2017-10-19 / Front Page

Election 2017

BIDDEFORD – Two city councilors face a contested election this November, while the rest of the incumbents on the council will retain their positions. In Ward 1 incumbent Michael Swanton will run against newcomer Kathleen Russell. Incumbent John McCurry will run against William Moriarty in Ward 2.

City Council Ward 1

Name: Kathleen Russell Age: 57 Position seeking: Biddeford City Council Ward 1 Address: 2 Ferry Lane Phone: 229-8359 Occupation: Business development manager Family: Husband, Peter; Son, Bradley Education completed: Bachelor of Arts in mathematics, University of Maine at Farmington Organizations and activities: 1992 -1996, co-President of Pilgrim Place Condominium Association, Old Orchard Beach; 2007, chair of the St. James School auction; October 2016 - present, member of the Board of Directors of Maine March of Dimes. Top three issues:

1) Taxes. Our taxes are among the highest in southern Maine and are reaching the point where many cannot afford them. Approximately 48 homes have tax liens on them. Many are senior citizens and life-long residents. Our taxes have grown to the point that we are, literally, taxing residents out of their homes. We want to live in our home in retirement, but if our property taxes continue to increase at the rate they have (2008 taxes were about $3,600, today they are $6,444), it will not be an option. This is personal, it is about our home and where we will live in retirement. This is why I am running.

2) City spending. With one of the highest tax rates in Southern Maine, we need to understand the spending that is driving this. Where are we an outlier compared to lower-taxed communities? What changes would be needed to bring us in line with them? Our city leaders should be able to answer where we spend more money than peer communities and identify what cuts or changes are needed to bring spending in line with our ability to support it. In addition to clearly spending more than other communities, we also have significant unfunded, deferred maintenance on city-owned property. Taxpayers need to understand the magnitude of the deferred maintenance that has built up in spite of having one of the highest tax rates in southern Maine, and how this happened.

3) Schools. Biddeford High School used to be a National School of Excellence. We have fallen from that distinction to having test scores below or well below the state average. School quality doesn’t just negatively impact the future of our children, it impacts our property values. Cities and towns with good schools command higher sales prices. This is an issue that impacts all taxpayers, even those without children. Why are you seeking elected office?

I love Biddeford. We moved here the summer of 1976. After living in a couple other Maine cities for a few years, I returned to Biddeford in 1995. We had many options to buy a home, but Biddeford is where we wanted to live because it was very attractive, with beautiful beaches, a hospital, a university, safe neighborhoods, good schools, proximity to Portland and Boston and affordable taxes. While some of these have remained constant, it concerns me that some have changed. I think we can improve. Taxes are a major concern and the voice of the taxpayer needs to be heard more. Our city is undergoing change and it is exciting times. All new development needs to factor in the impact to taxes. If we assist developers to help get it off the ground as we just agreed to for the Harrington project downtown, we should include repayment back to taxpayers once the project is successful and financially sound. When the council voted to give that project a credit enhancement of $750,000 ($150,000 a year for five years), I spoke at the meeting as a citizen and suggested in years six to 10, the developer repays the city that money and not one councilor made a motion to amend the motion. The $750,000 was approved and the city does not get repaid even if the project is profitable after city support ends. This is why I think the taxpayers need a voice and is why I am running. What should Biddeford residents expect of their city councilor?

City councilors should research all sides of an issue before voting. Councilors should treat each other with respect and listen to understand when discussing issues, especially if it is an opposing viewpoint. They should be accessible to hear what is important to residents in their ward and responsive to their outreach. Residents have a responsibility to ensure their representative knows what is important to them to help guide them in issues they vote on. What is a city councilor’s greatest responsibility to Biddeford residents?

A city councilors’ greatest responsibility is to be a good steward of the taxes we pay. Every dime collected was earned or saved by the person who paid it. For many, it is, or soon will be, a financial hardship to pay their taxes. Tax money has to be spent on things that are the basics – schools, fire, rescue, police, roads, etc – and then prioritize the rest based on the needs and priorities of the people living in the city, and our ability to deliver on them while maintaining a tax rate that is affordable. All spending should have a focus on getting the most value, the way the people who send their money to city hall spend their own money. Pretty simple. Name: Mike Swanton Age: 65 Position seeking: Biddeford City Council Ward 1 Address: 110 Old Pool Rd Phone: 207-282-6387 Occupation: Plumber Family: Wife Susan. No children Education completed: High School Organizations and activities: Former member of the Biddeford Pool Volunteer Fire Department. Three terms on the Biddeford Council. Various City committees Top three issues:

1) Find a buyer for 3 Lincoln Street – the former MERC property.

