SOUTH PORTLAND — A longtime emergency communications professional for the county hopes to unseat a two-term incumbent for the four-year, District 4 seat on the Cumberland County Commission.
Bill Holmes, director of the Cumberland County Regional Communications Center for the last 16 years, is challenging Tom Coward, a county commissioner since 2012. District 4 represents Cape Elizabeth, South Portland, Westbrook and the North Deering section of Portland.
“I’ve been employed by Cumberland County for 37 years and over my career I have been a honest and professional employee and manager,” Holmes said. “I think my experience and character can bring value to the county commissioners.”
Coward, an attorney, said he is seeking another term to “give back to the community.”
“This is a good way for me to contribute and make Cumberland County a good place to live now and in the future,” he said.
If elected, Holmes said he would focus on bringing a fiscally conservative approach to the county budget, continuing the work on regional and community partnerships, and improving public safety. Coward said he would like to find a better way to pay for the Cumberland County Jail, find more opportunities for regional services and have the county better support recreational opportunities for residents.
Coward said his top priority is to get the state to continue picking up its share of the jail’s operating costs. That idea, he said, has been a “bone of contention” for the governor and Legislature.
“We have to have a have balanced budget for the jail, which means we need to seek funding from elsewhere, from the state, for example, to keep the burden off the taxpayers,” he said.
The Maine County Commissioners Association in recent years has had to lobby “intensely” for the Legislature to pay 20 percent of the jail costs, he said. He would like to see a statutory funding mechanism rather than lobbying for funding every budget season, he said.
How money is spent at the county level also is a concern to Holmes. The top priority of a government, he said, is “to be good stewards of tax dollars.” To that end, he would like to see a review of the Cross Insurance Arena, formerly called the Cumberland County Civic Center.
“It seems every year we operate that venue into the red. I think we have a responsibility to look at its operations – look under the hood to see if how it operates is how it should and if how it is managed is how it should,” Holmes said.
A review of the facility is particularly important as other performance venues, such as the Maine State Pier, Thompson’s Point and the State Theater in Portland compete with the arena to attract artists to the area, he said.
Coward said operation and financial management of the Cross Insurance Arena has only recently come under the purview of county commissioners. Previously commissioners appointed civic center trustees but had no oversight regarding spending.
“The trustees could run the civic center however they wanted,” Coward said. “We had no input on the budget or operations, but if there was a deficit the taxpayers would have to pay,” he said.
The deficit issue, he noted, has become less of a problem now that the county commissioners have authority of operations.
“They are still running a deficit, but it is a smaller deficit than it would have been before the change,” Coward said.
Holmes, noting what he described as the county’s strong regional partnerships through the Community Development Block Grant Program and the Regional Communications Center, said additional partnerships could involve broadband access and human resource areas, such as hiring, training and background checks.
Coward said he also wants to look into new regional and community partnerships. The county already handles assessing for a number of Maine communities through the Cumberland County Assessors Office, he said, and there may be an opportunity to take a similar approach to code enforcement.
“We are looking at that. I don’t know where it will land, but I am in favor of exploring it,” he said.
More of an effort needs to be made to ensure public safety, Holmes said.
“My whole career has been in public safety. If elected, I would serve as a strong advocate for public safety to make sure they have the manpower and resources to provide proper services,” he said.
Coward said he would like to “push up” plans for the county to support more recreational opportunities, especially in more rural areas, by adding funding to local efforts for parks and trails.
“There is no reason we can’t help communities do that,” he said.
Residence: South Portland
Party Affiliation: Democrat
Family: married, three children
Occupation: Attorney, professional educator and trainer, real estate agent
Education: Bachelor’s degree in political science, Indiana University, 1977; law degree, University of Maine School of Law, 1981
Political/civic experience: South Portland Board of Appeals (2000-2008); South Portland City Council (2008-2012); South Portland mayor (2010); Cumberland County Commission, District 4 (2013-present); Cumberland County representative, Maine County Commissioners Association (2013-present); president, Maine County Commissioners Association (2018); Board of Directors, Maine Counties Risk Pool (2013-2016)
Party Affiliation: Independent
Family: married, two children, four grandchildren
Occupation: Director, Cumberland County Emergency 9-1-1 Center
Education: Associate degree in law enforcement technology, Southern Maine Community College; graduate, Maine Criminal Justice Academy
Political/civic experience: Westbrook Public Safety Committee (2015 to present), former member of the Westbrook Zoning Board of Appeals (four years), member of the Maine Interoperable Communications Committee (2008 to present), U.S. Navy veteran