A former longtime town clerk is running against a seasoned politician for a seat on the Board of Selectmen.

Louise Lester, Raymond’s town clerk from 2001 to 2014, will challenge a longtime selectman, Joe Bruno, for a three-year term on the Board of Selectmen at the June 9 election.

Lester, 70, said she would like to replace Bruno, 59, a Raymond selectman since 2006, in order to bring a fresh perspective to the board. In particular, she is critical of the board’s increasing willingness to float bonds since the town received a AAA rating from the Standard & Poor’s credit-rating agency in 2013 – a willingness she believes can be attributed to Bruno’s influence.

“He’s got a lot of history in Augusta and I think he’s brought it back to Raymond – the mentality of going out to bond for projects,” Lester said. “I may be wrong on that, but that’s the way it looks to me.”

Town officials, Lester believes, should be more reluctant to rack up debt.

“Thirty years ago, they didn’t use credit like we do today,” she said. “Towns didn’t borrow money unless they absolutely, positively had to, and now it seems like it’s just the way they do business, because credit’s easy to get.”

A Long Island native, Bruno moved to Maine in the late 1970s and served in the Maine House of Representatives from 1996 to 2004, acting as House minority leader for the Republican Party from 2000 to 2004. He also served as the Raymond board’s chairman from 2010 to 2012, and is the president and CEO of Community Pharmacies. Bruno said he was proud of his impact on the town’s budgetary policies.

“I think I had a major impact on the financial planning of the town,” Bruno said. “That’s why we got a AAA rating from Standard and Poor’s. We put policies in place that Standard & Poor’s looked at and said, ‘Those are sound financial decisions on a sound financial basis’ – the policies we put in place on the financing side of things. I think I spearheaded a lot of that.”

Bruno points to his involvement in the decision to impose a cap on the town’s undesignated fund balance, or surplus account – at 15 percent of the total budget – a decision that he believes is directly linked to the AAA rating. The credit rating has allowed the town to independently pursue bonds at about a 1.9 percent interest rate, according to Bruno. Before 2013, the town would bond through the Maine Municipal Bond Bank, with interest rates approaching 3 percent, he said.

Since 2013, voters have approved an $885,000 capital improvements bond and a $2 million road improvements bond package.

In Bruno’s view, bonding can be a valuable approach, if done wisely.

“If you’re making more money on your savings in the bank than what you’re paying in your interest on a bond, that’s when you bond money,” he said. “The town of Raymond has cash in the bank – we have investments in some money market things. Some of those investments are returning much more than a 1.9 percent interest rate. So you actually have a net gain there. You don’t always just sit on cash. Sometimes you actually have to make investments.”

Initially hired as a Raymond town secretary on Jan. 16, 1989, Lester became deputy clerk in 1996, and town clerk in 2001. She retired on June 30, 2014.

Born in New Jersey, Lester’s family moved to Raymond in 1950, when the town’s population was 750. Her father, James Hartley, built the marina that is now Port Harbor Marine. He was also a Raymond selectman, fire chief, and amateur radio operator. These days, Lester lives on Route 302 with a “barn full of horses,” across the street from her daughter, Charlotte.

“I think that I have a different look because of my history, having spent many years in the town office,” she said. “I kind of have a feel for what the citizens want. I think I am service-oriented so I can help people with problems that they have or complaints that they have and see if we can’t make it right.”

If elected, Lester said, she would like to investigate the possibility of investing in a town community center. She also said she would like to reassess the merits of trying to hold the property tax rate increase to zero annually.

“I think the idea of trying to keep the budget at a zero increase year after year after year is maybe not the right decision,” Lester said. “I would rather see the (capital improvements program) used more so that you’re saving money over a longer period of time and you won’t have the interest on a bond to pay.”

If re-elected, Bruno said he would like to continue investing in road improvements and ensuring that a fee is not imposed on curbside trash pickup service.

“I will put up my experience in the financial markets against anybody anytime,” Bruno said. “I think I’m pretty savvy when it comes to investments and how you spend money.”

“I think people need to look at my experience and my life and what I’ve done over the course of my life as far as what I’ve done in the business world, in the political world versus what Louise has to offer,” he added.

“I have a great deal of respect for Joe,” Lester said. “I think he’s a very bright man and he has served Raymond. It’s just I think I want to serve it in a different way.”

Louise LesterJoe Bruno

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