TOWNSEND -- On April 28, Townsend voters will take to the polls to elect their newest selectman. Four candidates are vying to take the spot vacated by Selectman Robert Plamondon last November.
The candidates are Water Commissioner and former Townsend Housing Authority member Ron Dionne, recently retired Fire Chief Donald Klein, owner of Townsend Center Realty and member of the Board of Assessors and Townsend Housing Authority Laura Shifrin, and Finance and Capital Planning Committee member Carolyn Smart, who previously served as the acting town administrator.
Each candidate answered the same series of questions about plans if elected. Their answers are printed below.
Q: What would your top priority be if elected as selectman?
Ron Dionne: My top priority would be to bring the voting public back to the town meetings, especially when crucial decisions need to be made, and I mean more than the few hundred who attend town elections. Second would be to review property taxes and work with that to give some tax relief to folks in town, because I know it's possible.
Donald Klein: My top priority would be the budgets and our infrastructure, trying to maintain the infrastructure we have. As you know the Board of Selectmen has been looking into what they can do to repair our roads. That would be one of my top priorities, along with the new fire station, looking at that and trying to get that through the process, and if that fails, then what is our next step there.
Laura Shifrin: My top priority would be our financial budget. I think it takes sitting down and looking at each line item and making sure we're doing the best we can. If we're going to have to go into any kind of debt exclusion or a situation where taxes are going to be increased to the community, then we need to be careful and have backup to be able to explain the reasons to the taxpayers.
Carolyn Smart: My absolute top priority would be getting our bond rating and financial situation in order, but my biggest concern right now is the gas line coming through. I'm concerned that information isn't getting out to residents and we're not being proactive on informing residents on how to protect themselves. There should be a lot more proactive outreach to the community, because a lot of people are asking questions and there doesn't seem to be a lot coming out of the selectmen's office. We need to be ahead of it. As for our finances, I'm concerned with the large increases in our budget, and I don't believe it's sustainable. I've been very vocal about the need for a sustainability committee because we need projections. It's very concerning to me that we're operating without budget projections.
Q: What unique qualities or experiences would you bring to the Board of Selectmen?
RD: Knowledge of governmental procedures, which is lacking desperately here. There's a lot of misleading things that are said at the meetings in the way they introduce things.
DK: I'd bring a lot of financial experience. I served four years on the Finance Committee, and seven years as a department head running the fire department and I have a lot of financial experience coming from the private sector.
LS: I'm a trained mediator, I'm a negotiator, I've been in business for 37 years without going bankrupt. I'm not a paid employee of the town but I've given freely of my service for close to 35 years. I can certainly give my background, which is what I offer to the board.
CS: The ability to research and question things, knowing past practices because I've worked for 11 different selectmen and I have an understanding of where the town has been and what we've used in the past that has been successful and unsuccessful. I think we're lacking somebody doing the research to find out what has happened prior. We're having decisions made without a lot of discussion. I'm also forward-thinking to find out what direction we want to go. That's what I'd be bringing, 14 years of training and an understanding of the needs of the community.
Q: What long-term changes would you like to see in town?
RD: I'd like to see a charter change and maybe some bylaws, we need to go over them every so often. The bylaws have to be looked at and revised and updated and brought into the 21st century.
DK: Long-term we need to find other sources of revenue. We can't keep relying on the state to help fund our budget, we need to look for other avenues to bring in revenue. One way would be to look at bringing in more businesses to offset our taxes. Right now there's very little industrial and commercial business, so all the residential folks have to pick up the costs of running town government. We need to look at other sources of revenue that might offset some of the tax base, because I don't see the state increasing revenues any time soon.
LS: I'd love to see everyone with a positive attitude, getting along and working productively to advance. For progress you need a team that is harmonious and working together and understanding what the end goal is, and we can get there if we agree to disagree and respect everyone's positions. I try to stay positive because if you do something else it tends to be divisive. I'm not from that space and I'm not going there.
CS: I'd really like to see us build up our trail systems and parks. That's the way to go for producing revenues in the future. Recreation is how Townsend will be able to sustain itself, since we're so far away from major transportation. I really feel that's going to be a good revenue source for Townsend in the future. Our beautiful trails and rivers need to be cleaned up, marketed and marked.
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