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Topsham selectman faces challenger in re-election bid

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Topsham selectman faces challenger in re-election bid

TOPSHAM — In the town's only contested election next month, Chairman Donald Russell faces a challenge from Bill Thompson for another term on the Board of Selectmen.

Russell, 75, is married, has two sons and three grandchildren, and has lived in the same Winter Street house since the age of 6 months. He was previously on the Board of Selectmen from 2002 to 2005; served on the Planning Board from 2006-2009; the SAD 75 Board of Directors from 2006-2008; the Local Redevelopment Authority for the Topsham Navy Annex from 2005-2008, and the Sagadahoc Budget Advisory Committee from 2002-2008.

He also spent 33 years on the Board of Appeals, which he chaired for 28 years, and started with the Board of Assessment Review in 2011.

Now semi-retired, Russell's career has included six years in the U.S. Army, 10 years as field supervisor for the Ralston Purina Co., 20 years as owner and operator of a poultry farm and 41 years as a residential landlord.

Thompson, 51, is married and has two daughters. The Arbor Avenue resident is an analyst at Bath Iron Works, andretired from the U.S. Navy in 2007 after 24 years. He served 11 of those years in commands at Brunswick Naval Air Station.

He is secretary of Topsham's Finance Committee, on which he has served since 2009. His term on the committee expires in 2015, but Thompson said he will step down if elected to the Board of Selectmen.

Topsham voters will decide next month whether to overturn a ban on the sale and use of fireworks in town. Russell said he supports the sale and use as governed by town ordinance, but he said he is unsure whether he will vote for the sale and use under state regulation.

Thompson said he would be voting to overturn the ban, noting that he felt the manner of the questions presented in the June referendum caused confusion among voters.

"Ultimately, I'm for allowing the sale, because we shouldn’t be turning down any revenue opportunities," he noted." I would vote against usage if the question comes up again."

Because of reduced revenue to the town from the state, Topsham must concentrate on economic development, Russell said.

"We have the (Topsham Navy) Annex, or the Topsham Commerce Park, that (the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority) has just acquired," he said. "Most of that property up there (is) cleared for development; we have to work with them on getting that developed."

Expanding infrastructure to the west side of Interstate 295 is another priority, Russell said, noting that "without that, it's pretty hard to develop that property."

Development of a public space in the lower village, by the old fire station, is also on the horizon, he noted.

Another important concern in Topsham is garnering public participation at town meetings and workshops, Russell said, noting that residents have to "be able to understand what the issues are when they go to Town meeting to vote."

"The town needs the citizens' input to be able to come up with programs that are going to work," he said.

Thompson noted the importance of the town maintaining an affordable tax rate while providing services citizens expect. He pointed out that the state is significantly shifting costs down to schools and counties, and that revenue cuts ultimately end up at the doorstep of the towns.

"With the base closure, and still feeling the effects of the recession, we are in the 'new normal' of decreased revenue and slow economic growth," he pointed out. "I want to avoid what other towns are considering – like cutting their police force due to budget issues – by making decisions now that will pay off in the long run so we can keep the services that current residents expect and will attract new residents and businesses alike. But, with the current fiscal pressures, this will not be easy."

Explaining why he is a good person for the job of selectman, Russell said, "there's no question that I have the experience of serving on all the boards. I've got expertise on land use ordinances, I can bring to the board a continuity factor that needs to be with the board ... carrying on from year to year. ... I'm certainly committed to the job, and I like doing the job."

Thompson said his time on the Finance Committee "would allow me to step into a selectman position with a flatter learning curve (than) someone who's never been on a committee or held an elected seat."

"Since the budget is probably the most important aspect of the position," he added, he feels that he is well-versed concerning "the town's financial position – where we're at and where we need to be – and will be able to contribute immediately."

Thompson said he is not an "agenda candidate, "and that he volunteered for the Finance Committee because he thought he could contribute, and that is why he is running for the Board of Selectmen.

"If I'm not elected this time, I will be running for the next open seat," he said.

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