2) Continue investing in our crumbling infrastructure. This City has had a nasty habit of putting off maintenance of buildings and roads until they crumble. The city manager put together a note book with a five year plan of our most important needs. The council has been very good at funding those needs without breaking the bank. It is also worth noting the sheer magnitude of property that we own. There are a couple of buildings that I would like to see closed and sold.

3) Continue growth of the city to limit the tax increases. Why are you seeking elected office?

I think I have been somewhat successful in serving the people of ward one. I have the time and the energy to serve one more term. What should Biddeford residents expect of their city councilor?

Prompt response to any question they may have about the city services. I have almost always gotten immediate responses from the city staff for any question I have asked. What is a city councilor’s greatest responsibility to Biddeford residents?

The budget. We spend over $60 million dollars per year. It is our responsibility that we do not waste one dime. It is impossible to do, but we work very hard at getting the most out of the tax dollars we receive.

City Council Ward 2

Name: John A. McCurry Jr. Age: 60 Position seeking: Biddeford City Council Ward 2 Address: 197 Cleaves St. Phone: 283-7473 Occupation: recycling Family: wife Robin 38 years - two sons, two grandsons and two granddaughters Education completed: Associates degree in business management Organizations and activities: 12 years city council and six as council president. Chaired or have served on numerous city committees. Top three issues:

1) Taxes - we need to stabilize the tax rate by growing the city tax base and reducing taxes. State reductions in revenue sharing and education have created shortfalls in our city budget, but we need to be conscious of taxpayers on fixed incomes, while being vigilant in providing services and investing in capital improvements. We need to continue to develop efficiencies and collaborations that reduce the tax burden.

2) Capital improvement projects - Because of the Great Recession, and past failures to invest in infrastructure, the city is facing an immediate need to repair our roads, our sewers, our schools, and our buildings. Those issues will not go away, and delaying those improvements increases the cost. At the same time, we cannot do everything at once, because that would cause taxes to skyrocket. We must be smart enough to not only budget for infrastructure improvements, but do so carefully and thoughtfully.

3) Schools - Education is critical today, as it always has been. With technology changing so rapidly, we need to provide our students with the experiences and knowledge that will allow them to be successful in today’s economy. We must be willing to invest not only in the science and math courses that drive our technology, but also in the arts and social sciences, so that our students can become productive, happy members of our community.

Why are you seeking elected office?

I believe that over the last four years, we have made great progress in this city. Biddeford has always been a wonderful place in which to live. My goal, as a councilor, is to improve quality of life, and I think that we have done that. With our investments in the downtown, we have instilled great pride in our community. People tell me, all of the time, that they love what they see. Individuals in other communities are now raving about Biddeford. I think that we need to continue that momentum, as more changes are coming. The new regional courthouse on Route 1 will change that gateway into the city. New shops and restaurants on Route 111 will similarly change that area of the city. The development of the Maine Energy site, the completion of the River Walk, and investments in our infrastructure will help to make the city a destination point for many!

The median age of Biddeford residents is 35. People are moving here because they like what they see. While development is good, we also need to be cautious and protect our beaches and our open spaces. We need to balance, through planning, the pressures of development with the needed preservation and thoughtfulness that will insure that the city will be desirable, not just today, but 50 or 100 years from now. We also need to plan for increased traffic and increased density. We need to plan for educational and technological demands. Above all, we have

to smartly make sure that we make our city affordable.

What should Biddeford residents expect of their city councilor?

Being a city councilor can be, at times, a difficult job. It is impossible to please everyone, all of the time, but a councilor must be able to weigh all of the information and make an objective decision based upon those facts. A councilor must be open-minded and willing to listen to members of the community. He must be mindful of the common good, at all times. He must be willing to make hard decisions, sometimes in the face of public outcry. He must be conscientious and do the best that he can, in any given situation.

During my many years on the council, I have learned that people appreciate attentiveness to their particular issues or concerns. I always try to assist those who contact me. If I don’t know an answer to a particular question, I will find out or connect that person with a member of staff who can best assist them. Many residents don’t know the mechanics and contacts of local government, and it is a councilor’s obligation to help them find solutions or answers to their particular concern.

Above all, constituents want their councilor to improve the quality of life in the city. They want to be proud to say that they are from Biddeford. I think that we have been doing that. Whenever a major issue appears before the council, I always consider what it means for the city. I always ask myself if it will improve us as a community. Residents want their councilors to be vigilant, thoughtful, and creative.

