Two Democrats are facing off for the chance to challenge the Republican incumbent in Maine Senate District 16,

Karen Kusiak, 65, of Fairfield, just finished her last year of working as a part-time assistant professor at Colby College and plans to transition to other part-time work in education.

She previously served in the Maine House of Representatives for two years representing House District 108, which consists of Fairfield, Rome and Smithfield; and also served for 15 consecutive years on the board of directors of School Administrative District 49, which consists of Albion, Benton, Clinton and Fairfield. She is currently on the board of the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences at Good Will-Hinckley.

Kusiak said she is running to give the people in District 16 a voice in Augusta that reflects the needs of the district. Specifically, she said, district residents are concerned about their taxes, as well as revenue sharing and the state’s supposed commitment to funding 55 percent of Essential Programs and Services funding. She said she wants to work on those things especially, and said she would do so by building coalitions in the Senate and work with other senators to make sure those are priorities. All of the schools in the Senate district are EPS funding recipients, she said.

Kusiak said she has a wealth of political and public service experience. In addition to holding public office, she also has lobbied for certain bills. She said she was involved in lobbying for the past solar bills, which Gov. Paul LePage ultimately vetoed. She also lobbied for ranked-choice voting and Medicare expansion.

As an educator, she said, she has lobbied for education bills, including teacher preparation bills and beginning teacher salary bills, and wants to see the state fund the EPS program at least closer to 55 percent than it does currently.

“I’ve spoken personally with our senator for the importance of educational funding,” she said.

Kusiak also has provided testimony on immigration legislation.

“Certainly climate change, educational funding (are interests of mine),” she said, “but also I have some experience in education and would look very closely at education bills, not just at the concept level but at the detail level, how they will be implemented and what the effect will be day-to-day in schools.”

Steven Russell, 60, of Winslow, is the Town Council chairman. Russell has been on the council since 1997 and was appointed chairman last year. Russell, a retired farmer who owns Pine Hill Jerseys Farm in Winslow, said next year, the farm will have been in his family for 200 years. He was also a 15-year member of an advisory council of the Organic Valley co-op, where he made policy recommendations for the executive dairy council.

Russell said he wanted to serve in Augusta because of frustration he’s felt from Winslow and beyond directed toward Augusta, saying he doesn’t think those in Augusta appreciate how much they can affect things on municipal levels, both negatively and positively. He mentioned that Winslow has lost a lot in revenue sharing over the years, which is putting Winslow “under the gun” at the local level.

“We’re faced with very difficult decisions of either cutting services to our citizens or raising their property taxes,” Russell said, “and I just feel that the people in Augusta haven’t been responsive to what we need at the local level.”

Russell said the 55 percent EPS commitment from the state usually has been a “floating figure” and that Winslow would just live with what they were given by the state. But he said loss of revenue sharing has really hurt the town, since that usually has to be made up through raising property taxes. To offset that, he said, Winslow made some hard decisions.

About a decade ago, during the economic recession, he said, Winslow officials made a decision not to raise property taxes. To do that, he said they had to start drawing down on the town’s “healthy” reserve fund balance. They also decided that while they wouldn’t make cuts to education funding, the town would not agree to give the schools every increase they asked for each year.

The town is now at a point, he said, where it can’t continue drawing on its reserve fund balance without affecting its bond rating. He also said the town had to reduce road maintenance funding from $500,000 a year to $250,000 a year, which maintained the roads but did not allow for much more. He said the town is now paying the consequences of all that deferral.

“We’re now facing a perfect storm of events between having no more reserves to draw down. We can’t ignore our roads anymore. We were funding the schools. We were giving them increases but they were less than the cost of inflation. We’ve had to play catch-up on all those issues, and it’s starting to hit us harder than it was in the past,” he said.

He said the revenue sharing is particularly concerning, since a third of Winslow’s residents are retired and on fixed incomes, so raising property taxes is “not sustainable.”

Russell said he was proud of his time on the Town Council, during which the town was able to start an agriculture commission to save open space that was being lost. After a few years of work drafting the program, the town unveiled a voluntary municipal farm support program, which would give farmers a tax rebate if they agreed to not subdivide their land for 20 years.

“It’s the first step to preserving farmland,” he said. “We were the first community to do it.”

The two will face off in the primary on Tuesday, and whoever wins will challenge Sen. Scott Cyrway in the November election. Cyrway, who lives in Benton, was not challenged for the Republican nomination, and has been in the Senate for four years.

Senate District 16 includes several parts of Kennebec County, including portions of Waterville, as well as the towns of Fairfield, Winslow, Clinton and Albion, and a portion of Unity.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis