FAIRFIELD — November’s ballot features a three-way race for two Fairfield Town Council seats.

Voters will choose from among current council Chairman Michael Taylor, Vice Chairman John Picchiotti and challenger Peter Lawrence. Two School Administrative District 49 board of directors seats also are on the Nov. 6 ballot, with only two candidates running.

Taylor, 51, said he decided to seek a third term on the council because he was asked to do so by others, including “residents that thought I was doing a good job, and they wanted to see me back in there.”

“There was another councilor who had asked, and there were some town employees that asked that I run again,” he added.

Taylor, a materials manager at a local plumbing and heating company, said he works as a council member to bring a “common-sense approach to municipal government — what works best, what fits in the town of Fairfield.”

Along with serving on the council, Picchiotti also represents Fairfield, Mercer and Smithfield in the Maine House of Representatives. Picchiotti, 75, who is retired, said he decided not to run again for the District 108 seat but wants to stay involved at the local level.

“I’ve been there long enough,” said Picchiotti about his State House service, noting that he decided “a long time ago” that he would “probably get out of the state politics” at age 75. He hopes to continue serving on the council “to stay involved and, you know, keep the town moving forward.”

Lawrence, 53, a human resource specialist and former Army National Guard member, is looking to be a “voice change for the residents” but said he has no personal objection to his opponents. He was motivated to run by curiosity about the town’s operational budget and concerns about some town procedures.

Lawrence and his wife moved to town from neighboring Benton several years ago, and he said that “going from low taxes to high taxes in Fairfield, I was concerned where the operational budget was being spent.” While collecting signatures to get on the ballot, he said, he heard a lot from residents about taxes.

“Most of the town residents are saying town taxes are high — ‘I cannot afford to live in Fairfield anymore, because I’m getting close to retirement,'” Lawrence said about the feedback from residents. He also suggested that holding the annual town budget meeting on a weeknight is “unfair” timing for residents who would like to attend and described the annual budget as “being railroaded.”

The Fairfield town charter specifies that the annual meeting must be held on the second Monday in May. Town Manager Michelle Flewelling said in an interview that a recent effort to revise the charter, completed in 2016, “spent a great deal of time” looking at the town budget meeting process and ways to get more people involved. She noted that the town now mails information on the budget to residents ahead of the vote, and two public hearings are held in advance.

Picchiotti sees tax relief as a priority for the town, noting that “we’re committed to tax stewardship” while also maintaining town investments in infrastructure and buildings. In addition to being accountable to its citizens, Picchiotti said the town needs to work more on downtown development.

“Obviously, we need to move downtown and get some businesses and stuff like that,” Picchiotti said.

Lawrence called the downtown area “deserted” and said, “We should be promoting business in Fairfield.” He expressed interest in learning more about the development plan for the town.

Taylor identified “working to bring businesses to the town of Fairfield” as an ongoing priority, explaining that the town already has been “working very closely” on that front with Garvan Donegan at the Central Maine Growth Council.

Taylor cited recent solar projects in Fairfield, and said the town is in contact with a couple of other businesses.

One new industry that potentially could find a home in Fairfield is retail marijuana, after the council voted 4-1 in September to approve an amendment to Fairfield’s land use ordinance that allows and sets local regulations for retail marijuana businesses in the town’s village, commercial, industrial and rural zones. Under the approved language, retail marijuana businesses would not be allowed in other town zones and are prohibited in town until the state finalizes retail marijuana licensing and regulations.

Taylor, who supported the retail marijuana ordinance language, was hesitant to frame it as a business development opportunity for the town.

“I don’t see that as the end-all, be-all, no,” he said about retail marijuana and its potential effect on town development. “We need control over it. It’s here already. We need to have the control over where they’re at and how they’re operating, and to be able to go in and do inspections and make sure everything is up to our standards and our codes.”

Picchiotti was the lone council vote against the retail marijuana ordinance language, and said he would like to see stricter retail requirements along with local regulations for medical marijuana operations — some of which already exist in Fairfield.

“One of the biggest problems that we have with medical has been the neighbors that are next door to these medical places — the smell of the stuff coming out and things like that,” Picchiotti said. “So we need tighter restrictions, and I think one of the things that I had looked at when I voted against it was — I wanted medical bought in, which we can’t do; I guess we have to do it separately — and the other thing is that, I think it needs to be much more stringent.”

Picchiotti would like to see uniform requirements for both medical and retail marijuana.

“I’m not real crazy about the retail end of it, but obviously that’s the way the town wants to move forward,” Picchiotti added.

Lawrence opposed the town’s retail marijuana ordinance language during the Sept. 26 public hearing on the subject, arguing that the proposal should have gone to the residents in referendum form. Flewelling cited the town charter, which lists the “proposed adoption, amendment or repeal of municipal ordinances” under the council’s powers and duties. The charter also outlines how registered town voters can initiate an ordinance change or approve or reject a council ordinance action through a citizen’s initiative or referendum.

Lawrence said he would like to see more research into the retail marijuana issue but does not view it as a defining part of his candidacy.

“I’d like to be a team player and help the town of Fairfield grow, rather than have angry residents that don’t want to stay in town, that can’t afford to stay in town because they’re getting close to retirement,” Lawrence said. He cited his budgetary and leadership experience as both a member of the National Guard and now as a benefits advisor.

Picchiotti sees the town moving in a positive direction, with room for improvement.

“I think everything is good. We have made some forward movement in the past few years, and we’ve got a lot of room to go yet,” Picchiotti said. The town has attracted some businesses and jobs, he said, “but we need to do a lot more.”

“I want to stay active within the community,” Picchiotti added, referencing his “lifetime experience running businesses” and community involvement.

Taylor said he believes in a “citizen’s civic duty to be on the Town Council or on a town board to help improve things.”

“I didn’t come in here with any preconceived agendas to change things or fix things,” Taylor said.

In addition to the council race, Fairfield voters will chose two SAD 49 school board members. Only two candidates are on the ballot for the two seats: current board member Tim Martin is joined on the ballot by Buffy Higgins. Current board member Terry Michaud said he enjoys serving on the board but is refraining from running for re-election in order to focus on his health.

Matt Junker — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @mattjunker

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