Across the region, community leaders and elected officials are setting business plans and getting ready for a productive 2018. 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.

Republican state representative Deb Sanderson is beginning her final year serving house District 88, which includes Chelsea, Jefferson, Whitefield and part of Nobleboro. She was first elected in 2010 and successfully sought re-election three times. She said she wants to use her final year in office — she cannot run again in 2018 because of term limits — to continue fighting for the people of Maine and moving forward Gov. Paul LePage’s agenda.

The Capital Area New Mainers Project is a cross-cultural organization that welcomes immigrants and works to create a thriving, integrated, multicultural community in central Maine. Chris Myers Asch co-founded the nonprofit group in 2017 and wants to grow the organization and help more individuals and families during the next 12 months. With the continued popularity of Maine among the immigrant and refugee communities in the United States and abroad, there is opportunity for growth and the chance to really make a difference.

At the beginning of the year, the Hallowell Fire Department wasn’t sure it would even exist on Jan. 1, 2018. Fast forward 12 months and the department is thriving. It has more volunteer firefighters than it’s had in decades, its preparing to move into a new multimillion-dollar fire station and morale has never been better. Chief Jim Owens said his goals for the new year include giving his firefighters more training opportunities and to increase the department’s public service in Hallowell.

Darryl Sterling, economic development consultant for the town of Richmond, said that the town has continued to grow and he wants to find more economic development opportunities for the town on the Kennebec River between Gardiner and Topsham. He would like to see more development along the waterfront and greater business opportunities throughout the town. Sterling also has a goal of bringing a hotel to Richmond.

Here are some details of their priorities.

Deb Sanderson

Sanderson said one of her biggest goals for 2018 is to continue the work she has done with the LePage administration for the last seven years because she thinks it has been good for Maine and the state’s economy.

Deb Sanderson

“I want to make sure we can hold the line against legislation that would prohibit a continuation of our growth,” Sanderson said.

Sanderson said one of the big things the legislature will have to tackle in 2018 is the legalization of recreational marijuana, which was passed by citizen referendum in November 2016 but hasn’t actually yet been legalized. She has a bill carried over from last year that would restructure the medical marijuana program, and there is more work to be done on adult-use recreational marijuana, too.

“We’re going to have to take a comprehensive look at the entire marijuana industry and make sure we can fit the pieces together in a way that they can either dwell side-by-side or operate independently but not in opposition to each other,” she said.

One of the big battles the legislation will face this year, Sanderson said, is funding for Medicaid expansion, which was passed by referendum in November with nearly 59 percent of the vote. There is the matter of funding that expansion while also funding some of the other programs throughout Maine that have yet to receive money in the current budget.

“If we didn’t have this money last year to appropriate, it’s going to be difficult to find the money this year for these programs,” Sanderson said. “There’s going to be a big debate about that, and I’m sure it’s going to be a very contentious battle.”

Her biggest goal, she said, is to make sure the people who are disabled and on waiting lists for services receiving the funding they need before any other funding gets appropriated.

“I’ve fought for these people for the last seven years,” Sanderson said. “They are truly the ones who need it the most and truly the ones we need to fund first.”

Chris Myers Asch

The Capital Area New Mainers Project was started earlier this year to provide support for immigrant and refugee families new to central Maine, and Myers Asch said the organization continues to grow and do important work each day.

“It’s been a great year, and it’s changed my life,” Myers Asch said. “We definitely want to grow, and our three key words for this year are strength, support and share.”

Myers Asch said the group wants to strengthen the connection between new Mainers and old Mainers, support city officials and schools and others who work closely with the new Mainers community and they want to share their stories with the broader community.

“They’re stories of resiliency and strength and hope, and they are really powerful stories to share,” Myers Asch said.

Chris Myers Asch

Myers Asch said the political climate, especially surrounding refugees and immigrants — especially after President Donald Trump attempted to ban immigration from several Muslim-majority nations — made 2017 a challenging year, but he said it’s getting better.

“We want to normalize having these folks in our community and show people that the immigrants are contributing to our city and enriching our city and bringing so much to us,” he said. “They love Maine for the same reasons we do.”

The immigrant families Myers Asch works with are very proud to live in Maine and have a lot they can add to the community. They are integrating themselves in their communities, their children are playing on soccer teams and wrestling teams and they’re so happy to be a part of the community and its culture.

