In Winthrop Town Council race, 7 candidates vie for 2 seats
At a contentious moment in Winthrop town politics, a crowded field of candidates is competing for a pair of seats on the Town Council. One of the seats is now held by Councilwoman June Bubier, who was selected to serve as an interim replacement when her late husband, David Bubier, died last winter. Bubier is running for re-election to that seat, which has another year-and-a-half on it. She s being challenged by Andy Wess, the longtime co-owner of Lakeside Motel & Cabins, who recently retired. The other seat was vacated in April by Richard Henry, who moved to Tennessee for a job. Five candidates are running for his seat, which has another two-and-a-half years.
They are Andrew Bellegarde, a military veteran who works as a security guard and is pursuing a bachelor s degree in nursing; Milton Hadley III, a retired teacher who recently served on the board of the Winthrop School Department; Elizabeth McKenney, the owner and operator of a local taxi company; Amanda Meader, an attorney who has represented the town of Winthrop in the past; and Rita Moran, who owned the now-closed Apple Valley Books in downtown Winthrop. The election will be held on June 13. The winners will join a council that is, at the moment, locked in tense discussions with the Winthrop School Department about the size of next year s budgets. In Winthrop, the seven-member Town Council must approve all school budget proposals before they go to voters.
A large shortfall was discovered in the school budget last summer, and the town may need to borrow up to $2 million to make up for it, an accountant told the council this month. But the Town Council and members of the school department have recently been clashing about how much should be removed from the school budget. Councilors have also decided to delay some of the town s capital spending, in part to begin closing the shortfall. Not all of the candidates offered specific proposals for the current funding challenges, but they agreed that the town and schools need to find compromise, and all said their own varied backgrounds qualify them for the many decisions facing the council.
Bubier, 68, was appointed to serve on the Winthrop Town Council in January, after David Bubier died and his council seat opened. She s running for re-election, she said, because she would like to continue her husband s efforts to keep the tax rate low for Winthrop residents. Bubier said she has experience balancing budgets. She owns Baker s Dozen Bait Shop and also used to serve on the budget committee in Farmington before moving to Winthrop in 1995. While Bubier said she has been appalled by some of the school department s recent proposals for reducing the budget, she also said she hopes the relationship between the town and schools can improve.
I d like to see us be able to work together and accomplish things that we want to accomplish for kids, Bubier said.
Asked for details about her frustrations, Bubier said the school budget has had a lot of fluff, like a heating fuel budget she thought was inflated. The school department has made its recent budget proposals after Town Councilors demanded it fund the system at the same level next year as it did this year. Bubier said she agrees with the hard line the council has taken with the school department.
Wess, 64, is also running for Bubier s seat. Like her, he has run a business, Lakeside Motel & Cabins, for many years with his spouse, Sheree. But he recently retired and said he d like to give back to the town by serving on the council.
I think I can bring a unique combo of business and fiscal sense, he said. I like to build consensus I built my business from something with little to no income to something that s long-term profitable. I understand being frugal. I understand maintenance. I understand people. He said the council should not ignore spending in certain areas, like facilities, volunteer firefighters and teacher salaries, but also needs to be fiscally conservative. Asked about the school funding challenges, Wess said that the people who are responsible for the current shortfall should be held accountable, because it might encourage them to be more careful and thorough.
The town and the School Department have traded blame for the large error.
Bellegarde, 31, served in the U.S. military for 10 years, until 2014. During that time, he said, he helped rebuild communities in Iraq and Afghanistan and developed experience working with large sums of money. He now works as a security guard at Central Maine Medical Center, is pursuing a bachelor s degree in nursing through Kaplan University and is on the Winthrop Fire Department. Bellegarde said his experience in emergency services would be valuable on the Town Council, which controls funding to the fire, police and ambulance departments. Given the ongoing opioid epidemic, he is skeptical of the recreational use of marijuana, and said his understanding of that issue would be helpful as the town decides how to regulate the drug s sale over the next year. Bellegarde said the Town Council should give more scrutiny to future school budgets to prevent the types of errors that led to the current shortfall and could spawn higher taxes or cuts to school programs. He also said the school department should try to find as many savings as it can.
I think both sides are guilty, he said of the reasons for the shortfall. Somewhere (the town) should have caught it. Then again, (the school department) should have caught it.
MILTON HADLEY III
Hadley, a former Winthrop school board member, asked for questions to be sent to him by email earlier this week, but did not respond to them by Friday. Last fall, he unsuccessfully ran as a Republican for a seat in the Maine House of Representatives. A retired teacher, he worked for 25 years in the computer industry. He was 63 last fall.
McKenney, 54, has been active on local committees and organizations. She continues to run the taxi company that she started during the recession, and said that s one of the experiences that has equipped her to sit on the council, solve problems and lower the town s tax burden. She started her taxi company in part because she recognized that other providers were gouging the elderly with their prices and wanted to offer a more affordable alternative. At the same time, McKenney also has children and grandchildren who went through the school system, and said that she would like to continue supporting programs that help the town s youth, as well as the fire department and other services.
I ve got a good grasp on local politics, she said. I feel like I can work with the community. Problem solving is one of my fortes.
McKenney did not offer any specific proposals regarding the school funding shortfall. She also raises chickens and geese, and said a lot of people probably know me as the crazy goose lady.’
Meader, 38, said she chose to run for the Town Council because of the current budget challenges. She worked as a municipal attorney for more than 12 years and said that experience makes me very qualified to serve my community at a time when that service seems very necessary. During her time working for law firms like Bernstein Shur, as well as for the Maine Municipal Association, she gave legal advice to towns and cities in many areas, including elections, code enforcement, contracts and finance. For more than 10 years, she gave counsel to Winthrop.
Her experience, she said, would help the council make the best possible decisions, and decisions that reflect the best possible understanding of our obligations I certainly have experience with reading budgets and financials, and just a general sort of highly attuned attention to detail that will lend itself well to helping resolve the budget issues. She said the town will have to look at comprehensive solutions, including extreme financial discipline, but also not falling too far behind in support of the local schools.
Moran, 71, was the co-owner of Apple Valley Books, a bookstore on Main Street that was open for about 20 years and closed in 2015. She has also been involved in other efforts around town, including the creation of a farmer s market, and said she can bring a mix of new ideas to the council.
I m good at working with people, Moran said. I can bring people together and respect where they re coming from. As a retiree living on a fixed income, Moran said she s conscious of her spending. She also made several suggestions for the town that would require steep up-front costs, but that could pay off in the long run, such as the creation of a pre-kindergarten program and the replacement of less-used paved roads with gravel, which is cheaper to maintain.
Because the town is short on operating funds, due to the school funding shortfall, Moran also suggested a public relations campaign to encourage residents to pay their property taxes earlier in the year, which would fill the town s coffers more quickly. Moran also warned that cutting programs from the schools could make the town less appealing to young families.
If our schools start dropping in terms of public perception, that starts a downward spiral, she said.
Charles Eichacker 621-5642
- ^ large shortfall was discovered (www.centralmaine.com)
- ^ the town may need to borrow up to $2 million (www.centralmaine.com)
- ^ appointed to serve on the Winthrop Town Council (www.centralmaine.com)
- ^ unsuccessfully ran as a Republican for a seat in the Maine House of Representatives (www.centralmaine.com)
- ^ [email protected] (www.centralmaine.com)
- ^ @ceichacker (twitter.com)