Gardiner City Council candidates are, from left, Maryanne White and Timothy Cusick, both incumbents; Penny Sergent, Kerstin Gilg and Scott Williams. Courtesy photos

GARDINER — This year’s race for the three at-large seats on the Gardiner City Council has drawn interest from five candidates from across Gardiner: two incumbents, one former city councilor and a pair who have stepped up before.

The successful candidates will sit on the board that sets policy for the city, including setting spending priorities in the annual budget and helping to shape what the community will look like in years to come.

Absentee ballots are now available by request. For Gardiner residents choosing to cast ballots on Nov. 3, the city’s polling place will be the gymnasium at Gardiner Area High School at 40 West Hill Road.

Gardiner is divided into four districts, each represented by one city councilor. In addition, the council also has three at-large seats; the mayor also serves at large.

All four at-large seats are up for election this year. Mayor Patricia Hart is running unopposed. Jon Ault, one of the three serving at-large councilors, has opted not to run again after serving three terms.

Timothy Cusick and Maryanne White were both first elected in 2016 and have served two terms on the City Council.

Cusick said he’s enjoyed his time as a councilor and wants to continue working on bringing businesses to the city to keep the property tax rate as low as possible.

“Gardiner is a quaint city, and people get along well with one another,” he said. “And people look out for each other.”

Cusick, who worked as a city employee for 12 years and has lived there for 20 years, said he has shown his dedication to Gardiner.

White said she ran for office four years ago because she wanted to do something positive for the city, and she feels her work isn’t yet done. “Local politics matters, especially in the times we are in right now,” she said.

As a city councilor, she said she’s open-minded and she votes in the interests of her city and the people who live in it. And as an educator for 19 years, she’s learned to listen more than she talks.

Kerstin Gilg said he has been involved with Gardiner both as a small business owner and as a volunteer with both the city and organizations like Gardiner Main Street and the Gardiner Board of Trade.

“This is another way to serve the community,” Gilg said. “I have more to offer.”

He said he has strong a knowledge of the community and cited his experience as a collaborative worker, his integrity and treating people with civility and respect as attributes for Gardiner voters to consider.

In January 2019, Gilg was one of three people to put their names up for consideration to fill the vacancy in the District 2 seat, which was left vacant after Hart was elected mayor halfway through her City Council term. Councilors ultimately chose Amy Rees to fill out that term.

A year ago, Penny Sergent unsuccessfully challenged Rees for the District 2 seat. She’s running again, she said, because it fulfills her need for service. Sergent served in the military with a background in administration and justice, but she set that aside a decade ago to care for her husband after he had a stroke. Now that his health has improved, she said serving as a city councilor would be a nice balance.

She said she’s accessible and she will listen to residents.

“I’m just your neighbor. If you have a problem you can come to me to get it fixed,” she said. “(But) you can’t always fight City Hall.”

Scott Williams had served on the City Council as an at-large councilor for three terms until 2016, when he unsuccessfully challenged then-incumbent Rep. Gay Grant for the District 83 House seat.

“I’ve lived in Gardiner my whole life, and I know the community pretty well,” Williams said. “I served the city for six years and thought I did a fairly OK job.”

CANDIDATE PRIORITIES

Both White and Cusick identified continued sales at the city-owned Libby Hill Business Park as priorities they would support if reelected.

Cusick said he’s been an advocate for the Gardiner Fire Department adding more firefighters as the number of calls to the Gardiner Ambulance Service, which is staffed by city firefighters, increases. If reelected, he will continue to work on that, as well as promoting development at the Gardiner Crossing development on Brunswick Avenue and filling some of the vacant retail spaces in downtown Gardiner.

White said if reelected, she would continue to work on keeping property taxes down while not losing any city services. One way to keep property taxes down is to draw in new business to broaden the property tax base.

“I want to work on that so that everyone in the city gets what they need,” she said. “I would hate to see anyone go without food or heat to pay their property taxes.”

Sergent said her priorities would include attention to the city’s streets and sidewalks.

“Maybe doing more than the aesthetic work that seems to be going on now,” she said. “Maybe they are doing more than I or anyone else can see. I don’t want to make assumptions where I don’t have all the facts.”

She’d also work on what Gardiner residents are talking about, including property taxes and treating each other with a modicum of respect and human kindness.

Gilg said he has three priorities — K-12 education, filling the downtown’s retail spaces and leveraging the city’s outdoor recreation assets, which are important and need to be developed in his opinion.

“In this pandemic, people are placing a great deal of value on outdoor experiences,” he said.

The investments the city has made to date are paying off, Gilg said, and that’s a silver lining emerging from the pandemic.

Williams said his priorities are continued work on the city’s streets and sidewalks, combatting the epidemic of illegal opioids that’s confronting both Gardiner and Maine, and keeping Gardiner business-friendly.

BUDGET PRIORITIES 

Every spring, city elected officials begin their review of the proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Earlier this year, the city’s budget deliberations were delayed by widespread shutdowns of businesses and government offices due to the global coronavirus pandemic. The closures went into place three and a half months before the end of the fiscal year.

The budget that the City Council will consider in the spring of 2021 is expected to be shaped in part by the continuing pandemic. Unlike other communities, Gardiner has not laid off any staff, and officials made no drastic changes to the current year’s spending plan.

Gilg said getting a diversity of input on the budget is essential. “My own feelings are that there are going to need to be some changes to the budget,” Gilg said, including trimming it.

Sergent said the city is likely to have budget problems.

“They keep talking about a second wave or a third wave (of COVID-19),” she said. “We’re going to have to to tighten our bootstraps and do what we can to help the common people and the businesses.”

Cusick said Gardiner is fortunate to have a healthy fund balance — essentially like a savings account — and city officials try to maintain it in case something comes up.

He said it’s too early to know how the city’s budget will be affected, partly because that will depend on what state officials do.

The bulk of the city’s budget is funded through property and excise taxes, but cities and towns also receive some state funds through revenue sharing, and state officials say they are expecting a revenue shortfall.

“Everything is on the table,” Cusick said. “I don’t want to lay anyone off, because we are short-staffed in all our departments.”

He added that he thinks the city won’t be in bad shape.

Williams said the budget will deserve a good, hard look.

“When I was on the council before, we were able to keep it pretty much the same, and I would like to do that again if I am elected,” Williams said. “My goal is to keep it the same and see if we can be creative with funding, see what resources national and state governments have.”

White said one of the challenges of the budget is that there are so many things out of the control of city officials, including the amount of revenue sharing that might be available.

“I would say we would have to make some decisions on what to trim out,” she said. “The city staff and the City Council work well together to make sure we’re using our income wisely.”

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