Myers Asch said a big goal this year is to strengthen programs started last year and grow the programs, where appropriate, and provide family-mentor teams to families the organization is working with now.

“We want to strengthen the women’s Talk and Tea program that we started,” he said. There is no specific number of members the group needs to add, because it’s not realistic to try and set that type of boundary.

On a personal level, Myers Asch said he’d like to learn some Arabic this year, because he said it would help him as CANMP continues to work with people from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and other Middle Eastern nations.

“I think it’s important for Americans to learn about immigrants and their cultures, and language is so important,” he said. “These immigrants are bending-over-backwards trying to learn English, so I think I need to learn some Arabic as well.”

Jim Owens

The Hallowell Fire Department was set to be disbanded if the council voted to contract fire services with Augusta in the beginning of 2017. Instead, the council opted to lease space in an unbuilt fire station in Farmingdale, prompting a petition effort by a concerned citizen that forced the council to re-examine their decision. Shortly thereafter, an anonymous donor pledged $1 million to build a new fire station in Hallowell and save the department, and the rest, as Owens said, is history.

With the new station set to open on the Stevens Commons campus around April, Owens has been working with new recruits to the department and has several things he’d like to accomplish this year.

Jim Owens

“We want to maintain (the roster) we have and increase their level of training, which is our main goal,” Owens said. He also wants to train the officers in the department on how to handle a lot of the day-to-day responsibilities, like managing the department’s budget.

“They all have a copy of the budget, and they understand the line items in the budget now,” he said. “I wanted to bring the officers up to speed in case I wasn’t there, so they’d know where we were at.”

Owens said he wants to increase training to include courses on hazardous materials, emergency vehicle driving and CPR. There are various things outside the normal scope of training Owens would like to see the department accomplish. He also wants to make sure all the new firefighters get trained up to a level where they can be useful — new firefighters aren’t typically trained to do much more than direct traffic when they join the department.

Another goal, albeit an obvious one according to Owens, is to make a successful move from the historic fire station on Second Street to the new facility at the top of Winthrop Street on the Stevens Commons campus. The concrete has been poured and the roof is up on the structure, which is scheduled to be open before the Maine Department of Transportation begins a reconstruction project on Water Street in downtown Hallowell.

Owens said the department would like to do some fundraising this year to raise additional money for the department. He said there are some items that weren’t included in the new fire station budget, including kitchenware like plates, pots and pans, cookware and other little things.

The fire station’s community room will allow the department to host spaghetti dinners and other community functions throughout the year, Owens said.

“It takes time to educate the citizens and the council about the needs of the fire department,” he said. “We can’t run it on $40,000 a year anymore.”

Darryl Sterling

Sterling has a big vision for Richmond that includes continued business economic expansion, housing opportunities and more employment options for residents and potential residents.

Darryl Sterling

“We have goals that used to be overarching, but the realistic goals include to create at least 100 new jobs, and I’m excited about that,” Sterling said. “We anticipate having three or four more companies moving to Richmond in 2018.”

Sterling said his hope is to fill the last few business vacancies in the downtown and he expects the town to upgrade its community infrastructure in the support of economic growth. He said there will be a $12 million sewer plant upgrade to help with that goal.

“We’re excited about the housing projects we have percolating, and we got approval (last week) from the Select Board to put in a community ice rink, and that will happen in January,” he said. “We’re ramping up our marketing to highlight our recreational improvements and the other big changes.”

As for long-term goals, Sterling said the town would like to extend its water and sewer lines down Main Street to the Interstate 295 interchange, and the planning for that will start this year — they’d like to have the project completed by 2021.

Richmond was one of the only towns in central Maine to vote in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana, but Sterling expressed reservations about that type of business being a part of the town’s economic development.

Along the waterfront, there is a new bulkhead that was built in 2017, and the town is installing new custom floats and docks, and there is a new paved walking trail that connects the school and the town office complex.

Securing a hotel for within the Richmond town limits is also high on Sterling’s list of priorities. It is a big goal to have a hotel located in town on one of a number of properties ready to be developed.

“Put that in bold,” he said. “We can support it with tax increment financing and public-private partnerships, which is about getting the resources and pooling them together to make the investments and community improvements.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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