Thursday, December 12, 2013
By Michael Shepherd email@example.com
HALLOWELL — Neither candidate for an at-large City Council seat enjoyed a property tax increase this year, but the ways they would approach the city’s budgetary situation differ.
OCCUPATION: Marine fisheries and ocean policy consultant
EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree in wildlife from the University of Massachusetts Amherst; master’s degree in wildlife from the University of Minnesota
WHY RUNNING: “I’m running for city council because I have grown to be part of the Hallowell community and I want to help keep Hallowell the best city in Kennebec County.”
OCCUPATION: Civil engineer and forester
EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree in forestry engineering from the University of Maine; master’s degree in business from Husson College
WHY RUNNING: “I am running to help hold the line on taxes and to help restore the political cohesiveness that we used to have.”
The hikes were driven largely by the budget for Regional School Unit 2, more than $380,000 more expensive than last year for Hallowell, largely because of decreased state aid and a desire to retain services.
Hallowell’s municipal budget was cut by 8 percent, but taxes still went up by $344 to more than $4,000 at Lapointe’s Middle Street house and $411 to more than $5,000 at McPherson’s rural Chamberlain Drive home.
Lapointe, 56, a 15-year Hallowell resident who used to be commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources and now is self-employed, often speaks of balancing the need for services with the city’s ability to pay.
He said he didn’t like his tax hike, but to penalize students because of state cuts “doesn’t make sense.”
McPherson, 53, draws a harder line: A fourth-generation native of Hallowell, engineer and former city council president, he said holding the line on taxes in years to come will be crucial as any increases in state aid to school and cities look implausible.
He said he would support seeking voter approval for all non-essential city purchases over a certain amount of money — perhaps $100,000.
That’s motivated by projects in past years he finds frivolous, like a $700,000 bulkhead in Waterfront Park and a playground and dog park at Vaughan Field, off Middle Street.
“If those were on the ballot, they wouldn’t have passed,” he said.
McPherson also said the city shouldn’t foot the bill for extra school funding. For example, last year, after RSU 2 approved a budget that eliminated the foreign language program and other positions at Hall-Dale Elementary School in Hallowell, the city agreed to split the costs with Farmingdale. Every trimester until fifth grade, students there alternate between studying French, Spanish and Japanese.
Lapointe sees value in languages: His oldest son Caelan, a student at Union College in New York, is studying engineering and Japanese. He’s doing a fall semester now in Japan and he picked the language up early at Hall-Dale.
“That’s something we have a leg up on compared to other schools, so we need to try to maintain that as a priority,” he said. “If we don’t give our kids the best preparation we can, we will pay in the long term.”
But McPherson said “if the people of RSU 2 decide not to fund something, the city shouldn’t take over.”
Both candidates also said they seek as speedy a Water Street rebuilding project as possible.
The Maine Department of Transportation is conducting a feasibility study on the future project now. Early on, the state gave a two-construction season timeframe for redoing the road from Temple Street to the Augusta line. The state is looking to reduce the timeframe for the project, which couldn’t happen until 2016.
McPherson said in past years, he was a “free engineer” for Hallowell, working to design and blaze a road at Jamies Pond — a joint effort between the city and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. He said that expertise will come in handy on the Water Street project.
Downtown retailers have expressed worry that shops may close if the project goes on longer than a few weeks or months.
Lapointe said when he worked in Washington D.C., officials didn’t shut down Interstate 95 during rush hour, they worked on it at night and finished quickly.
“For a lot of businesses here, a reduction in business is hard at any time, but if it’s extended it would endanger a lot of the businesses,” he said.
McPherson said he wants to get Hallowell “back on track” politically, with “everyone getting along and solving problems.” In recent weeks, he has weathered criticism from RSU 2 board chair Dawn Gallagher, a Hallowell resident up for reelection.
It has surrounded Team Hall-Dale, the volunteer group formed in 2004 to raise money for the Hallowell elementary school that folded earlier this month without raising half of the promised $558,000. He has said pledges fell through in a down economy.
Lapointe worked in the administrations of former governors Angus King and John Baldacci. Though he’s no stranger to politics, he has never run for office.
“I know how to work with people,” he said. “I know how to work on tough issues, so I think it would be an easy thing to slide into.”
Michael Shepherd — 370-7652