(From left to right): Selectmen candidates Gary Luca, Pauline Conley, Christopher Hillman, Michael Pattenden and Jannice Livingston answered questions on
(From left to right): Selectmen candidates Gary Luca, Pauline Conley, Christopher Hillman, Michael Pattenden and Jannice Livingston answered questions on education, trash pickup and more at a pre-filmed debate that will air for the next few weeks on the Ayer Public Access Channel. (NASHOBA PUBLISHING/AMELIA PAK-HARVEY)

By Amelia Pak-Harvey

apak-harvey@nashobapub.com

AYER -- Selectmen candidates made their first televised appeal to the public on Saturday, filming an hour-long debate scheduled for broadcast on the Ayer Public Access Channel.

The race includes selectmen Gary Luca, Pauline Conley, Christopher Hillman and Jannice Livingston, along with newcomer Michael Pattenden.

Trash pickup and education seemed to be the more controversial issues, which were gleaned from queries submitted by residents on APAC's website.

Michael Pattenden came out adamantly against a possible curbside trash pickup service and the potential closing of the transfer station.

"I've not yet spoken to anybody who wants to close the station down," he said.

As he did at the public input meeting, Hillman emphasized that the concept is being studied only for any potential savings that could result. The $200,000 that the town might save could fund a police officer, school teacher or police car, he argued.

"I think that when we want to put things on the board that can possibly save us money, we shouldn't be tarred and feathered," he said.

While Livingston said the town should look at any potential savings, she noted that she was against the idea of closing the transfer station.

"It represents more than just a place to throw your trash," she said. "It's a cultural thing and once you take it away, that cultural thing -- then a piece of Ayer that has existed for a long, long time -- changes its face forever and it will never come back."

Conley said she fully supported the voters' right to decide, while Luca said he would need to look at more information.

Here is what the candidates said about other issues:

* The regional school district budget has been a hot topic because Shirley has been struggling to pay its share of the assessment. Debate moderator and former selectman Connie Sullivan asked candidates whether they would support a Proposition 2 1/2 override if asked by the School Committee.

Livingston said that if the town needs to go beyond its means to pay for everybody, then she would have to vote for it.

"But again, I would have to listen to the input," she added.

Pattenden said he would support it if necessary, but he does not currently see it that way.

"This is where I lose the election," he admitted. "I am somewhat unhappy with the schools. I have multiple reasons for it."

Conley said that an override is a very important decision, regardless of what it supports. Personally, she said, she does not believe in overrides unless it's for an absolute necessity.

"I've suggested to the town of Shirley that they should consider an override this year and use the available funds as we did in the town of Ayer," she said, referencing a previous override the town did to support the schools.

Not knowing what the override would be exactly for, Hillman said he would probably vote no. But if the override would enhance the programs, he said he might support it.

"I think our town has done a great job, and our school committee, to keep the budget low but enhancing the programs up there since the regionalization," he said, "and hopefully they can continue to do that moving forward without an override."

Luca said he would have to see all the variables of the impact that an override might bring.

"You have to look at what you have to do in the town," he said. "Do you have to produce layoffs for municipal employees? Do you have to cut back services? What do you have to do to obtain that goal for providing the schools with what they ask for?"

* Would you support a majority decision if you were in the minority?

Luca said he would, arguing that it is very important that the board has a united front. Livingston and Hillman also agreed that the will of the board is the will of the board.

Pattenden, however, said he was not sure that the minority should "cave in."

"I'm not quite certain that I could just give in and not continue to work for what I believe in in every case," he said. 

Conley said selectmen have a right to speak their opinions.

"Keep in mind that we're all residents and voters of the town of Ayer as well as selectmen, and though we may have a different point of view, we can express that at town meeting," she said. "None of us have lost our freedom of speech sitting at this table."

The election will reduce the size of the current board from five members to three. The top vote-getter will win a three-year term, second-place will win a two-year term, and third-place will serve for one year.

The debate will be broadcast on Channel 8 at 9 a.m., 1 p.m., 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. on April 15 through April 28, the day of town elections.

Follow Pak-Harvey on Twitter and Tout @AmeliaPakHarvey.