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Gorham Town Council: Six candidates, two seats

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Posted: Thursday, October 18, 2012 9:06 am

Sherrie L. Benner (Fontaine)

Age: Not provided

Occupation:  Sales agent with Keller Williams Realty; past co-owner of Accounts Receivable Management of Maine Inc. and proprietor of 2nd fl Thriftiques. 

Political experience: None; served as community liaison with USM on several projects relating to university-neighborhood concerns; director of USM Alumni Association Board of Directors; volunteered with  Gorham Schools, Girl Scout leader;  past member of the Gorham Women’s Club; vice president of the Gorham Garden Club; board of directors, ITNPortland.

 

Q: What are the three biggest issues facing Gorham and what are your solutions? 

A: Balancing the wants and needs of the community with the development/growth of the town. To accomplish this, the town must embrace creative economic development.  Gorham needs to aggressively attract businesses to diversify its tax base, effectively lowering the tax burden of our residents, while continuing to fund and provide quality services.  We need to promote the community as a vibrant place to live, work and raise a family, as our quality of life and economic development are interdependent objectives. I have had the privilege of meeting with Gorham businesses (family-owned, niche markets and global enterprises), and have heard firsthand their success stories. We need to create a business-friendly atmosphere for new and existing businesses.  Retention of our business community is vital to the town’s growth.

Commercial development and appropriate economic growth need to enhance the uniqueness of our two village areas. The town is sharing a Community Development Block Grant with Windham, to fund sidewalk improvements in Little Falls village. In real estate you have the term “highest and best use” which refers to the best use of a property that results in the most efficient and/or profitable use. Presently, Little Falls is an undervalued asset. This area has great potential for growth and hopefully the grant will serve as an impetus for commercial building and housing rehabilitation. Our goal should be to revitalize this area, bringing in new businesses, jobs and tax revenue. In November, Gorham voters will have a chance to approve a capital expenditure for renovations to the Little Falls School Building and the existing Little Falls Recreation Area. While it will be costly, I support the referendum as it collectively works with the planned block grant improvements to this area, to make Little Falls Village more than just a pass through to Windham, but rather a destination, a place to live, work and play. 

The Main Street village faces its own issues with lack of parking restricting in-town business growth, as well as being seen as pedestrian un-friendly.  The long-awaited bypass was helpful in alleviating traffic along Main Street but remains a problem. Efforts to construct an east-west bypass to reroute village traffic need to continue in order to create a more pedestrian-friendly village.  In addressing the lack of parking issue, the town recently purchased property to serve as proposed parking lots. The intent was well-meaning; however, the purchases have prompted an outcry from the community. The Town Council has acknowledged that the process of developing any plan for potential utilization will require community input and has scheduled a public meeting for open discussion.  Having been both a village homeowner for 20 years as well as owner of a business located in the center of town, I am appreciative to the needs of both. 

It will take a creative approach to tackle these kinds of issues facing the town, one that will involve local businesses, residents and town representatives.  

Ben Hartwell

Age: 32

Occupation: Self-employed as a grazier/farmer and livestock/horse fence contractor

Political experience: None; served a term on the Cumberland County Cooperative Extension Board; currently vice president of Maine Grass Farmers Network and president of Cumberland County Farm Bureau.

 

Q: What are the three biggest issues facing Gorham and what are your solutions?

A: First of all, it has only been the last year or so that I’ve started paying attention to town politics. I always figured that’s why I support someone to represent me.  One of the issues that I find to be very important, and don’t see it being seriously looked at, is that we need to have the discussion now on how we’re going to make the necessary decisions in the future to balance our budget.  If you check out the U.S. Debt Clock at www.usdebtclock.org, you can see for yourself that our national debt is over $16 trillion, debt per citizen is over $51,000 and debt per taxpayer is over $141,000. Even scarier is unfunded liabilities, that’s the money we’ve promised to pay in the future for Social Security, Medicare, etc.  That figure is over $1 million per citizen.  Our country is headed for a fiscal cliff and the Federal Reserve decided to print more money (Quantitative Easing 3), which will in effect devalue our currency and create inflation.  So what does this have to with town politics?  Simple. A big part of our budget comes from state money. The state gets federal money, so what happens when we can’t borrow from China anymore?  We’re going to have to start talking now about what we’re going to do as these situations approach.  We must look at everything and see what we absolutely can’t live without.

