GORHAM — Growth, taxes and a new high school top the list of concerns of the three Town Council incumbents and three challengers in the upcoming municipal election.

The expiring three-year terms are those of Town Council Chairman Benjamin Hartwell and Councilors James Hager Jr. and Paul Smith. Richard Davis Jr., Tyler Gowen and Janet Kuech are also seeking seats on Nov. 5.

Major issues in the town include providing services to a growing population, overcrowded schools, a looming multi-million dollar high school project and a need to lure more businesses to ease the tax burden on homeowners. In a move to broaden the tax base, voters will also be asked next month to spend $5.9 million to buy and develop a tract of land along Main Street to expand industry in town.

The high school opened in 1959 and was remodeled in the 1990s for 750 students. Enrollment was 868 last year and will likely rise to 975 in 10 years. An initial cost for a high school renovation/expansion earlier this year came in at $96.8 million but two newer options are pegged at $75.6 million and $71.9 million. If approved by the Town Council, a proposed project without state funding would go to voters in a future referendum.

Richard Davis

Davis said he’s heard the high school would be the second-largest school project in the state and without state financial help could add about $1,000 to an average homeowner’s tax bill. “It’s more than people can afford,” he said.

Davis doesn’t favor the town spending $5.9 million for an industrial park and advocates leaving it up to developers. “We don’t belong in the development business,” he said of town government.

He also opposes government intrusion in peoples’ lives.

Tyler Gowen

Gowen said growth is inevitable and he wants to help plan for it. “I would say the No. 1 concern is growth based on the Portland housing crisis,” Gowen said, “and providing services.”

He recently saw a studio apartment rental in Portland listed for $1,700 a month. He said price gouging is forcing people out of the cities and into towns like Gorham.

Gowen is seeking election to help manage “growth appropriately” as outlined in the town’s comprehensive plan. He hopes that more businesses would be attracted to Little Falls and Gorham Village.

James Hager

Hager said he would like to see a resolution with the high school. “I would have to think this high school is the No. 1 concern,” Hager said, specifically, “the cost of a high school.”

The community will continue to grow, Hager said. “The bottleneck now is the high school,” Hager said, and from what he’s hearing, “there’s still a debate where it should go.”

Hager is experienced in school construction and wants to continue serving the community. He supports industrial expansion, including the town’s purchase of the Main Street tract.

Benjamin Hartwell

Hartwell cites “managing growth and keeping taxes down” as the top issue in Gorham. “I would like to see more mixed-use, integrating residential apartments, for example, with commercial because then you’re building a lot less infrastructure to maintain in the future,” Hartwell said.

For a high school project, Hartwell would like prefabricated buildings looked at as an option. He said he is seeking re-election to see projects through, including the town buying the Main Street property for industrial use.

Janet Kuech

Kuech said the issues are growth, schools and taxes. “If you talk to parents, it’s about schools and overcrowding,” she said.

With her roots in a Vermont family farm, Kuech would work to save rural and scenic areas. She favors the referendum to expand industrial lots.

As an employee of the School Department running for office, Kuech faces the possibility of not being allowed to serve, if elected. She said she has received legal advice that she could serve on the council. “I wouldn’t run if I thought I couldn’t be seated,” she said.

Paul Smith

Smith said the biggest town challenge is attracting businesses, both commercial and industrial.

He favors the town buying the land tract for industrial purposes, noting that it is already served with sewer, water and gas. “We’ll get all our money back in time,” Smith said.

Noting that a referendum on a proposed high school project would require Town Council approval, Smith said there are still “too many wants” rather than needs being floated in the building proposals. He’s seeking another term “to watch on the spending.”

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