Gorham voters will pick two candidates for the Town Council from a field of five seeking three-year terms in the municipal election next month.

Incumbent Suzanne Phillips, a former council chairwoman, faces four challengers: James Hager, Christopher Kelley, Charles “Lou” Simms and George Vercelli. The second available seat is now held by council Vice Chairman Ron Shepard, who did not seek reelection.

Growth of the town, a more diverse tax base, and taxes are prime concerns cited among the candidates. Gorham’s population has increased from 16,368 in 2010 to an estimated 18,343, a 12% jump, and the number continues to rise. The current tax rate is $13.75 per thousand dollars of property valuation, up from $12.85 last year, representing a 7% increase. The hike comes on the heels of a revaluation of homes last year in the 51-square-mile town with large rural areas.

Baxter Memorial Library will host a meet-the-candidates night at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 18. The election is Nov. 7.



Jim Hager, a planning board member and a former Town Council vice chairman, said there is no single issue “hurting” the Gorham taxpayer.


“Inflation is growing faster than our population, and is outpacing income. Local tax increases are an added burden,” Hager said. “Land is being developed and proposed subdivisions will add hundreds of new residents and students.”

The town’s services and schools, Hager said, will become further stretched.

“On any given day, there are many other issues that need attention,” Hager said, “I hope to work with other councilors to prioritize these, and appropriate the needed resources.”

Hager served two terms on the Town Council until 2022, when he did not seek reelection. He was a member of several council subcommittees, including the Finance Committee, and he was the town’s representative to the ecomaine board. He also served several terms on the School Committee, including two stints as chairman, and chaired the middle school and Great Falls School building committees.

A political independent, Hager is 67 and married with two children. He attended a technical high school in Boston and studied at Northeastern University and Wake Technical College in North Carolina.




Christopher Kelley cites “a diversified tax base” as the No. 1 issue that needs to be addressed.

“We really need to work on creating more space for business/commerce here in town to help offset our rising tax burden while balancing that with the character of our community,” he said.

Kelley said town departments will only become more expensive to operate.

“We need to grow our revenue pie to keep up with the growing demands of a growing community,” he said.

This is Kelley’s second run for the council after garnering 2,165 backers last year in a strong but unsuccessful bid in a seven-way race for three seats.

Unenrolled in any political party, Kelley, 42, is married with two children and employed as a sales representative. He served for seven years on the Gorham Economic Development Board, four of them as chairman. He also was a counselor for several years with the American Legion’s Boys State program. He has a business finance degree from the University of Maine.




Suzanne Phillips, a three-term councilor, says the top issue facing Gorham is “managing our growth.”

“How can we attract and retain business and at the same time slow down residential growth while planning for our future?” she said.

It’s similar to fitting pieces of a puzzle together to make it “affordable and sustainable” to live and work in Gorham, she said.

“One of my priorities has always been to be fiscally responsible with taxpayer money,” Phillips said. “I have worked on streamlining the planning process for businesses, putting ordinances in place to slow our rate of residential growth, creating trails and open spaces for the public to use, as well as creating new areas for businesses.”

Phillips proposed and organized a workshop for elected town and school officials to work together to share needs and find efficiencies to benefit taxpayers.


Phillips, also a former School Committee member, is 47, not registered in any political party and is employed as the business coordinator at The Hop Yard. She is a Gorham native, a University of Southern Maine graduate and is active in multiple community groups. She is president of Gorham Historical Society and the former executive director of the Gorham Business Exchange.



Lou Simms singled out growth as the top issue facing the town.

“Gorham is a great place to live and market forces will continue raising our property values, while driving new housing developments our way,” he said. “This growth will strain our existing infrastructure and threaten the future of Gorham’s working farms and open spaces, which add great value to our unique quality of life.”

Schools must be funded at sufficient levels, he said. “I view education as a critical asset well worth our town’s collective investment – and taxpayers deserve transparency to ensure our funds are spent efficiently.”

He wants town councilors and school leaders to work together for solutions that “generate new revenue streams and find smart savings” to mitigate property tax burdens. He wants to attract new businesses to town to broaden the tax base.


A political newcomer, Simms, 44 and a registered Democrat, bought a Gorham home in 2020 and wants to more be involved in the community, he said.

“I can offer our council a fresh perspective and a strong business background to deliver effective compromise and build a sustainable future that works for all of us,” he said.

Sims is married with one child and is a senior investment officer at Maine Technology Institute. He has a degree in international studies from the University of Southern Maine and a master’s degree in resource management.



George Vercelli identified growth as the leading issue that impacts most all other issues in Gorham.

“Managing growth will help control the town’s budget, (which includes the school budget) and our property taxes,” Vercelli said.


Growth increases traffic, results in more roads and higher maintenance costs and adds more students, which increases the school budget, he said,

“Recently, a state law states that towns cannot have single family-only zoning and that homeowners are allowed to install auxiliary dwelling units in their yards, which can be rented. This law, along with the pending turnpike spur, may cause runaway growth,” he said.

The Town Council has budgeted funds for three 2024 planning documents, he said: the town’s Comprehensive Plan update, Main Street Master Plan update and the preparation of an Open Space Study and Plan.

“So let’s take the opportunity to participate and provide input on the three planning documents to the Town Council, with the goal of managing Gorham’s growth,” he said.

Vercelli, 77, is  retired and a registered Republican. A member of the town’s Conservation Commission, he also was previously involved with Boy Scouts and a number of professional associations. He launched a bid for a state House seat in 2020 but was unsuccessful.

A widower, he has two sons and a partner. He has a degree in civil engineering from New Jersey Institute of Technology and a master’s degree in civil/sanitary engineering from New York University.

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