Ralph St Pierre, 66, who retired recently as Augusta’s assistant city manager and director of finance and administration, relaxes last Wednesday at his home in Oakland. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

AUGUSTA — After nearly 18 years, Ralph St. Pierre, Augusta’s assistant city manager and finance director, is retiring.

During his tenure, St. Pierre, 66, has saved city taxpayers millions of dollars through his creative financing, according to officials.

Among Augusta’s accomplishments while St. Pierre had his eye on the numbers and their impact on taxpayers:

• Construction of a new Cony High School.

• Extensive energy-efficiency improvements to most city and school facilities.

• Funding programs and projects with money sheltered in tax increment financing deals.

• Expansion of the Lithgow Public Library.

Increased pay for city employees.

• Built a new fire station and renovated the historic Fire Department headquarters.

• Built a system to convert methane gas into electricity to reduce power costs.

Under St. Pierre’s financial guidance, the city went 10 straight years without a property tax increase, a streak that ended after state officials drastically cut back municipal revenue sharing, according to City Manager William Bridgeo.

Bridgeo said St. Pierre also took on additional roles, including overseeing human resources for the city for about a year. He also oversaw contract negotiations with city employees’ labor unions.

St. Pierre also served as a confidant who was not afraid to tell Bridgeo when St. Pierre thought he was wrong and there might be a better way to finance a city project.

“His responsibilities were way beyond that of just finance and administration director,” Bridgeo said, “and his creativity and the millions of dollars he’s saved the taxpayers of Augusta, through his efforts over the years, really warrant a special thank-you.”

Bridgeo, who worked alongside St. Pierre since hiring him away from South Portland in January 2003, said he has saved the city large amounts of money by finding ways to pay for city services and projects.

That creative financing included extensive use of tax increment financing deals. While TIFs are commonly thought of as tax breaks for businesses, the city under St. Pierre often used them to benefit taxpayers.

Perhaps the most significant TIFs sheltered millions of dollars in taxes that came from a natural gas pipeline built when two companies brought gas lines into Augusta in 2013.

The city continues to fund numerous programs and projects, especially in the downtown area, with money collected from the gas companies and sheltered by the TIF agreements.

TIFs allow municipalities to shelter property taxes generated by new development within designated districts. Sheltering money through a TIF means it would not be added to the city’s total property valuation for state tax calculation purposes. Without that, as a municipality’s total property valuation increases, its state-provided revenue — such as aid for education and revenue sharing — decreases, and its county tax liability increases. New value sheltered in a TIF does not count toward a municipality’s property tax value.

Augusta Mayor David Rollins said when he first became involved as a city councilor many years ago, he was skeptical and considered TIFs to be corporate welfare. He said he was impressed, however, when St. Pierre used them to help the city fund numerous projects.

“I don’t think there is another community in Maine that has benefited more from TIF financing, and we will into the future. It’s a very complex issue,” Rollins said. “We’ve made great inroads because of (St. Pierre).”

Ralph St Pierre, 66, has retired as Augusta’s assistant city manager and director of finance and administration. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

St. Pierre, a Portland native who went to work in finance for the city of Portland when he graduated college in the mid-1970s, said after 44 years in municipal finance, it is time for him to retire.

He said he plans to do so in Florida, away from the Maine winters he abhors. He said he and his wife, Christina, had planned to retire about this time.

“It just feels right, after 40-plus years of doing the same stuff,” St. Pierre said. “My life has been mostly work and family, so not a lot of time for hobbies.”

He said he plans to take up fishing, return to taking a lot of walks and maybe sign up for cooking lessons.

St. Pierre, who is sometimes gruff and blunt but always affable, said he is especially proud of his work in financing the new fire station and renovations to the Hartford Fire Station, converting city and school buildings to natural gas and energy-efficient lighting and finding creative ways to fund the major expansion of the Lithgow Public Library — without a big tax increase — in part by refinancing the city’s pension obligation debt with the new Lithgow debt.

St. Pierre said he was drawn to local government work because it allowed him to see the results of his efforts every day. He said he has no interest in running for political office.

Another veteran city administrator, Lesley Jones, director of Public Works, said when there was a finance-related problem, she or other city workers would call St. Pierre, who would come by, sit down with them, hear the problem and come up with a solution, even to contentious problems.

“We’d spend two hours hashing it back and forth, and the conversations were not always nice,” Jones said. “But we always walked away knowing what we were doing was best for the city.”

Many members of the Augusta City Council, who recognized St. Pierre last week for his service to the city, described him as a “financial genius.”

After working briefly for the city of Portland, St. Pierre, then 23,  became the finance director for the city of Bath, then worked as Maine Municipal Association’s finance director for about a decade, then 12 years as finance director for South Portland.

Bridgeo then lured him away.

Bridgeo said the city manager of South Portland, a friend of his, hung up on him because he was so angry Bridgeo had hired St. Pierre away from South Portland.

St. Pierre and his wife, who have three adult children, lived in Augusta for many years, until selling their house to prepare for their retirements.

After they move to Florida, he said, they plan to visit family and friends in Maine — but only in the summer.


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