When Gray residents go to the polls on Tuesday, June 10, they will choose from among four candidates to fill two spots on the Town Council.

Running for three-year terms are the two incumbents, Marchian “Skip” Crane Jr. and Andrew Upham, and two challengers, Mark Grover and Peter Gellerson.

Crane, 48, is finishing his first term in office. A small business owner and real estate agent who moved to Gray 12 years ago, Crane has town politics in his blood: His dad, a longtime selectman, and his mom were honored this year for their long service to his hometown of Mechanic Falls.

Crane describes himself as fiscally conservative, and believes the spending increases in the town budget, which will also be on the June 10 ballot, are too much at this time.

“It’s a little aggressive for a year when people are struggling to pay their heating bills,” he said.

The 2010 census will show that Gray is growing, Crane said, and the town needs to be in a solid financial situation in order to tackle the rising costs of public safety and road repair that come with growth.

It is also a bad year to do a property revaluation, as home values are at a peak, he said. The recent rezoning of two areas in town – downtown and near the site of the proposed Hannaford supermarket – means more commercial development could come to Gray soon, he said, and it would not be included in a revaluation done this year.

“Business could take some of this extra tax burden if given a chance,” Crane said.

If elected to another term, Crane would support a comprehensive look at options surrounding the Pennell Institute building “before we jump in and spend a lot of money,” he said.

The town also needs to continue to press the state to work on traffic issues surrounding the busy downtown intersection, Crane said.

Gellerson, 59, has lived in Gray since 1979. He has served on the Planning Board for the last 10 years, and currently serves as its chairman. In his professional life, he spent 35 years working for Blue Rock Industries, a leading road builder in southern Maine. He is now employed by a small property management company in Portland.

While the increases in the budget approved at the town meeting may be more than people want to see, it contains a number of one-time costs, such as the new fire station, that represent important projects to the town, Gellerson said.

“I don’t see any fat in it,” Gellerson said of the budget. The town’s spending has been cut the last few years, so the increase seems worse than it is, he said. “Gray is playing catch-up.”

The town is positioned well to attract commercial investment that will help broaden its tax base, Gellerson said. Centrally located and close to Portland, with lots of undeveloped land, Gray can draw both families and businesses, he said.

The Hannaford store planned for Route 26 will give residents a top-quality grocer close to home, he said, while enticing other businesses to the area.

“Hopefully it will be a catalyst to see that tax base grow,” Gellerson said. “I think it has the potential to be a big draw.”

Gellerson would like to see a committee created to delve into the issues surrounding town properties. More space is needed for the town office, he said, but more information is needed to see if renovating Pennell Institute is the answer.

“My mind is not made up,” he said. “I want to see the economics of it.”

If elected, Gellerson said he would promote more interaction between the council and Gray’s citizenry.

“I’d like to see if I can get more people involved in town government,” he said.

Grover, 53, has been a Gray resident since 1996. He serves on the Comprehensive Plan Committee and the board of trustees for the Gray Public Library. He has a doctorate in computer science, and is a software engineer at DeLorme.

Politically independent, Grover said he is a “reasonable, moderate, middle-of-the-road kind of guy,” who could as councilor get the most from the knowledgeable people around him.

“Councilors need to have an open mind and good judgment,” he said. “They do not have to be experts. They have to encourage people to provide expertise.”

In the face of rising costs, the budget increase is reasonable, Grover said.

“I believe that the council and the town manager have done a good job, with only a 2.5 percent municipal tax increase,” he said. “I think that was very difficult to accomplish.”

Gray town government needs to be more inclusive, Grover said. The two petitions circulated last year to override council votes could have been avoided, he said.

“I believe they didn’t feel enough a part of the process,” said Grover.

He would also like to see the referendum process used more often, with up to four a year scheduled to give voters a chance to decide issues at the ballot.

With more people providing input, the town would be better able to make the tough decisions on how to use scarce resources, Grover said.

“I want the town to continue to have cautious fiscal policy, careful examination of how we spend money to avoid waste,” he said. “We cannot be afraid of making investments when the people are behind them.”

Upham, 57, was elected to the Town Council in 2005, and has served as the vice chairman since that time.

A retired veteran with more than 25 years in the telecommunication industry, Upham said he has helped apply business values to town government. Because the council instituted a system that tracks and explains how town funds are spent on everything from fixing the roads to processing a Planning Board application, residents are now able to compare expenditures year to year, he said.

“It’s important that we be able to demonstrate for our constituency that we spend our money wisely,” Upham said.

It is up to the council to substantiate to the people increases in the budget and tax burden, Upham said, something that has not be done with the current budget. By adding into this year’s budget costs that will have to be duplicated in the future, such as the half payment for the revaluation, the town is setting itself up for future problems, he said.

“We are creating a platform that is not sustainable in the long term,” Upham said.

The town needs to look for savings in all areas of local government, he said. For instance, with a little training and part-time help, the town could complete the revaluation internally.

“We could get out of this a little cheaper,” Upham said.

In some areas, particularly public works, the town needs to maintain equipment and personnel in order to support growth, he said.

If elected to another term, Upham would like to see the council find a new home for town government. Stimson Hall, for example, is too big for regular council meetings but too small for the annual town meeting.

The first priority for town office space should be efficiency, he said.

“They shouldn’t necessarily occupy prime business property, just because it would be nice,” Upham said. “I would look for a scalable facility” so it can be expanded as needed, he said.

He would also urge the council to take up parts of the dormant comprehensive plan. The best way to take on the implementation process is a bit at a time, he said.

“The Town Council should pick a few things and get them done,” Upham said.

Andy UphamPeter GellersonMark Grover

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