Mike Foley said he will offer Westbrook residents a rare combination of youth and experience when he takes the oath of office Monday night as the city’s next mayor.

Westbrook’s new mayor, Michael Foley Jill Brady/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Foley, 32, defeated 72-year-old incumbent Mike Sanphy and two other candidates for the city’s top post in November. He said his election, along with other new faces in city leadership, portends a generational change of power in Westbrook.

Foley has too much experience to be called a fresh face – in high school, he served as a student representative on the school board and he’s been on the City Council for a dozen years.

But “my style of leadership will be different,” he said a few days before his inauguration while sitting in a mayor’s office that still bears Sanphy’s nameplate.

Still, Foley’s main focus will be familiar. He campaigned on a platform calling for fiscal responsibility, noting that property taxes have increased in recent years as Westbrook has undergone a transformation from a one-industry – papermaking – town into a suburban community that has attracted restaurants and younger residents.

“I’ve seen 32 years of change” in Westbrook, Foley said. The mill used to account for 40 percent of Westbrook’s property tax receipts, he said, but the industry’s troubles and change in ownership have reduced its valuation and the taxes paid. However, the development of Rock Row, a huge mixed-use project on the city’s border with Portland, will help ease the transformation, Foley said, and increased property values there will generate more taxes that will help strengthen the city’s balance sheet as it deals with growth and change.

He also hopes to expand a senior property tax break that failed to attract a lot of participation. Foley said the program was budgeted for $50,000 but expended only $22,000. The problem might be the program’s tie to the state’s “circuit-breaker” property tax program, Foley said, so any increase in funding might be linked to changes in the way the program is run in order to expand participation.

Foley also wants to see Westbrook get a better handle on traffic by hiring another enforcement officer to focus on speeding and dangerous driving, particularly in neighborhoods. An additional officer, he said, will allow the city to move a patrol to an area where complaints are being generated, while also keeping an eye on main roads and traditional traffic hot spots.

Beyond those bread-and-butter issues, Foley said Westbrook should be paying attention to things that may not generate an immediate payoff. He’s worked with Metro, the regional bus system, for years and wants to beef up service so commuters can leave their cars behind if they work in Portland. But he’s not sure a possible expansion of the rail system to Westbrook is the most cost-effective way to expand commuting options.

He also wants to explore ways to get more people to live downtown, switch streetlights to energy-efficient LED bulbs and look for ways to expand solar power generation in the city, both to offset Westbrook’s municipal electric bill and perhaps offer cheaper power to residents.

Westbrook’s new mayor, Michael Foley, loads a tree for Steve Rand of Raymond at the Westbrook-Gorham Rotary Club tree sale Friday afternoon. Foley says his leadership style as mayor will be very different from his predecessor’s. Jill Brady/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Westbrook has done a great job of attracting business, Foley said, and now he’d like the city to do more to make sure those enterprises stay in the city by starting a retention program.

“Nobody does that in the state,” he said.

Foley also plans to lobby the state to provide more funding to the city. He said taxes rose during the last eight years because of cuts in revenue sharing under the administration of former Gov. Paul LePage. With the Democrats back in power, Foley said, he will urge lawmakers and Gov. Janet Mills to reverse course and restore more aid to the state’s towns and cities. And within days of his election, he reached out to Portland Mayor-elect Kate Snyder, hoping to forge a strong relationship between the cities to improve their bargaining stance with the state.

Foley said he is also learning the impact of Westbrook’s strong-mayor form of government. Even though the post is considered a part-time job, Westbrook’s mayor, unlike most mayors in Maine, has a lot of hiring and firing power over city positions. When a rumor swept City Hall after the election that Foley planned to get rid of several top managers, he said, he immediately held a meeting to tell them he had no such plans, even though past mayors might have decided on a house-cleaning.

He wants more collaboration, Foley said, not less.

“My style of leadership will be very different,” he said.


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