WESTBROOK – There are three contested Westbrook City Council seats, in wards 2, 4, and 5, for the November election, with two candidates running for each seat.

This week, the American Journal asked each candidate the same three questions to get a snapshot of each candidate’s opinions on current issues in Westbrook. These are the responses:

Ward 2

Victor Chau (D), incumbent

Address: 18 Dale Ave.

Political experience: Serving first term as city councilor

Q: What, in your opinion, is the best way for the city to pursue economic development over the next few years?

A: Using the momentum of Idexx and their new expansion, along with their 500 new jobs, this should be a magnet for other businesses to come to Westbrook and follow their incredibly successful business model. The Five Star Industrial Park is our Silicon Valley and would be one of the best ways to encourage, pursue and attract more economic development over the next few years.

Q: How can the city encourage growth in the downtown area without placing further burden on the taxpayers?

A: By making it our top priority to encourage, support, help and continue the current administration’s efforts to lobby Sappi into installing a whitewater kayaking destination on the Presumpscot River, in conjunction with their fish ladder project near the Saccarappa Park and Riverbank Park. This would not add any extra cost to Sappi or the city, and would tremendously benefit downtown Westbrook, the entire city of Westbrook, and greater Portland as well. Westbrook would become a place you drive to, not drive through.

Q: What other issue should be top priority for Westbrook over the next few years?

A: A top priority in Westbrook should be planning for the future. In the past few years, we have been seeing less revenue coming to the city. Cuts in state aid not only to the city but especially our schools have hurt us, and are expected again for the 2012 budget season. The current City Council and the Hilton administration have been working, making us more resistant to the damaging cuts in our local share of state revenue, which tremendously affect our schools and property tax rates. More of this same effort is needed for the next round of cuts.

Matt Maloney (R)

Address: 93 Seavey St.

Political experience: None

Q: What, in your opinion, is the best way for the city to pursue economic development over the next few years?

A: By reducing regulations and adopting an attitude of localism, we can foster a job-friendly environment. Westbrook needs to be a more desirable city than any other surrounding community, for business owners and citizens alike. That means reducing excessive red tape and welcoming diverse business. We need to let people know that if they choose to invest here with their lives, families, and business, we will let them thrive.

Q: How can the city encourage growth in the downtown area without placing further burden on the taxpayers?

A: I view localism and volunteerism as key to a successful downtown. Take, for example, the Portland Buy Local campaign. It’s a great example of educating folks about keeping your dollar in the community.

Our current council seems to have a problem with wanting to micromanage nearly every aspect of the city, especially local business. Instead, we need to let the downtown grow organically and stop trying to force it.

Taking more money away from people who are already living on the edge is immoral. The budget needs to again be reviewed, frozen, and instead of cutting essential services, like police and fire protection, we need to evaluate the nonessential “nice to have” programs if we want to see Westbrook grow without increasing the tax burden.

Q: What other issue should be top priority for Westbrook over the next few years?

A: Transparency will be a top priority for me on the council. Recent staffing drama and poor financial audit results have been an embarrassment, and put the city in a vulnerable position. I hope that transparency in all areas will help prevent these issues moving forward, and shed more light on where our tax dollars are being spent.

Ward 4

Dorothy Aube (D), incumbent

Address: 185 Brown St.

Political experience: Serving third term as city councilor

Q: What, in your opinion, is the best way for the city to pursue economic development over the next few years?

A: I think encouragement of economic development over the next few years is going to be extremely challenging. I was looking at the report from the economic summit that was held in 2006 and again in 2007. The basic vision/mission documented there is still true now.

Marketing the city is important. Those of us who live here know how much Westbrook has going for it, but I’m not sure we’ve been very good at highlighting those qualities outside our borders. I think the idea that we are identified as a mill town has worked both for us and against us over the years. I think we promote the richness of our past and the prosperity of the golden years of the mill. We have so much valuable infrastructure in this city – that is a huge asset to be promoted. As we keep that history in mind, we should continue to pursue high-tech industry in the city, promote and develop our downtown, and value our relationships with well-established businesses.

