WESTBROOK – Mayor Colleen Hilton made Westbrook history in 2009, becoming the city’s first female mayor and unseating three-time mayor Bruce Chuluda.

Shortly after her election, Hilton continued to grab the spotlight with very public changes to city government, removing Fire Chief Daniel Brock and Finance Director Sue Rossignol, in order to consolidate their positions into new combined roles. She also worked to help settle sexual harassment lawsuits filed against the city by two female firefighters.

Those decisions have earned her praise and criticism, and also led to one lawsuit by Brock for wrongful termination that the city settled out of court. Now, Hilton, a Democrat, is looking to extend her tenure as mayor. This week, she answered the same questions provided Chuluda. These are her responses:

Q: What do you feel is the biggest obstacle to economic development in Westbrook?

A: I believe the biggest obstacle to economic development is the obvious one: the economy is challenging all communities. Our city is no different. We are experiencing declining revenues from most sources, but we are also fortunate in that we have weathered this economic downturn better than most. Our vacancy rate in our businesses is better than average. Westbrook is fortunate to be able to attract and maintain an organization like Idexx that has recently announced their $60 million planned expansion. We’ve seen Sasha Cook expand his real estate holdings in Westbrook with a commitment to small business growth in the Dana Warp Mill, and we’ve seen other thriving business development in the industrial and technical sectors. Sappi has also experienced growth in the past two years with more planned job growth.

Q: How can the city improve economic development while putting the smallest burden on the taxpayers?

A: We can continue to build upon the many businesses within our city that are doing well and continue to work aggressively to attract new business with an eye toward the many regional efforts we are involved with. Our partnership with the Greater Portland Economic Development Corp. is helpful to achieve this in collaboration with the Greater Portland region. Additionally, we need to maintain our commitment to our educational systems so that we can produce a workforce that has the skill set that our businesses need in order to succeed. As the mayor and along with city leadership we continue to advocate with Augusta to help navigate quickly and efficiently through some of the regulatory requirements that can be burdensome to new and existing business.

Q: How do you plan to approach the task of balancing the budget while also keeping tax increases down?

A: I will continue to work as I have with all the elected officials. I can’t recall a time in our recent history where the City Council, School Committee, school leadership and city administration are collaborating and working year-round to ensure that we are fiscally conservative and strategic in our decision making so that we can deliver the services that our community expects while at the same time, keep the tax increases down.

I have had to make some very tough decisions in the past two years. We all value the work and the commitment that Westbrook city employees have and letting people go is never easy, but my focus has to be on providing the services that taxpayers expect and deserve at the lowest possible cost. This means reducing the administrative cost whenever possible. I’ve done this by consolidating financial operations with city and schools, combining fire, rescue, dispatch and police into one public safety department and continuing to enhance other city/school operations wherever possible. Our consolidation of the recreation department into a full-service community services program allowing us to co-locate all under one roof at the Fred C. Wescott Building has enabled us to offer more programs that are generating revenue, expanding recreation services throughout the city, consolidating leases that were previously found all over the city and in many cases supported by taxpayers. We’ve recently brought general assistance services to the Westbrook Community Center as well, which resulted in savings. I will continue to look at all creative options to realize minimal impact to the taxpayers of Westbrook.

Q: In the past two years, a number of changes have consolidated some city positions and services. Do you feel this trend should continue, and if so, where should further consolidations be?

A: School, human resources, finance, maintenance, custodial, IT, public safety, rescue service billing, some parks/grounds work, building engineering, to name a few, but further refinement is needed in all areas to truly realize the savings. Many of these are working well and some require continued attention to achieve true consolidation. Keep in mind we also need to look outside the city of Westbrook as we have in areas such as our city assessor services. In my tenure, we have explored other possible regional consolidations, some simply didn’t look to produce the savings and so we didn’t move forward with them, but I will continue to explore them as well as the option of outsourcing.

Q: What other issue not discussed above do you feel needs to be on the city’s radar?

A: I believe we need to continue to strengthen the fiscal policies for the city of Westbook to ensure that we are good stewards of the taxpayer dollars. Much of my first two years has been consumed with ensuring that the city’s financial house is in order. An extraordinary amount of my time and that of our CFO’s time in the past two years has been spent making sure the city’s financial records are an accurate reflection of transactions, appropriately accounted for and transparent to all. We needed to bring in a new outside audit firm to help us straighten the city’s financial records. We recently brought forward to the City Council new financial policies and procedures that will ensure our fiscal health. I don’t think there is anything more important than being good stewards with the taxpayers’ dollars.

City infrastructure: We can all be proud of the recent completion of the beautiful William Clarke Drive which has been about 12 years in the making, but there continues to be important infrastructure needs, some less visible, but equally as important. We have roads all over the city in need of repair, sidewalks that need attention, stormwater drainage, sewer needs, a public services building that is inadequate, etc. There are so many needs throughout our city and unfortunately they require attention, and investment. The community will weigh in on this during the budget process.

Education funding: I wish I had a crystal ball for what our state will do with education funding, but I anticipate that it will most likely continue to decline. As I meet with residents and as I go door to door, I am frequently told that the choice to locate and move to Westbrook was due to our outstanding educational system. This is a source of enormous city pride. I will continue to work with our School Committee to ensure that this commitment to education continues.

I’m also anticipating the completion of our 10-year comprehensive plan. Molly Just, our city planner, has led a broad-based community task force with an intensive review of this important document. This plan, once complete and adopted will serve as the Strategic Plan and Vision for the city and will inform future ordinance, development and planning efforts.

Colleen Hilton

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