October 30, 2012

Fairfield Town Council hopefuls stress economy

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

FAIRFIELD -- The five candidates who are running for two open seats on the Town Council all say that town leaders need to think about the local economy from a different perspective.

The Candidates

Matthew Petrie, 37, is a project manager for Duratherm Window Corporation in Vassalboro. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maine at Augusta and has taken classes toward a master’s at Thomas College. Petrie is a member of the Fairfield-based School Administrative District 49 board.

John Picchiotti, 68, spent 25 years as a Waterville insurance agent. He graduated from Streator Township High School in Streator, Ill., and completed an electronics school while in the Navy. A former member of Fairfield’s Land Use Board of Appeals, Budget Committee, Planning Board and Economic Development Board, Picchiotti has also served on numerous organizational boards, including the Fairfield-based SAD 49 board.
He is also running as the Republican incumbent against Karen Kusiak, D-Fairfield, for the House District 84 seat.

Aaron Rowden, 26, is an attorney with Weeks & Hutchins, a Waterville-based law firm. He graduated from Georgetown Law in 2010 and ran unsuccessfully for the state Legislature in 2010 as an independent.

Michael Taylor, 45, is a former Standard Electric Company worker who is looking for work after being laid off. Taylor said not having political experience gives him a fresh perspective on how to best tackle the town’s problems.  He is Lawrence High School graduate.

Richard “Skip” Tompkins, 57, is a director in the Maine Department of Labor’s Bureau of Unemployment Compensation. He holds a master’s in human resource management from Thomas College and has served on the Fairfield Land Use and Budget committees.

Tracey Stevens,
41, is running uncontested to fill the last year of a three-year term being vacated by Tom Munson. Stevens was Fairfield’s town clerk for eight years and is town clerk in Freeport. She holds an associate degree from Thomas College, is a certified municipal clerk and is taking classes toward a master municipal clerk certification. She is also chairwoman of the legislative policy committee in the Maine Town & City Clerks' Association.

The perspective, however, changes depending on which candidate is talking.

The candidates are Matthew Petrie, 37, a project manager for Duratherm Window Corp.; John Picchiotti, 68, a state legislator running for re-election; Aaron Rowden, 26, an attorney; Michael Taylor, 45, a former Standard Electric Co. worker; and Richard "Skip" Tompkins, 57, a director in the Maine Department of Labor Bureau of Unemployment Compensation.

Petrie said the town lacks a long-term vision, an element that he says is critical to making good decisions.

"My biggest fear is we're so consumed with what we have that we're not looking at future generations," he said.

He said it can be difficult for the town to achieve success when it has no clear goal or identity, despite having the advantages provided by two Interstate 95 exits and access to the Kennebec River.

"We have tons of commerce traveling up and down the interstate. We have so much opportunity," he said. "Without an intention, we lose the opportunity to attract business. If we don't know who we are as a community, they sure don't."

Picchiotti said the current council is doing a good job but his position as a state legislator will help.

"It gives a good connection between the town and the state," he said.

He said there are many issues facing the town that concern him, but that property taxes are the biggest issue on everybody's mind.

Picchiotti said he would take a close look at the town's finances in an effort to find savings.

"We have to look at everything," he said. "I think they do a very good job at running the town, no qualms there. It's just a matter of taking a look and working hard to get things fixed."

Rowden said the biggest impact on lowering property taxes will come from bringing in new businesses, rather than scrutinizing and cutting services.

"The problem is the loss of our business tax base and the shifting of that burden onto the residential taxpayer," he said. "Fairfield is becoming a community made up solely of residents as a tax base. Taxes have gone up despite the local government trying to control costs. The only way we can reverse that trend is by encouraging economic growth."

He said that he would work aggressively attract businesses.

"The town needs to become business-friendly and advertise itself as such," he said. "We need to encourage investment rather than waiting for businesses to stumble upon us."

Taylor said that as a political outsider motivated to run by rising property taxes, he will bring a fresh perspective to Fairfield's problems.

"It doesn't hurt to have a fresh set of eyes to come in and look at what is going on and offer a suggestion," he said. "Nobody has any money, unemployment is high. I don't know how the town can figure that they can spend more money when everybody else is trying to make do with less."

Still, he acknowledges that increased taxes could be unavoidable.

"It may be a case where the cost of living is going up, the cost of everything is going up," he said. "There may not be anyplace to cut, just because of simple economics."

Tompkins said that his views have been formed as a lifelong resident of Fairfield with a daughter in the community, and that the town should focus on understanding larger trends from the outside that have an impact on the community.

"We don't work in a vacuum," he said. "We're a global economy."

He said that taking a broad view can help the town make wiser decisions about, for example, what types of businesses to seek out.

"Call centers are not where the opportunities are. They come in and go out," he said. "If somebody is coming down to present a plan to the council that is going to provide income to the town, and good jobs to the council, that is a good plan."

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling -- 861-9287

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