TOWNSEND -- Townsend's four selectmen candidates recommended measures ranging from attracting more business to cleaning up the town's natural spaces Wednesday night.
Ron Dionne, Don Klein, Laura Shifrin and Carolyn Smart fielded questions at Memorial Hall in the annual candidates' night forum sponsored by the Townsend Times.
Dionne, who has served on the Townsend Housing Authority and the Board of Water Commissioners, where he left his three-year term early, said his first goal as a selectman would be to increase voter turnout at elections and town meetings.
"One of my main goals is to bring the citizens of Townsend back to this room to be witnesses to everything that needs to be done in massive strength, because there's a lot of decisions that are made, in my opinion of course, incorrectly, based on the vote," Dionne said.
Klein, former FinCom member who retired as the town's fire chief last month, said his focus would be on addressing the town's deteriorating infrastructure and attracting more businesses to town to pay for those improvements.
"I think we've been struggling and I hope to help bring the town back. I know the taxpayers have been struggling with their taxes and there are things that we need to do. We need to keep up with things like our infrastructure and our roads, our buildings and our equipment," Klein said.
Townsend Center Realty owner Laura Shifrin, who also serves on the Housing Authority and the Board of Assessors, said her focus would be on teamwork with other town officials and listening to the concerns of the residents.
"I am a trained mediator and negotiator. I face challenges every day in solving issues. I've learned that most important is to listen and to assess the facts, the pros and the cons, and basically work as a team," Shifrin said.
Finance and Capital Planning Committee member Carolyn Smart said she is primarily concerned with bolstering the town's finances, including restoring the town's bond rating, which was withdrawn last summer.
"I'm concerned with the large increases in our budget over the last three years. I don't believe that this type of spending is going to be sustainable, and if it's not addressed, we, the taxpayers, are either going to have to pay more or we're going to lose some of our services," Smart said.
Smart also recommended cleaning up the town's parks to bolster local businesses and attract more visitors to town.
Candidates were also queried on their opinions on three major projects that have been proposed in town -- a new North Middlesex Regional High School, a new fire station headquarters and a natural gas pipeline through the region.
In reference to the high school project, Dionne said there is a need to think of the future and address problems with the building. Klein, Shifrin and Smart all expressed strong support.
Klein, who has worked on the fire station proposal for seven years, said he strongly supports the project. Dionne said he would have supported it a few years ago, but with the high school project on deck, lamented the timing as being poor for taxpayers. Shifrin said something needed to be done to overhaul the current facilities, but didn't offer an opinion on the proposal going before voters at Annual Town Meeting. Smart said she supported the need for a new fire station, but said the proposal is not ready to go before voters.
The gas pipeline had candidates split.
Smart said she had major concerns about the pipeline. As a selectman, she would focus on informing voters about what the pipeline would mean for them.
Klein said that while he had concerns, he also understood the need for natural gas in the region.
Shifrin and Dionne both said that many concerns about the pipeline are premature, and recommended a wait-and-see attitude.
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