2013-02-08 / Front Page

Four vie for council seat

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — When the seventh and final South Portland city councilor takes his seat on the dais in city hall in March, he will do so in the thick of what many officials expect will be a difficult budget season.

City Manager Jim Gailey estimated the city will need nearly $500,000 in additional property tax revenue if Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed biennial budget is approved by the Maine Legislature. That revenue would, in part, replace the $1.8 million loss in revenue sharing funds for the upcoming fiscal year. Gailey said the elimination of the revenue sharing program will, by itself, add 53 cents to the city’s tax rate.

However, the four candidates for the District 1 city council seat say they are up to the challenge, and hope to find a solution to the budget problem that will limit the impact on city taxpayers.

The candidates for the seat are Rob Schreiber of Stanford Street, Richard Carter of Thompson Street, Robert Foster of Front Street and Michael Pock of Grand Street. The election will be held Tuesday, March 12. Polls open at the South Portland Community Center at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. The vote is open to all city residents, who can request absentee ballots through Thursday, March 7.

Schreiber has served on the city’s planning board since 2004, and served on the city’s comprehensive plan committee until the plan was finished in 2012. He works as a life insurance and annuity specialist for AAA of Northern New England and plays drums in the jazz band Standard Issue.

Schreiber believes the city council has done well in keeping the city’s property tax rate from spiking to protect elderly residents on fixed incomes, and he would like the city to keep that focus whil encouraging economic growth.

“We are one of the major arteries for our state’s economy. When we do well, everybody’s going to do well,” Schreiber said.

Schreiber also hopes to tackle the problem of traffic congestion on east Broadway as a councilor. He sees the issue every day when he pulls out of his home in Ferry Village onto Broadway, but it only takes one trip from east to west in the city to recognize there’s a problem. Schreiber said while he does not have a “magic solution,” he is confident the city can find a workable answer to the problem.

Richard Carter has served on the South Portland School Board for the last nine years, currently as the board’s chairman. He said his plan was always to run for the council after serving the maximum of three consecutive terms on the school board, but the special election moved his plans up a few months.

The school department faces challenges similar to the city’s in the coming budget season. At a joint city council and school board workshop on Jan. 23, Superintendent Suzanne Godin estimated the school’s upcoming shortfall will fall between $2.2 and $3.1 million, but Carter said it’s still too early to know what the final numbers will be.

“On both the city side and the school side, this is the greatest shift I have seen from the state to municipalities, in certainly the nine years I’ve been doing this,” Carter said at the workshop.

Despite the budget crunch, Carter said he believes a proposed public works facility is necessary for the city. City staff have made a new building South Portland’s top priority. A referendum is scheduled to go in front of voters in November.

“We need to maintain excellent services and excellent schools with the needs of the taxpayers, that is the daily challenge,” Carter said.

Foster is a 23-year resident of South Portland who was appointed to South Portland’s Energy and Recycling Committee in July. Foster retired two years ago from a position as billing manager for Hannaford Bros. Co., and said he decided to run because he has the “time and the energy” to give back to his community.

Foster said the budget cuts from Augusta will “put a damper on the city and a lot of plans the city has,” and the council will have to take a hard look at all of its programs to protect residents, especially seniors on fixed incomes, from property tax hikes.

“Everybody has a program they love, not everybody needs that program,” Foster said.

Pock described himself as the “dark horse” of the special election. The carpenter and retired Navy officer has lived in South Portland for more than 40 years and decided it was time to stop “sitting on the sidelines.”

Pock said he supports LePage’s efforts to eliminate the state’s deficit, even if he believes the governor is a little “rough around the edges.” Pock hopes to hold city government accountable for budget figures he thinks have been “overestimated” in the past, to find savings in the city budget that will reduce the burden on taxpayers.

“They want to save for a rainy day. It’s raining,” he said.

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