Next, there is a lot of concern in the community that some departments are making requests for expenditures without enough work done on justifying the request.  The accusation is that dollar amounts are being requested to figure out how to spend the money later.  I would like to see these concerns come to an end with better transparency to the public.

Finally is the vision of what this town will be in the future.  I feel we are at a critical crossroads in the future of our town.  Gorham has a rich history of being an agriculture community and we risk losing what we have left if we stay on the present course. Farms have been on a decline for decades. Suring this period we have seen land continue to be developed.  I feel we are at a tipping point where if we continue this trend we will reach a point where you might as well develop everything because there won’t be enough land for farms to be efficient and expand in the future.  

As a farmer, I fully understand these challenges.  It disturbed me greatly that while I was in Iraq, the town of Gorham tried to purchase my family’s best piece of land, a piece of land with the highest farmland classification level, to put their new elementary school. While the town’s comprehensive plan makes mention of the importance of agriculture to the town, the town wanted to develop a property with one of the larger amounts of land classified as Prime Farmland left in the town and turn it into a massive school with athletic fields.  

That property is now producing grassfed beef. Just because a farm isn’t currently being fully utilized, you don’t know what the future use may be.  Once you develop it, it makes it very difficult for that land to produce food again.

The town already has a Transferable Development Rights fund, but the Town Council has not set the priorities on how to use it.  The money for this comes from developments that are built.

Isaac Misiuk 

The American Journal received no response, despite requests to an email address and telephone number Misiuk gave the Gorham town clerk’s office.

Shonn Moulton

Age: 36

Occupation: Marketing manager, Supermedia

Political experience: November 2006-November 2009  elected Town Council member; Gorham Town Council November 2006-2008, Finance Committee; Finance Chairman November 2007-2008; November 2006-2009, Economic and Capitol Improvements Committee;   Chairman November 2008-2009; November 2008-2009,    Ordinance Committee; November 2008-November 2009,   Executive Council, Greater Portland Council of Governments

Q: What are the three biggest issues facing Gorham and what are your solutions? 

A: Economic growth: The major challenge right now in Gorham is economic development.  We need to look at the town as a business.  A business gets business by marketing itself in a positive and enticing manner.  There are many other towns/cities that want the same commercial and industrial tax dollars as we do.  We need to do a better job in promoting ourselves to the global marketplace.  My marketing experience will help get Gorham in the right spotlight, to the right people, which will help to bring economic development. When there is more economic development, we can ease the tax burden on the citizens.  At the same time that we are looking to add new business tax dollars to our base, we need to continue to help our current businesses.  What businesses need are customers.  So not only do we need to market our town to other businesses, we need to market ourselves to potential consumers for our businesses.  

Why should people come to Gorham to buy their needs and goods?  Because we have one of the best towns in southern Maine.  First we need to become active in Social Media.  There are over a billion people on Facebook alone.  We need to create better websites that show all of the great reasons to shop in Gorham, add their business to Gorham, and to move their family here to Gorham.  Then we need to bring things to the present and create mobile-friendly sites, so people can easily access all of their town needs on the go.  We need to expand the role of the economic development director to allow for these changes to occur. Through these ideas and more, we can make Gorham an enticing place to do business, live, create jobs and increase our tax base.

Public utilities growth: Gorham has done great job in expanding its public utilities such as sewer, water, and natural gas.  We need to make a major push to continue these expansions, as it will allow for greater potential and positive growth in the town.   We need to allow for these growths as it allows us the ability to attract more lucrative economic commercial growth. 

Zoning: When I left the council three years ago, we had begun to look at rezoning certain areas of the town to allow for commercial growth.  Since that time, that debate has gone nowhere.  However, contract zoning has been allowed in South Gorham.  Although contract zoning works, it does not work in the large scale.  There is the inability to properly plan the area for consistent growth in a given area.  Contract zoning also does not always address larger scale items that could be dealt with, such as utilities extensions, roadway and intersection improvements.  We need to refocus on absolute rezoning as contract zoning is costly to the applicant and is just poor planning.   We need to make sure that traffic, roadway improvements, utility improvements, and so much more can be accomplished.

