Tension between funding schools and keeping the tax rate stable is a major issue in the race for Westbrook City Council in Ward 4.

But both candidates say they are looking for ways to maintain funding while easing the reliance on property taxes.

Both the incumbent, Gary Rairdon, and his challenger, Isabel Mullin, say they recognize that people want good schools, but they also worry about the impact of higher property taxes that may result.

Mullin, 30, said that’s the reason she launched her first-ever race for public office this year in the ward that encompasses the west side of the city. She said the children in her neighborhood “are an energetic group, and I wanted to make sure they have the schools they need.” Rairdon, 54, who has represented the ward on the council for five years, said he, too, supports good schools, but the impact on the tax rate deserves attention.

“We have wants and we have needs and it’s important that we toe that line” and recognize the difference between the two, Rairdon said. “There’s got to be a ceiling on taxes – they can’t go up and up.”

Both candidates agree that the city should consider ways of paying for school and other municipal costs without relying solely on property taxes.

Rairdon proposed an impact fee plan a year ago, but the council voted it down. Impact fees are special assessments on developments that are based on the impact of new houses, industry or retail projects on local resources. The fees are intended to offset that impact.

Rairdon said his fee plan would have taken into account the impact of development on the schools – an increase in the number of students from a new housing development, for instance – and on the city’s sewer system.

Mullin said she agrees that an impact fee is appropriate and said that if she’s elected, she will attempt to get the council to tackle the issue again, possibly with a fee that’s lower than what Rairdon proposed.

Rairdon said the council and the School Committee should meet more often, not just when the committee has drafted a school budget. He said quarterly meetings would be more appropriate, so the council has a good sense of the needs of the schools as they emerge, rather than when they appear in the budget documents.

“That’s been a challenge for the last five years,” he said.

Both candidates said they are enthused about Rock Row, a major housing-retail development proposed for the site of a former quarry on the Westbrook-Portland border.

Rairdon said the new development would create jobs and strengthen the city’s tax base. Mullin said she also thinks the proposal is promising, but wants to wait until the final plans are presented to say whether she will back the project.

Rock Row will likely go before the City Council over the winter under a contract zoning package.

Mullin said the issues facing the city convinced her to run this year. She said she’s worked on campaigns for other candidates in the past, but running herself is a much different experience.

“It’s exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time,” she said.

Rairdon said he’s happy that politics in Westbrook aren’t “cutthroat.”

“We’re probably all aiming for the same thing, but we but might come at it from different perspectives,” he said.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]