YARMOUTH — With three Town Council posts up for grabs on the July 14 ballot, incumbents Tim Shannon and April Humphrey must fend off challenges from Tom Romano, former councilor Jim Macleod and Michelle Cromarty to retain their seats on the panel.

Councilor Richard Plourde did not seek re-election, making his seat the third available next month.

Meanwhile, Councilor Andrew Kittredge resigned June 5 after eight years on the panel. He said in a letter to Chairman Randall Bates that it was a decision with which he’d been struggling for a few months.

“I think at this time in my life this is the best decision for me,” Kittredge wrote. “I don’t feel good about leaving the council before my term is up, but I think it is what I need to do for myself and for the residents of Yarmouth.”

Kittredge could not be reached for further comment. Bates praised Kittredge’s “passionate and thoughtful contributions to Yarmouth” in a notice to the community, in which he said there is not enough time for the seat to be included on the July 14 ballot, but that a special election is likely to be held in the coming months.

All candidates spoke on why they support Yarmouth’s proposed $43.3 million fiscal year 2021 budget, which includes $28.9 million in school funding (up 8.7%), $13.1 million in town expenses (down 1.28%) and $1.2 million for Cumberland County tax (up 6%). The town and school budgets are on the July 14 ballot, as well as another $450,000 that would fund a variety of likely costs associated with coronavirus pandemic protections in the coming school year, such as face coverings, Plexiglas shields, air sanitizers, thermal scanners and hand sanitizer.

The economic strain caused by the pandemic caused town and school officials to pare an initial 7.95% projected tax hike down to 2.4%. The increase would be 3.85% with the $450,000 included.

Michelle Cromarty

Cromarty said she is “proud of the Town Council for coming together, and pulling off a budget that I think is sensitive to both the taxpayer and the needs of the town and the schools.”

She supports the COVID-19 funding “because it’s a good start,” but more will likely be needed, she said: “Hopefully we can get some state and federal funding to fill in the gaps.”

Cromarty said she would like to see greater female representation on the Town Council, “to reflect more of the population.”

If elected, she wants to ensure that Merrill Memorial Library and other institutions in town  benefit from all available funding resources, including grants. She also wants to expand and increase the STAY (Senior Tax Assistance Yarmouth) program, continue forward with Yarmouth’s Age-friendly Community action plan, and “work with public safety in an effort to slow traffic through town, exploring inexpensive, passive means, in order to make it safer for pedestrians, pets, cyclists, and motorists.”

April Humphrey

Even though she and her fellow councilors “started in really different places in terms of our priorities” concerning the budget, Humphrey said, “I feel like we all really came together in the end, and we worked in a really collaborative way to find areas of common ground, and to compromise with each other to come up with a budget that we could all support.”

The budget “balances the need to be fiscally conservative right now, in terms of respecting the economic conditions,” while recognizing the unanticipated costs to the schools from COVID-19 to safely reopen this fall.

Yarmouth’s greatest challenge is maintaining “a vibrant community with great schools and robust public services while also keeping it affordable for the people who live here,” she said. “Great schools, our excellent library, the community service programs parents depend on – these all cost money. People in Yarmouth generally are willing to invest in these things. The rising property taxes along with increasing cost of living makes it harder for some people to afford to stay here.”

In order to help reduce residents’ property tax burden while maintaining services, Humphrey said she wants to work on “economic development to grow our businesses, renewable energy and energy efficiency projects that reduce energy costs, advocating for the state to fully fund their share of education and local public services, and expanding tax relief to senior citizens on fixed incomes.”

Jim Macleod

Macleod supports the pared-down town and school budgets, noting that “the budget season started with a very high percentage, and I think it got down to the right level, given the COVID situation.”

If returned to the Town Council, Macleod said he would like to be “a good steward” of Yarmouth. “I would avoid bringing a personal or a political agenda,” he said.

Financial sustainability for the town and taxpayers alike is a priority for him.

“I don’t think there’s enough financial literacy that goes into the conversations and the decision making,” he said, “and that’s not a slight on the candidates, but not everybody brings that perspective to the table. And I think a lot of problems in this country for municipalities relates to overextending themselves financially. So that’s where I think I could add value.”

Tom Romano

Romano said he is “OK” with the budget from the outside, and “from the inside, I respect the people who have done all the work to really look at it, and see what’s manageable and acceptable for this year.”

Yarmouth has “got some challenges,” he said, noting investments in the schools (increased security, new classroom space, and specialized space for programs like art and music) that are underway, as well as the public safety building now under construction. “We’ve got a whole bunch of other priorities … and how are we going to manage that?”

Romano said he can offer his expertise in managing budgets, so that the burden on the taxpayer is spread out gradually: “If we don’t do it well, the taxpayer pays a lot for it; if we do it well … it creates the right balance (to get) what the town needs.”

The town must “set the priorities of where it wants to go,” and when developing its budget “very much bear in mind the capacity of every citizen who has to pay for that,” Romano said.

Tim Shannon

Calling himself “a vocal and passionate supporter of our schools,” Shannon said he fought hard against some of the proposed budget cuts during council deliberations. But “it’s a compromise process,” and despite strong opinions the members worked well together, he added.

Shannon said he “helped spearhead” the $450,000 in COVID-19 funding, noting concerns about the effects of social isolation the past few months on students forced to learn from home. The funding could include trauma response training for each school.

He would like to continue “greening the transfer station” by improving recycling with a second hopper, and “look for opportunities to lower our carbon footprint, and hopefully save money in the process.”

Shannon wants to continue to support Yarmouth’s schools and seniors. He would also like to expand the town’s annual gun give-back initiative he’d originally proposed, which last year accumulated more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition. With the Maine Gun Safety Coalition and other communities picking up the effort, “it’s a classic example of addressing a national problem at the local level.”

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