Diane Barnes is the new town manager for Lisbon.

Diane Barnes is the new town manager for Lisbon.

LISBON

Only days into her new job, Diane Barnes suited up in an orange shirt and helped sell Moxie soft drinks to thirsty patrons of the Moxie Festival.

If you’re going to be town manager in Lisbon, it comes with the territory. But also Barnes said expect to see her around town, volunteering at events, and introducing herself to business owners and community members.

After opting not to renew a contract with former town manager Steve Eldridge at the start of the year, the Lisbon Town Council began a search for a manager they felt would be the right fit for the town. In May, interim town manager Dale Olmstead announced that Barnes was the finalist candidate and the public was invited to a meet and greet with Barnes before the council conducted its final interview with her.

The first day of work, June 30, was hectic as Olmstead worked to get Barnes up to speed on some outstanding issues, mainly the need for the council to pass a budget by the end of July. The council has tried, but won’t be able to avoid a tax rate increase, she said. It has looked to increase revenue to offset the tax increase, updating fee schedules and asking Barnes to do a personnel study. The town will also go out to bid for services to try to attain savings.

Barnes was born and raised in Skowhegan and worked for the town for 21 years before accepting a position seven years ago as the city manager of Calais.

“That was great experience for me. I got to do a lot of different things that prepared me for this position,” Barnes said, adding she has probably done everything in municipal government that can be done. The city started an ambulance service, dealt with sewer and water fees in two separate enterprise funds as well, “so we’ve done all the utilities, the whole gamut now.”

Barnes has no children and her husband has a daughter living in California, so “at this point in my life and with my husband being on the Maine State Board of Corrections and my family ties, we needed to be in the central part of the states,” she said. That’s why she applied for the Lisbon manager position, noting she likes the location, the town council form of government, “and I think this is a great community, and it’s a good step up.” She and her husband will be moving to Lisbon when they sell their house and, in the meantime, she’s staying with her brother and father in Gorham.

Calais, with a population of about 3,100 people, is a service community for Washington County, serving about 15,000 people. People also come in from New Brunswick and with Washington

County Community College, the hospital and 2 million cars crossing the border in Calais annually, required full time fire and police departments and other municipal services.

Looking at Lisbon, the Route 196 corridor has a lot of potential, Barnes said, and hopefully the town can successfully land grants to make some improvements. She also noted the sewer infrastructure seems to be in good shape. The trail system in place and under construction is a huge asset for the town, she added, and will help draw people to town.

A big project the town faces moving forward is retrofitting the public works building that was damaged in a fire last winter, after voters turned down a bond in June to purchase or construct a new building.

A week before the Moxie Festival, Barnes said it would be her first festival and was looking forward to what should be a great way to meet people.

“Everyone has welcomed me so far,” Barnes said.

“I want to get out into the community and introduce myself to the businesses,” she said. “I’m very invested in the community that I work in, so I will be doing a lot of volunteering. You’ll see me at events , I’ll be around. That’s just what I do because it’s all about community.

“I do have an open door policy,” Barnes added. “Anybody can come to me with any type of concern or issue, any time. I can’t promise that I will solve it but I definitely will look into it and get back to them with an answer on it,” which may or may not be what they want to hear, she said.

With much of what is going on in government nationally, the municipal government is closest to the people where people’s frustrations may come out, and “they just want to be heard,” Barnes said.

But managers know they won’t please everyone and the issues sometimes are so complex.

“As long as the decisions you make are in the best interest of the community and they aren’t self-serving, at least you’ve got half the battle over,” Barnes said.

She said she can learn a lot from members of the public, especially Lisbon’s life-long residents who have great knowledge of the area.

“Everyone has something to offer. Communication is key,” Barnes said.

The public must be informed of projects and the town should post as much information as possible on it’s website.

Barnes also pointed to Positive Change Lisbon, a nonprofit organization incorporated in 2012 with the goal of bringing business, government and citizens together to make Lisbon a better place to live, work and play.

An organization with the positive focus of moving Lisbon in a good direction that is willing to embrace change.

“We need to have groups like that,” Barnes said. “Life is all about change. Nothing stays the same anymore even though we’d like it to, but it’s just not the way life works and you’ve got to be able to adapt to change.”


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