Working with the current council has been very rewarding, because each member acts professionally and courteously. I believe that residents want their council to act in that manner. While government at the state and federal level is too often marked by name calling and personal attacks, the current council, of which I am President, is one that respects the views of each member. We may disagree with each other, but once the vote is over, no one takes it personally. That is because each one of us knows that the other members all believe in doing the best for this city, no matter how they vote on any particular issue. That is what I think people demand of their councilors: act professionally and simply do what they think is best. What is a city councilor’s greatest responsibility to Biddeford residents?

The greatest responsibility of a councilor is to leave the city in a better place than it was before he or she was elected. While many things that happen are not controlled by an individual councilor, acting positively with the goal of improving the quality of life for everyone, not just now, but in the future, is the ultimate objective. Politics, in many ways, is an investment. Councilors invest their time, their energy, and their votes in order to create a better place in which to live work and play. We do that, not just for the moment, but for our children and our grandchildren.

Biddeford has a wonderful history of diversity, creativity, ethnicity, and workmanship. There are so many stories of individuals and families in our mill buildings and in our tenement buildings. The architecture on Main Street; Waterhouse Field, the Gil Boucher Beach at Biddeford Pool; our industrial parks; our airport; our renovated high school, all tell a story of a people who strive to do better and who want what is best, not only for themselves, but for each other.

A councilor must want to make Biddeford a place in which an entrepreneur will want to invest. He must want to create an environment in which people want to volunteer and give back to their community. Most importantly, a councilor must want to create a community that will be attractive enough that our youth will want to stay, earn a decent wage, and feel safe and secure. Name: William “Bil” Moriarty Age: 42 Position seeking: Biddeford City Council Ward 2 Address: 32 Oak St. Phone: 423-2071 Occupation: Donation development coordinator The Salvation Army Family: Wife Amberlee, Daughters Autumn and Ashlee Education completed: Some college Organizations and activities: Current vice chair Biddeford Democratic Committee; former chair of Biddeford Democrats three years; York County Democratic Committee 11 years; Maine State Democratic Committee two years; Biddeford School Committee four years; Capital Improvements, Policy Committee two years; finance committee two years; Biddeford Historical Preservation Commission; Santa Bil’s Workshop nine years; Stone Soup Food Pantry, In-a- Pinch Non-Food-Pantry Top three issues:

1) Balancing Biddeford’s budget - The City of Biddeford has more than enough money to be able to balance its budget. We can make good choices and make sure all of our city resources are paid while bringing down property taxes. Letting our brave firefighters work without a contract was wrong and may have cost us more than if we had worked to get them a contract. Talking about taking from the school departments state reimbursements is just wrong and doing in an election year is worse. Our legislative delegation stood up for our students and Ward 2 should have that same stance on the council. We can find another way and not on the backs of our students.

2) Continuing economic growth throughout the city is important. Traffic has been a nightmare at times for residents. We should be looking at night construction and work better with other entities that are doing work to not cause hour delays on Route 1 and Main Street. We should be promoting Biddeford far and wide as a vacation destination. We have the best of everything Maine has to offer right here in every corner of our city.

3) Strengthening protections for renters. Until last year I rented my entire life. In Biddeford I rented a 2-bedroom on Center Street that was not always in the best shape and sometimes took a long time to have issues taken care of by the owner. In my last two years renting I saw an increase of $300 in rent for that same unit. We need to look at keeping property taxes down so landlords can keep units at an affordable cost. Why are you seeking elected office?

I love this city. I raised my family here, bought a house here and plan to retire here. I have worked hard to be a part of this community and to give back. I ran Santa Bil’s Workshop for years with my wife and kids as our way of giving back and pitching in for those that needed it. We need to work to bring back an appropriate public speaking time. Hard working folks that come before the council should not have to wait until 10 or 11 at night to speak on an issue that is important to them. It happened on the school committee as well and I voted against it then too. I don’t believe regular folks from Ward 2 have a voice on the council. There are going to be many issues that arise in the next two years. Casino, marijuana and a parking garage will all be discussed and we need to have the discussions again and again so we can reach the desired agreement on not all parties interest but most of the city’s best interest. What should Biddeford residents expect of their city councilor?

A city councilor should be receptive to all sides of the conversation for the ward or wards he or she represent. Making policy that drives the city and brings about positive change. A city councilor should help find new revenue streams and work with the city manager to find those avenues. City councilors should also make sure that our most vulnerable citizens are protected. What is a city councilor’s greatest responsibility to Biddeford residents?

A city councilor’s greatest responsibility is to do what’s right by the citizens they represent and to have an open dialogue with anyone that wants to have a conversation about Biddeford.

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