Waterville mayoral candidates Michael J. Morris, left, and Matthew S. Boulerice on stage Thursday night during a debate at Ayotte Auditorium at Thomas College in Waterville. James Libby, a professor of business administration at Thomas, moderated the debate, which was organized by the college and the Morning Sentinel. Scott Monroe/Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — Candidates Michael J. Morris and Matthew S. Boulerice agreed on many issues at Thursday night’s mayoral debate, including that the city needs all types of new housing, addressing homelessness is important and attracting more business to downtown is necessary.

They did not agree, however, on whether schools should have a school resource officer — a position discontinued a few years ago.

Boulerice, a member of the Waterville Planning Board, said he favors returning the position to schools. He said the topic has come up in discussions with voters, and he supports it — not so much a patrol officer, but one who would serve in a community outreach role.

“It’s not so much about getting kids in trouble. It’s more about support,” Boulerice said. “We’ve got a diverse demographic in our city, and we want to make sure our children know that have they have this figurehead in the school, not only to keep them safe, but also to go to if they’re in need, and have that trusted figure.

“I remember growing up we had one, and it was the most troubled kids that had the best relationship with them,” he said.

Morris said the school board tried having a school resource officer, or SRO, and later eliminated the position.


“I think that the position is damaging to diverse communities and targets marginalized populations,” Morris said, “and it’s proved that having an SRO increases the student dropout rates and increases student arrest rates, so I’m not in favor of the position.”

The two candidates participated in a debate sponsored by the Morning Sentinel, Kennebec Journal and Thomas College held at the college’s Ayotte Auditorium. The debate was be moderated by Thomas College professor James Libby, and the event drew an in-person audience of about 80 people.

Waterville mayoral candidate Michael J. Morris speaks Thursday night during a debate at Ayotte Auditorium at Thomas College in Waterville. Scott Monroe/Morning Sentinel

Morris, a Democrat representing Ward 5, and Boulerice, a registered Republican who is running unenrolled, answered questions on a variety of topics, including homelessness in Waterville. Libby asked if they support the Police Department’s efforts to help the homeless, including through a community outreach coordinator position established this year and held by Todd Stevens, a social worker.

“Yes, I do support the outreach that’s happening,” Morris said, adding that many homeless people have experienced trauma that has placed them in their situation, and Stevens has worked to gain their trust.

“Systematically, they have been failed along the way, and their lack of trust is something that needs to be earned,” Morris said. “Our community partner has been out there every day, every week, meeting with these people.”

Boulerice said homelessness is a complex issue that is not unique to Waterville.


“I do believe the new position Todd Stevens holds, the community outreach partner, is a fantastic first step,” Boulerice said. “I think we’re heading in the right direction because it’s not slapping a Band-Aid on and arresting people over and over again and releasing them the next day. He’s out there actually providing service to these people and connecting them to the services they need.”

Morris said the best part about Mayor Jay Coelho’s pitch at Tuesday’s City Council meeting to buy 10 yurts for up to $10,000 to help house homeless people for the winter at Head of Falls is that the idea originated with homeless people.

“I think it sparked a fantastic conversation,” Morris said. “They came to the table on how we could help them … Now we have a plan to meet and bring other community stakeholders together to kind of vet and determine if this is the right course of action.”

Boulerice said the yurt idea deserves further discussion.

“When out there talking to people, since this has come up, one of the biggest things I get from residents is, ‘Is Head of Falls the proper area for this?’ ” Boulerice said. “A lot of citizens are concerned because this was a park that they used to love going to, and now they feel like they’re not able to, so I’m not saying we shouldn’t do it, but I’m saying we need to determine, is this the best place if we’re going to go down this road? And is this a temporary solution? Are they asking for 10 more (yurts) next spring?”

Waterville mayoral candidate Matthew S. Boulerice makes a point Thursday night during a debate at Ayotte Auditorium at Thomas College in Waterville. Scott Monroe/Morning Sentinel

On rising property taxes in times of high inflation, Morris said that during COVID-19 many people were out of work and the city used surplus money to keep things on an even keel as it navigated through the unknown. The city is now in a different space, he said, and the reality is that everything costs more. Waterville, he said, increased wages for staff members, police officers, firefighters and teachers because the city was not able to compete with communities that paid more. Increased wages were needed to keep and attract people, he said.


“As a way of increasing our tax revenue, maximizing our zoning for sustainable development is key,” Morris said. “We are currently in the process of hiring a community development specialist, and this person’s role is to find funding and bring it to the community. Money that we can add through the grant process will absolutely offset costs to the city.”

Boulerice said the property tax rate is probably the No. 1 topic people want to discuss when he knocks on doors.

“As we know, the City Council this year pushed through an extremely large increase in our budget,” Boulerice said, “and when it comes to the assessment, we did reassess values, which was necessary. However, that doesn’t necessarily result in the tax increases because we adjusted our mill rate as well. And, basically, the increase in taxes came from the increase in budget.”

Boulerice said he thinks it is important to scrutinize line items in proposed budgets and focus on economic growth and development. Without increasing revenue, the only alternative as prices continue to rise is to raise property taxes, which is unpopular with taxpayers.

Morris, 50, is a strategy enablement and resource planning analyst for Bank of America.

Boulerice, 33, is the owner of Boulerice Management LLC, which redevelops often distressed and abandoned single-family or multifamily properties and sells or rents them out. Boulerice also owns New England Realty Group, a real estate brokerage company.

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