Our city staff is known for the system it uses to assist new businesses who want to locate themselves in Westbrook. They have a very good reputation in the area for making what can be tedious and expensive as efficient as possible.

The review and revision of the comprehensive plan is vital, as well. Making sure this is a plan that accurately describes what we as a community want for our city. Economic development and community development go hand in hand, so the goal is not just to get as much business as we can into the city, but to grow in a way that promotes the best quality of life for its citizens as well as its businesses.

Q: How can the city encourage growth in the downtown area without placing further burden on the taxpayers?

A: Encouraging growth in the downtown is also strongly connected to the comprehensive plan. I think that what happens at Saccarappa Park as well as the gateway area is going to be key in how the downtown develops. The Riverwalk is a very important feature of the downtown and is a very attractive asset for the city. I love the idea of growing upward in the downtown and incorporating residential, retail and commercial development. Having a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week downtown is a way to attract business so that there is less burden on the tax payer.

Q: What other issue should be top priority for Westbrook over the next few years?

A: How we capitalize on what we have as a city with where we want to go is crucial. Continuing to develop strong community, government, and business ties is essential. Continuing to make sure that citizens get the best education and services from their city without huge tax increases. Also, I think that how we capitalize on the growing diversity of our population will speak volumes about the future of Westbrook.

Ernest Porell (R)

Address: 53 Conant St.

Political experience: Serving first term as a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals

Q: What, in your opinion, is the best way for the city to pursue economic development over the next few years?

A: Economic development starts with the code of ordinances and the planning department. This is where our economic development as a city either dies or thrives. My website at www.11-8-11.com gives a more detailed opinion on this subject. The best way to pursue economic development is to remove roadblocks built into our code of ordinances and to direct our personnel to assist new and existing businesses in overcoming obstacles in order to help them accomplish their objectives.

Q: How can the city encourage growth in the downtown area without placing further burden on the taxpayers?

A: Parking, advertising, access. Our No. 1 resource in Westbrook is traffic. We need to catch this traffic like catching fish in a net. I would bet that most commuters do not know what half of the businesses are here in Westbrook.

To start the ball rolling, I think we should look at our code regarding signs. We should at the very least have signage that acts like a “Yellow Pages” for customers traveling through Westbrook. All commuters should know all that we have to offer, where to get it, where to turn and where to park.

Part 2 is to turn the backside of Main Street into the front side of William Clarke Drive. When commuters go through Westbrook on William Clarke Drive there really isn’t much to see, but there could be. I think that re-orienting our Main Street buildings to attract William Clarke Drive traffic will work wonders. To facilitate upgrades, maybe the city can offer low-interest or no-interest loans to these businesses for this purpose. Also, I see no reason why Westbrook cannot have it’s own outlet village. Let’s capitalize on our natural resource: traffic!

Q: What other issue should be top priority for Westbrook over the next few years?

A: Our top issue is crime. Let’s face it – there are streets that I certainly would not my son riding his bike on; maybe nothing would ever happen, but I wouldn’t take the chance. Westbrook wasn’t like this years ago, it was more like Mayberry.

The good news is that we have a good solid police force who put themselves between us and the bad guys. Great job! One way we can help our police is on the rental real estate side of things; criminals usually look for a cheap ride or a free ride so they look for a place where they don’t think they will be asked a lot of questions. I own an apartment building with modestly priced rentals here in town and all of my tenants are good, decent people. No issues, no bad guys, no people worries. Why? Because I have criminal and credit background checks done. I’ve avoided renting to “really nice” drug traffickers, white-collar criminals, domestic violence types, etc., because I actually did the check.

Another problem presented by thugs is that they know just how far they can go and not get arrested. The result is that the law-abiding citizen next door starts looking to move as soon as possible. The only types who don’t mind living next door to a crook is, you guessed it, another crook, so there goes the neighborhood. I know we can do some simple things to incent landlords to be more selective and this will be an important part of cleaning things up.

