CUMBERLAND — Although he faced no opposition three years ago, Town Councilor Bill Stiles faces two challengers this year for his Cumberland Center seat: Jason Record and Allison Foster.

Tom Gruber, another councilor whose term is expiring, is running against Carlton “Will” Albright; their profiles will appear in a future Forecaster edition.

The candidates discussed the town and school budgets, whether a new primary school is needed for School Administrative District 51 and an objective they would like to tackle if elected to the council.

The town had originally proposed a $11.55 million municipal budget for fiscal year 2021 that would raise spending 6.8%, but given the economic strain caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the Town Council has instructed Town Manager Bill Shane to develop a budget that has no increase in spending; he said he expects his new proposal to be less than the current $10.8 million budget.

SAD 51 earlier this month rolled out a $40.3 million spending plan for next year that is up 4.96%.

The town has postponed Election Day from June 9 to July 14, to allow more time for the pandemic to ebb.

Allison Foster

Regarding the town and school budgets, Foster questioned whether the Greely Center for the Arts – a $9.5 million facility that opened in 2019 – was “the most efficient spend of money at the right time. That’s where, sometimes, some new perspective can be good.”

Concerning a new school, Foster noted “our community is growing and I think that it is something we have to explore.” Given that SAD 51 closed two schools within the past decade, she understands why some would bristle at new construction, but pointed out that North Yarmouth Memorial School, for example, closed not just due to declining enrollment but also because of the cost of bringing the building to modern standards.

The six modulars at the over-capacity Mabel I. Wilson elementary school consume playground space, “and that isn’t a long-term strategy,” Foster said. “And the growth that we have seen in our community is coming from true household growth, not just a birth rate change.”

With expenses to support Cumberland’s growing community increasing, “it would be prudent for us to review all facets of our Senior Property Tax Assistance program,” she said. “… While a full review of tax revenues would be required, my preliminary understanding leads me to believe there could be an opportunity to increase the program’s support of the seniors in our community through changes in any one or multiple components of the program, including the qualifications, maximum refund and benefit calculations.”

Jason Record

While he doesn’t oppose “a budget that roughly follows inflation,” Record said, “though the mil rate isn’t effected greatly, there are areas of the budget that have grown much, including maintenance and debt service. (L)ooking at efficiencies within the budget might be helpful.”

Record called it “frustrating” to be in a situation where a new school is proposed and he is “hesitant to endorse a $40 million spend, given the current climate and recent spending.”

Record would “rather see us make due longer with what we have, as long as we aren’t truly being penny-wise, pound-foolish,” he said. “Especially given recent economic changes, it is hard to trust the student population projections previously published. If we must build something, I’d like to see it within the existing complex, as those efficiencies of scale will save much money over time versus having it remote.”

Record, who plans to step down from the Planning Board if elected, also said he would “like to do more to regulate growth.”

He wants a “proper” sidewalk down Blanchard Road, as opposed to just paved shoulders, and supports Cumberland’s aging-in-place initiatives to maintain the town’s “feel” and indirectly regulate growth.

Bill Stiles

Stiles, a councilor for most of the past 23 years, said the town “does a great job” presenting a fair budget, but that the school district “sometimes doesn’t see the forest for the trees. I think they’re more concerned on trying to (adhere to) a state mandate than the pocketbook of the town.”

He sees a new school as being an additional expense, but recognizes the need for additional classroom space.

“Whether it can be done without a new school, that’s for them to decide,” Stiles said. “I just know that when I went to school, which was back when they were still making dirt, we had two or three classes in one classroom; we had many more students per classroom than they have now. And I know the times have changed, but nonetheless.”

Stiles said he would like to see more regionalization among communities, and “find ways to be cost-effective with everything.” Having five children and one grandchild who are all Cumberland taxpayers, he said, “we all struggle with the tax burden. My hope is to be able to reduce that somehow.”

He noted that he has “a working and institutional knowledge” of tax increment financing districts, along with “bond debt schedule and capital improvements which need careful oversight due to the current financial crisis.”

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