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Selectman candidates have different priorities for Harpswell

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Selectman candidates have different priorities for Harpswell

HARPSWELL — From resolving in-town rivalries to reducing town staff, incumbent Selectman Elinor Multer and challenger C. Matthew Rich will have very different priorities if elected to the Board of Selectmen on March 10.

Multer, 84, is finishing her first term as selectman. She moved to Harpswell in 1976 from New Jersey, where she worked as a newspaper reporter, columnist, and public relations director at a community college. She has four adult children and is divorced.

Currently the board chairman, Multer presided during a three-year term marked by the drawn-out discussion of whether to close West Harpswell School, and the on-going bitterness over that decision.

"My biggest concern, really, is the pervasive sense of rivalry between different sides of Harpswell. And I hope that we can facilitate policies that will help to ameliorate that," Multer said, although she said she didn't have anything specific in mind.

Rich, 60, has been living in Harpswell since 2002, but has owned land in town since the 1960s. He was in the U.S. Coast Guard and is now an attorney. He is married, has three adult children, and ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for the state House of Representatives in 2002 and 2004, and also lost a bid for selectman in 2005.

If elected, Rich said one of his priorities will be to change staffing levels in town government to better reflect Harpswell's declining, aging population.

As selectmen, he said, he believes he could provide a fresh look at staffing and come up with new ideas, like having elected officials help share the workload of town employees by becoming better-versed in tax assessing, codes enforcement and zoning ordinances.

"It used to be in this town the selectmen participated much more in the day-to-day activities," he said. "We've lost that."

But he said he doesn't think the selectmen, or anyone, could do anything to reverse Harpswell's population trend.

Multer said she also doesn't see many ways for elected officials to woo young people back to town, although she said she preferred Harpswell when it was less homogeneous.

Recognizing that Harpswell is aging, Multer said she'd like to see the former West Harpswell School turned into senior housing or sold, but said the ultimate decision is up to the voters.

"(The building) costs a fair amount to operate and it's going to need major system upgrades," she said, noting that the school will cost $70,000 a year in operating costs alone.

Rich said selectmen have taken a long time to decide what to do with the school, and asked "are the taxpayers expected to fund the continued maintenance and operation of the school as this board thinks about it?"

He said he supports the idea of recreational fields or facilities on the current site, but doesn't "see keeping 50-year old building as a positive."

Rich also supported the idea of recreation at Mitchell Field, and said whatever development goes in should generate tax revenue. But he was reluctant to offer specifics, and said selectmen have gotten ahead of themselves by designing a boat launch before the Mitchell Field infrastructure study has been completed.

Multer said she likes the idea of a boat launch at Mitchell Field, but wants to find a way to bring down its current $300,000 cost. She questioned the idea of building affordable workforce housing, as suggested in the Mitchell Field Master Plan, noting that similar projects in town have failed to sell out.

She said she hasn't taken a position on the idea of building a marine-themed charter school in Harpswell. Neither has Rich, who said he'd like to know how much it will cost taxpayers before taking a stance.

Although Rich is hoping to replace Multer as selectman, he said he has no qualms with her leadership style or decisions.

"Everyone's entitled to competition," Rich said. "I have a difference in style than Ellie does. Ellie happens to think town staff is doing very well and that it should stay on the staus quo. I happen to think that's one of the areas that has to be changed."

Multer said people should vote for her "if they're reasonably satisfied with what I've done and with the direction it looks like I'm going." She said she tries to strike a balance between "watching the taxpayers' purse and meeting their needs, and if they think I'm doing reasonably well at that I'd welcome their support."

Joanne Rogers, who has served on the School Administrative District 75 Board of Directors for 26 yearrs, is running unopposed for re-election.

Voting is from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Harpswell Community School.

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext.123 or eguerin@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @guerinemily.