bickford. Incumbent Ward 4 school board member Maryanne Bernier also was chosen to run for her seat.

Brendan O’Keefe was named party treasurer at the July 10 meeting; Matt Gorman was named caucus secretary Wednesday night.

Meanwhile, at the July 11 Waterville Republican City Committee caucus, Bob Hussey was nominated to run for the Ward 2 council seat held by White and Pat Roy was nominated to run for Reisert’s Ward 2 seat on the school board. Incumbent Ward 4 Councilor Sydney Mayhew was chosen to run again for his seat.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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