Gary Rairdon (unenrolled)

Address: 20 Webster St.

Political experience: Charter commission member, ran unsuccessfully for School Committee in 2009

Q: What, in your opinion, is the best way for the city to pursue economic development over the next few years?

A: In order for a city to have economic development, you need to be able to think outside the box. We can’t continue doing business the same way we’ve been doing right along. There needs to be a balance between development and the taxpayers. When we see a business, or a project for consideration we need to know what impact it will have on our citizens of this city. I’m all for growth, but at what cost.

Q: How can the city encourage growth in the downtown area without placing further burden on the taxpayers?

A: Again, I feel that we need to be able to think outside the box. Growth doesn’t always mean raising taxes. Having a true partnership with town businesses coming together to produce a great environment. Getting the business to re-invest within the community.

Q: What other issue should be top priority for Westbrook over the next few years?

A: The way we do business needs to change. With tough economic times, we really need to take a hard look at our spending and ask ourselves, is this a “want or a need.” I know as a taxpayer, I ask myself that very question day in and day out.

Ward 5

Michael Sanphy (D), incumbent

Address: 28 Temple St.

Political experience: Serving first term as city councilor

Q: What, in your opinion, is the best way for the city to pursue economic development over the next few years?

A: We need to be business friendly and customer friendly. I think we need to get a committee together, with merchants, maybe members of the planning board, to brainstorm how we can make things business friendly and customer friendly for people. I think the biggest thing is, we need to work with people.

Q: How can the city encourage growth in the downtown area without placing further burden on the taxpayers?

A: The days of the taxpayer being all things to all people are over. We simply can’t afford it anymore. We need to look at what we’re doing wrong and fix it. There are other sources of money. Grants are available – look for them. Are there other outlets for money? Can we encourage other people to come here and invest in the community?

Q: What other issue should be top priority for Westbrook over the next few years?

A: Making the community attractive to people, so that people will want to come here, either to do business or live.

Michael Lawson (R)

Address: 422 Brook St.

Political experience: Ran unsuccessfully for City Council and state Legislature

Q: What, in your opinion, is the best way for the city to pursue economic development over the next few years?

A: I feel we should use the town’s resources such as the Presumpscot River. If we start using this waterway, we could draw a large population of people. That would bring well-needed money to the local business in the downtown area. I was on the Wescott re-use committee. I think that if we would have a day care and a Head Start program there (at the Fred C. Wescott Building), then when Westbrook solicits large corporations to move their headquarters here we can show them a great day care and Head Start program at our community center that is a great selling point.

Q: How can the city encourage growth in the downtown area without placing further burden on the taxpayers?

A: We need to look at what is working in other towns, such as an ice rink like the one in Falmouth. There have been a couple of studies on this idea, and it would be a great way for Westbrook to start bringing in money in so many different ways. School sports is another way to start bringing in revenue for the schools.

Q: What other issue should be top priority for Westbrook over the next few years?

A: Westbrook should start lining up projects for when the economy turns around we can hit the ground running. I also feel that it isn’t right for the cuts to always come out of the workers in the front lines. I feel management should always be the first to do what’s needed. I am not saying they should be let go, but perhaps they could take a cut in pay, or pay for gas when they take home vehicles, (or) perhaps pay for a portion of the insurance. There are a lot of small things that can be done that will add up to real money, but someone needs to speak up on these issues, instead of firing the teachers, firemen, or police officers, or do what they always do, which is the real butt burner, is raise taxes.

I don’t know the whole story on this project. Why are we paying to have a building taken down when the building is privately owned? I am sure someone has a great answer, but when taxes go up and teachers are let go, this is a question that should be asked. We pay for a building to be taken down, then the tax revenue for this building goes down to an empty lot. That brings the town’s tax revenue down. That seems to be the wrong direction.


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