The five candidates for two Presque Isle City Council seats come from a variety of backgrounds, but they all pretty much agree that rising taxes are getting to be a serious problem.
In a forum sponsored by the Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce, Eugene Cronin, Kevin Freeman, Don Gardner, Jacqueline Goodine and incumbent Craig Green spent the early part of the evening Oct. 17 talking about a range of issues facing Presque Isle, Aroostook County’s largest municipality.
Theresa Fowler, the Chamber’s executive director, moderated the forum and asked the candidates about their views on the topics such as the pay-as-you-throw program’s budget shortfall, how to encourage more residential construction and whether the city should pursue “regionalization” efforts with other local governments to save money. The forum was also live streamed by the city of Presque Isle and is available to watch through YouTube.
Among the seven current city councillors are two open seats, one being vacated by councilor Richard Engels and one held by Green, who’s running for a another term on the council.
Green said that he, the six other councilors and many folks want to reduce the property tax rate, this year set at $25.68 per $1,000 of property value, an annual increase of about 0.24 percent.
Despite the controversy that has been associated with the construction of the new community center and other projects, in tandem with rising taxes and declining state revenue, Green said that the city is on track to affordably cover its costs in the coming years and can control its property taxes, adding that he has good faith in city management and staff he’s worked with.
Green, who works as a New York Life Insurance agent, also said he’s made a strong effort to civically-engage the general public by meeting many of them where they are – online, not attending city council meetings. “I’ve tried to bring my background in business and my background in being a lifelong Presque Isle resident. I’m also quite vocal on Facebook to try to get out there what’s going on in the community and get input from people.”
The candidates had overlapping and differing opinions on a range of issues, including the plans to create a local ambulance service. Don Gardner said he thought the current service, provided in collaboration with The Aroostook Medical Center, was working well and was skeptical about a city-operated service’s potential to be self-funding through insurance billing. Green has championed the idea and argued in favor of it, while the other candidates did not take a position on the issue but said they would thoroughly weigh it.
All of the candidates voiced concern about rising taxes and the impact that has on residential homebuyers and people who might want to build a home in a region that’s long been losing population.
“Middle class people cannot afford the mill rate we have and the lack of services we have,” said Gardner, a former three-term councilor. “Those are going to be my top priorities on the council to get these issues resolved.”
Gardner, a U.S. Navy veteran who previously worked in retail management and at the Defense Finance Accounting Service in Limestone, raised concerns particularly about the pay-as-you-throw program and about the larger changes in recent years.
“A lot of these projects have been done without being fully thought through and it’s ended up costing us a lot of money,” Gardner said. “We need to think all of our projects through.”
Kevin Freeman, the owner of the Sled Shop in Presque Isle, said he has long wanted to run for city council. On taxes, he pointed out that Presque Isle’s mill rate has increased 18 percent over the last four years while average property taxes across Maine have increased about 5 percent in the same time period, based on state data.
“When I went around door to door and got signatures for this position, the most comments from people were, ‘Where is the city going in the future? How are we going to pay for the things that we have now?’ Those are some concerns that I also share.”
Freeman added that he thinks Presque Isle has a strong community and business spirit and many assets, including a rebounding downtown and the Skyway Industrial Park. “We’ve got a lot of great things going for us,” Freeman said.
Jacqueline Goodine, a pioneer as the region’s first female auto mechanic who now works as a veteran’s disability advocate, said that she aims to focus on understanding other perspectives on community needs. “I will listen to people and take it and run with it,” Goodine said,
“You’ve got to listen to people whether you agree or disagree. Also I learned over the years raising three kids, there’s a want and there’s a need scale,” Goodine said. “I don’t like to spend money where we don’t need it.”
She recently brought concerns to the city government about the issue of pedestrian safety, pushing along the recently-completed extension of Main Street’s sidewalks to Maysville Road. The section had been one of Presque Isle’s most unwalkable stretches of U.S. Route 1 that people nonetheless would traverse to in order to shop at Mardens, Walmart and other retailers.
For Eugene Cronin, the bid for city council is part of getting involved with multiple aspects of the community in Presque Isle at a particularly important point in history.
“The city faces some challenges,” Cronin said. “We need to look at ways to decrease spending and increase revenue.”
Cronin moved to Presque Isle with his family as a youngster, left for college and recently moved back with his wife and two daughters, after working manufacturing management in Michigan. He’s since taken board positions helping lead Quoggy Jo Ski Center and the Nordic Heritage Club, as well as joining the trustees board of the Presque Isle Utilities District. Of the decisions facing Presque Isle in the years ahead, Cronin said: “We’ve got to come up with a lot of ideas and think through them.”