SACO – Voters will have a choice Nov. 8 to elect a seasoned veteran of politics or someone relatively new to the city’s political beat as mayor.

Mark Johnston, 59, and Jeff Christenbury, 26, are vying for the top seat in the city.

Johnston, who spent 12 years as mayor previously, said he’s returning because he misses politics. The four-year hiatus since he last served was primarily to take a break.

“Last thing you want is to become so comfortable (in your position) you lose contact,” Johnston said.

Christenbury, who grew up in Saco and returned after college, served 18 months as a city councilor before moving to a different city ward. He said he’s running to bring a new vision to city hall.

“I’m coming in with fresh ideas,” Christenbury said. “I have a very good idea what Saco needs … if you’re looking for a fresh voice, someone who has an understanding of what we have to do in the next 10 years.”

The candidates agree the city’s budget is one of their top issues.

Johnston said his goal if elected is to rebuild the city’s reserve funds, which have been used up in the past few years to offset the budget and reduce impact on taxpayers.

“I want to reset at least 8 to 12 percent of our total budget in undesignated funds,” Johnston said, achieving that through under spending the budget, expanding the economy and raising taxes.

Christenbury called this last budget cycle “scary” and said future funding requires creative thinking.

“We need to look at budget cuts, service cuts, layoffs and look at the mil rate,” he said. “The last thing I want to do is lay people off, but we certainly have to look at it. We owe it to the citizens to look at creative ways to save us money and increase revenue.”

While they may agree on some things, Johnston and Christenbury take very different stances regarding Regional School Unit 23.

The city consolidated its school system with Dayton and Old Orchard Beach three years ago. This spring, Saco appealed to the Legislature to withdraw from the district, but the request was denied.

Despite that decision, Christenbury thinks Saco should reassess its schools and the district.

“I don’t think (the RSU is) the right fit for Saco,” Christenbury said. “I know Saco is paying the smaller share, but I wouldn’t mind paying more taxes if the money was going to Saco schools … I really think we need to reevaluate the RSU.”

Johnston disagrees, arguing the concern should be less about money and more about providing children in the three communities with the best education.

“It’s not just a financial issue,” he said. “This is a marriage, it’s a young marriage … it’s education experience and cooperation and sharing resources only to benefit the children.”

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

ebouthillette@pressherald.com