AYER - Candidates for treasurer and selectmen were in the spotlight at Wednesday's candidates' forum, sponsored by the Ayer IT Committee. Former selectmen and political blogger Chuck Miller moderated the event before a standing room only crowd.
3 SEEK THE TREASURER'S POST
In the three way race for Treasurer, incumbent Stephanie Gintner is being challenged by sitting selectman Gary Luca and former Ayer Finance Committee member Glen LaPierre.
The questions dealt directly with two of the three candidates. Regard to "tension" between the selectmen and the Treasurer's office, Miller asked what each candidate would do to ensure the public knows the office is operating efficiently.
Luca admitted to "contentious moments" between the elected officials.
"Cooperation" between departments "is a two way street," answered Gintner. "I've always cooperated with all of the other departments. Anytime they've asked me for information, I've given it to them."
"I don't always get that cooperation," said Gintner, who added that what's needed at Town Hall is "harmony" between all departments and people.
LaPierre said communications from the Treasurer's Office (whether with the selectmen or Finance Committee) should be kept "simple. If you get too complicated with things, there can be misunderstanding....You've got to be precise and you've got to be timely with your information."
There was a clear difference of opinion on the need to make daily deposits. Luca said that all incoming cash needs to be deposited daily to "limit the amount of short term borrowing you may need." Luca said he personally had a May tax payment clear three months later in August. Luca added that it took 12 days for his last tax payment to clear.
Gintner said of deposits "some days I have none." Otherwise, she performs deposits weekly. "To do it on a daily basis is time consuming." Over the past three years, Gintner said her office has been paid $728,000 on delinquent tax bills. Of $381,000 now in tax title, she has entered payment plans for $121,000 of that sum, while others she continues to track down.
LaPierre agreed with Luca, stating cash is deposited into the bank daily in private industry. "That's where it belongs." On checks bounced due to insufficient funds, LaPierre said "the longer you let it sit out there, the harder it is to collect.
Asked what functions are most important, LaPierre said it's about "running a tight ship" in conjunction with the other departments, selectmen and Finance Committee. Luca said it was "tough to narrow down" but suggested the administration of health benefits for employees and retirees was key, as was reporting to the Department of Revenue, cash management and overseeing municipal bonding.
"All the functions are important," said Gintner. Cash management is performed daily, other issues like borrowing and investing are "not a daily function, but you have to watch them.
The Treasurer's position carries a three year term.
4 SEEK 1 BOARD OF SELECTMEN SEAT
In the four way race for one available seat on the Ayer Board of Selectmen, selectman Frank Maxant is concluding his third three-year term on the board and is seeking re-election. Former Democratic candidate for State Rep. Jane Morriss, Navy veteran Jannice Livingston, and retired Ayer patrolman Mark Coulter are also vying for the one seat.
The candidates varied as to whether or not Ayer should over more of the tab for the Ayer-Shirley Regional School District tab, after Shirley has signaled its likely inability to pay its share of the bill.
"I'm all for paying more if it's not going to be detrimental to the whole town," said Livingston. But Livingston said Ayer must wait until after Shirley's own selectmen races conclude at a time when Shirley is without a chief administrative officer. "They need to get that taken care of, then they need to get their budget out."
"I don't think I'm qualified to say yeah, nay or boo," answered Morriss. "Before I'd glibly say yes or no, I'd want to consult with the school committee. I don't think the school committee knows the answer because there are so many variables right now."
"We do need to wait and see," agreed Coulter. Still, "off the top of my head, it would be unfair for Ayer to pay more" than its share based on the percentage of the two town's student populations.
"Not just no, but heck no," said Maxant, who claimed "promises" on savings and efficiencies were made to the respective towns before regionalization took place in 2011. Ayer's financial strength is due to its tax base "because we've invested heavily over the years in infrastructure... Guess what? Shirley didn't do that."
Miller threw a curve ball, asking the candidates' views on any attempted effort to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines, as was attempted and abandoned in nearby Westford. Most agreed it's not a local issue.
"I'm not sure how effective it would be for Ayer," said Morriss, who added she favored limits and background checks for gun owners. "I don't know how you'd enforce it. I'd question the jurisdiction of that for Ayer."
Coulter said most Americans support background checks for gun purchasers, limits on ammo loads, and a national ban on assault weapons. "Why does a citizen need a high powered weapon like that?" But Coulter said the gun debate has overshadowed review of the country's "deplorable" mental health system.
"I definitely would not support a ban," said Maxant, who agreed it's not a local issue. "I'd be much more inclined that everybody's required to have a gun," said Maxant, who grabbed onto Coulter's reference to some Georgia localities that have voted to require their residents to own a gun.
"We don't have a problem in the Town of Ayer," said Livingston, who rapped her knuckles on the table to 'knock on wood.' "And hopefully we never will." But Livingston said universal background checks should be mandatory, and mental health care needs an overhaul. "We, the people, need to take care of one another."
What's the best accomplishment or investment a town can make for its citizens. "The schools," said Maxant. "There's nothing more important to a community's present and future but we have to invest within our means."
"I agree with Frank," said Livingston with a tweak. "I'm not going to say this a lot." Support for the schools "is our legacy." Livingston said a sense of civic belonging is needed, too. "We have to make sure residents don't feel there's a wall on getting involved in how the town's run."
Up there with schools is water quality for Morriss. "Ayer has a legacy, a gift, of natural resources and I think we need to protect them."
Coulter called for spending within the town's means on education. Coulter also called for tax relief. "We have to collaborate on a way to get those taxes down a little bit." Coulter also wanted support for Ayer's senior citizen population.
How many Town Meetings have you attended, asked Miller. A dozen, said Coulter. Two or three, said Livingston and Morriss. Though Morriss moved to town last fall, she said she'd attended before as a spectator.
Pencil in hand, Maxant began scribbling. "I'm an engineer. I don't estimate," said Maxant, who then ball parked he's attended 60 Town Meetings in his adult years.
"Show off," said Coulter with a smile. The evening was loaded with light-hearted segue ways and friendly interplay between the selectmen candidates. As with the Treasurer's race, each selectmen's candidate took turns pulling playing cards from a deck to ensure a random order of questions asked and opportunity for candidate answers.
The event was videotaped by the Ayer Public Access Channel and can be viewed in its entirety on the Town of Ayer website at www.ayer.ma.us under 'other' meeting videos. The Ayer Town Election is April 30.
Follow Mary Arata at twitter.com/maryearata.