Edward E. Platts

Age: 53

Occupation: Self-employed; owner and operator of  Designer Blinds of Maine, LLC

Political experience:None; served as steward, secretary, treasurer and president of two pipeline unions; served as volunteer on National Ski Patrol since 1989 and current president of the Down East Ski Club;. served in various leadership positions for the Boy Scouts of America; volunteered for a variety of recreation department and Gorham school programs and events.

Q: What are the three biggest issues facing Gorham and what are your solutions? 

A: I believe three of the issues facing Gorham are:  1. Maintaining an affordable tax load for the residents while providing needed services; 2. Economic development; 3. A pedestrian-friendly downtown.

In many ways balancing the budget, improving pedestrian accessibility and economic development are intertwined. Patrons of downtown businesses need sidewalks, safe street crossings and parking. A strong business community will help with the tax load that is used to provide needed services.

I believe solutions to the issues facing our town will come from working with the town departments that are made up of professionals who were hired for their expertise. I am interested in working with the other elected officials toward the common goal of what is best for the town rather than wasting energy on divisive politics that benefits no one.

Bruce Roullard

Age: 50

Occupation:  Mortgage banker

Political Experience: None; served on boards of several community service organizations locally and in the Greater Portland community.

 

Q: What are the three biggest issues facing Gorham and what are your solutions?

A: The three biggest issues facing Gorham are economic development, infrastructure and the relationship between the town and the University of Southern Maine.

Gorham has experienced significant population growth in the past decade,  which has promted the need to  encourage and promote economic development.  Because we are a college town, we must involve USM in planning for current and future economic development.  A master plan for economic development must identify the needs of the 16,000-plus residents and the USM population.  The university, its students, staff and faculty are a tremendous resource for Gorham and the business community.  

Town ordinances pertaining to land use planning and development must include, but not be limited to, housing (and affordable housing) , business needs,  infrastructure, tax incentives (temporary) and historic preservation.  I take great pride in having the experience of overseeing the renovation and restoration of historic structures in the village center and managing a business from within.  It is my goal that the council works closely with the Gorham Historical Society and Maine Historic Preservation Trust to ensure that our historic homes and non- residential buildings are preserved for future generations.  This can only be accomplished by enacting ordinances to protect our historic structures. 

To facilitate economic growth, the expansive building codes must be reviewed so that it will be easier for responsible businesses to do business in Gorham.  The Town Council must work closely with the Gorham Economic Development Corp., the Gorham Business and Civic Exchange and USM officials to identify opportunities for economic growth.  I want small and large businesses to thrive in our community, and the town must serve as a valuable resource as operations start up and businessess expand.  Thriving businesses contribute to our tax base, easing the burden placed on our municipal and school budgets.

Another issue of importance is transportation and infrastructrue.  The addition of the long-awaited bypass brought some relief to the town’s major traffic issue. A large number of vehicles passing daily though the village still create a high level of frustration for the residents, commuters and businesses who are trying to operate in such a congested environment.   I feel a second bypass is needed to improve further the traffic issues.  A master plan of the downtown was created in 1998 and needs to be brought current and include if and where additional parking is needed in the village center.  The council should appoint a committee made up of town officials, business owners and residents to review and modify the master plan.

Gorham has no public transporation. I would like to pursue the feasibility of the Metro extending services to Gorham from Westbrook and through partnership with USM,  explore what opportunities exist for Gorham residents to ride the commuter buses to and from Portland on a fee for service basis. We have many citizens in our town who do not own an automobile and who would benefit from public transportation.  

There must exist a solid relationship between the town and USM. Gorham must come up with a way to leverage USM for the broader community’s benefit both economically and culturally. In turn, USM can provide leadership opportunities to the community and serve as a valuable resource for economic development. 

Finally, the decisions and discussions of the council must be made with clarity and include public input.    

Welcome to the discussion.