Cumberland council candidates cautious on gravel pit vote

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CUMBERLAND — Three residents are running for the at-large Town Council seat being vacated by 12-year Councilor Jeff Porter.

Voters will decide on June 14 whether Thomas Gruber of Foreside Road, Sally Leavitt of Morgan Lane or Michael Edes of Edes Road – all seeking their first elected office – will replace Porter for the next three years.

Councilor William Stiles is running uncontested for re-election to his seat representing Cumberland Center. Robert Vail and William Richards are also uncontested for their seats on the School Administrative District 51 Board of Directors, as is incumbent William Lunt III of Falmouth for the Portland Water District Board of Trustees.

Michael Edes

Edes, 52, is a lifelong resident who is married and has two children. He is a sergeant with the Maine State Police, where he has served 25 years. Prior to that he was on the Scarborough and Cumberland police departments.

He is president of the Maine State Troopers Association and for two years was chairman of the National Troopers Coalition. In the latter capacity, he said, “I had a lot of responsibilities for 45,000 troopers across the country. And when I got done with that, basically I wanted to do something back in my hometown.”

He has served on the town’s Personnel Appeals Board for six years, and he was on the board of directors of Jobs for Maine’s Graduates.

Edes declined to say if he supports or opposes a June 14 referendum question, required by a citizens’ petition, that calls for a gravel extraction ban in the town’s two Rural Residential zones.

“I would prefer to let the voice of the people speak,” he said.

Voters will also decide the fiscal 2012 School Administrative District 51 budget in a June 9 district budget meeting and a June 14 budget validation referendum. Edes said he supports the $28.9 million spending plan, which is up 2.93 percent from the current year.

The closure of Drowne Road School is also going before voters June 14; the 17,600-square-foot building is proposed to become a senior housing/community center as part of the Village Green project. Edes said he supports closing the school as a cost-saving measure – SAD 51 administrators have said the closure will save more than $244,000 next year – but he noted that a lot of residents have spent a lot of time there.

“It’s a sad time, but it’s the right thing to do,” he said, adding that he supports the kind of reuse that has been proposed.

Edes said he is running for the council with an open mind and that his only agenda is to do the best he can.

“I’m here for the long term,” Edes said. “I’m here to make positive effects for the future of Cumberland.”

He said “we have a couple areas in town that could use some good responsible business growth,” and that the quality of School Administrative District 51’s schools must be maintained.

Thomas Gruber

Gruber, 61, is married and retired from the U.S. Army and the health-care field. He worked in operations at Mercy Hospital for about 20 years and was later at Catholic Health East, where he began a supply-chain management program. He has spent 30 years in Maine.

He received the second largest number of votes in a three-way race last year in state House District 108, trailing incumbent Rep. Meredith Strang Burgess, R-Cumberland, but defeating Erin Cianchette.

In deciding to run for the Town Council, Gruber said, “it’s an exciting and very important time in the history of the town of Cumberland. We have some major decisions to be made about growth in our community, specifically commercial growth.”

He noted that several town projects are pending resolution and approval, such as the Village Green Revitalization Master Plan. The first phase of that project, which Gruber said he supports, includes construction of 59 single-family and duplex homes on the 40.7-acre Doane Property in the center of town.

As a member of the Planning Board, on which he is serving the first year of a three-year term, Gruber has weighed in on some of those projects. He also sits on the town’s Lands and Conservation, Shellfish and Coastal Waters commissions. If elected to the council he would have to step down from the Planning Board, but he said he could serve as a council representative to the three commissions.

Gruber is a member of GrowSmart Maine, as well as ENCorps, a program of the University of Maine Center on Aging. He is also active in Cluster 24, a formation of four Catholic churches in the area, and he is a member of the Maine Alzheimer’s Association and an umpire for school baseball and softball.

Gruber said he would bring an environmental perspective to the Town Council, as well as a conservative approach to growth in the long term.

Maintenance of Cumberland’s infrastructure – such as its roads and utilities, municipal buildings and schools – is one of Gruber’s chief concerns.

“If we don’t have the infrastructure … we’re not going to attract anybody to stay here,” he said.

Gruber said he is concerned about the long-lasting impact of gravel pits and how they affect groundwater, and that he is leaning toward support of the gravel pit ban.

He said he supports the proposed SAD 51 budget, also supports closing Drowne Road School and reusing it for the purpose outlined in the Village Green plan.

Sally Leavitt

Leavitt, 54, has lived in Cumberland nearly all her life. She works as an operations manager for the Roosevelt Trail Nursery & Garden Center in Windham.

She ran for the council a year ago against Councilors Steve Moriarty and Mike Perfetti. Moriarty and Perfetti kept their seats, and Leavitt trailed Perfetti by 62 votes.

Leavitt’s reason for running again echoes her campaign last year: giving something back to Cumberland.

“I think it’s important for people, when they have the opportunity and the time, to try to pay back a little,” she said.

Leavitt said she is concerned about the town’s debt, and she is anxious to see what the multiple phases planned for the Village Green Revitalization project will to bring to the town.

Leavitt declined to say where she stands on the gravel pit ban.

Next year’s SAD 51 budget does not have her support. “I think that we need to be making more cuts, and doing with less, in order to bring the taxes down for the taxpayers of Cumberland,” she said.

On that note, Leavitt said she does favor the closure of Drowne Road School, since it will save money for SAD 51 – and, as a result, taxpayers – and she supports the building being incorporated into the Village Green project.

“I’m excited that the potential is there for it to go back to the town so that we can put it to good use,” she said.

Leavitt said she is anxious about changed zoning on part of Main Street. The Town Council narrowly approved the Town Center District between Tuttle Road and Moss Side Cemetery last month, a change meant to allow more small businesses uses in that part of town.

“I’m not sure that that (change) is going to get us what we want out of it,” Leavitt said. “It’s important to increase our tax base, but I’m a little concerned about whether parking is going to turn into an issue. … I think that’s going to depend on what, if any, commercial businesses go in there. It’s hard to say right now, but I think we’re going to have to keep an eye on that, to make sure that doesn’t become an issue.”

Leavitt said she would bring fresh ideas to the Town Council.

“The folks that are on the council now have been there for at least a couple of terms,” she said, “and I think it’s always good to get an infusion of different perspectives and different points of view.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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Michael Edes

Thomas Gruber

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.