2016-05-20 / Community

In the Know

The race is on

Both at-large seats on the South Portland City Council are up this fall, and with term limits forcing Mayor Tom Blake to sit one out after nine years, the race is wide open. And already, candidates are lining up to throw their hats in the ring. First up is Grand Street resident Michael Pock. The self-employed carpenter and handyman held the District 1 seat on the council for one term, from 2011 to 2014, losing out on re-election to former mayor Claude Morgan, who rode an environmentalists wave into office alongside Brad Fox and Patti Smith. Pock was the lone dissenting vote against the Clear Skies Ordinance that banned “tar sands” oil from the city. Also up for re-election is at-large councilor Maxine Beecher. She did not respond to multiple Sentry requests for her November intentions. Environmental activist group Protect South Portland also did not respond to an inquiry asking if it will actively back a candidate, as it did in 2014, when it helped drive Pock from office. Still, whomever he faces, Pock says there is a great deal on the line with this election.

“The outcome of those two (at-large) races will definitely affect the future of South Portland for years to come,” he wrote in a May 8 email announcing his candidacy.

No interest

While Maxine Beecher has yet to announce if she’ll run for re-election this November for her at-large seat on the South Portland City Council, she definitely has no interest in at least one item on the ballot. At a May 9 council workshop, Beecher and her peers discussed the Stand Up for Students initiative, which would assess a 3 percent tax surcharge on incomes over $200,000 and earmark proceeds to K-12 public education.

Councilor Brad Fox asked for the workshop topic, drawing obvious frustration from some of his peers, including Claude Morgan, because no council action was requested by Fox – he simply wanted everyone to be aware of the issue. Some, including Councilor Patti Smith, said they might support a council resolution in support of Stand Up for Students closer to the November vote. However, Beecher was of another mind, especially given that the South Portland Board of Education has declined to weigh-in on the topic.

“I’m not the slightest bit interested in playing with this,” she said.

Superintendent Ken Kunin confirmed the school board also will stay out of the fight, writing in a May 11 email: “The school board advocates for its budget, for adequate funding for schools and for the state to meet the goal of covering 55 percent of the cost of pre-K to Grade 12 education. The school board does not, however, take positions on how that money is raised or on tax law in general.”

New assesor

The South Portland City Council got a first look at its new city assessor at a meeting Monday, May 16. On the job since April 15, Jim Thomas comes to South Portland from Saco, where he was assessor for the past two years. Before that he served as assessor in Freeport and Gray, while also running his own property mapping business, GisSolutions, which he founded in 1999.

“His strong (Geographic Information System) background is right in the wheelhouse of what we need here in South Portland,” said City Manager Jim Gailey.

Thomas’ education is just as impressive, with Gailey declaring that he has rarely “seen so vast an experience in education.” A certified Maine assessor since 1991, Thomas has an associate’s degree in computer science from Andover College, a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Maine, a master’s in public policy and management from the Muskie School of Public Service. He is working toward his doctorate in spatial information engineering at the University of Maine.

Thomas is no stranger to municipal politics. He lives in Cumberland where he is chairman of the town’s board of assessment review and serves on the local land trust board of directors. Thomas also brings something in the way of turnover savings to city hall. His base salary is $95,149. His predecessor, Elizabeth Sawyer, who retired at the beginning of the year after 30 years with South Portland, was making $97,691.

Albatross excised

South Portland no longer own an armory building. According to City Manager Jim Gailey, the final paperwork was signed Tuesday, May 17, completing the sale of the property to Priority Real Estate Group of Topsham. The city bought the armory, which was built in 1941 as a Works Progress Administration project, back in 2006 for $650,000. At the time it had an eye toward converting it into a new city hall, among other potential uses, but nothing ever got off the ground and the building languished in disrepair with very little put into it in terms of maintenance. Even renting it out never quite worked as plans for a glass museum and a short life as a film sound stage both withered on the vine. Finally, in November 2014, after it had been on the market for about six months, Priority agreed to buy the building for $700,000. The company will make way for 10 bays of gas pumps at the site by demolishing the armory’s 25,000-square-foot drill hall – an expansive space well remembered to locals as the site of community dances and basketball games. However, it will save the two-story armory office facing Broadway. Known historically as the Head House, the front section will become a convenience store, with offices on the second floor. It’s art deco reliefs of war armaments will be preserved. Making way for the gas station required a long zoning change process, while other issues complicated the closing. Gailey said Central Maine Power, which owns an easement running adjacent to the armory property, and had been asked to allow a foot path linking the Greenbelt Trail to Hinckley Park, signed off on the project late last week.

– Compiled by Staff Writer Wm. Duke Harrington.

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