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Special election to fill vacant Bath council seat draws 3 candidates

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Special election to fill vacant Bath council seat draws 3 candidates

BATH — Three candidates are running to fill the City Council seat left vacant when Councilor Ruthe Pagurko died Sept. 28.

Larry Scott of Washington Street, and Old Brunswick Road residents Leverett Mitchell and Cal Stilphen hope to complete the final year of Pagurko's three-year term in Ward 7.

The special election will be held during the Tuesday, Nov. 6, general election, when ballots will also be cast in the regularly scheduled Ward 2, 3 and 4 council elections. Voting will take place at Bath Middle School from 8 a.m.-8 p.m.

Mitchell, 64, and his wife have five children and 11 grandchildren. He retired in 2002 after 27 years with the Fire Department, where he served the last four years as chief.

He was also on the City Council from 2002 to 2005, and has served on the Main Street Bath board and a downtown parking committee.

"I think Bath is a great little city, and I want to see it stay that way," Mitchell said. "I was around when a lot of the storefronts back in the '80s ... were all empty, and Bath was really on its way downhill. And with a lot of hard work from a lot of people, they turned that around and brought back Bath to a really prosperous little city again, and I want to be part of that."

Scott, 62, is married and has one son. He is a retired businessman who owned about 30 diverse companies in 25 years.

Scott said he has headed school boards and been on boards of directors of companies large and small, as well as on charity boards. The City Council would be his first elected office. He describes himself as independent, and said he is someone who would study the information made available to him as a councilor.

Stilphen, 62, is a widower with two children. The former insurance risk manager, who is now semi-retired, ran unsuccessfully against Pagurko in 2010 when she won her third council term.

He said he wished he were running under better circumstances, and called Pagurko "a good councilor" and "a great lady," adding that "her presence is going to be missed."

Stilphen, a Little League baseball coach, has served on the Planning Board and Water District Board of Trustees for about a year and a half.

He has said that his year as a senior loss control consultant with the Maine Municipal Association, during which he worked with municipalities in southern Maine, helped him understand the challenges faced by municipal departments, such as fire, police and public works.

City spending

Mitchell said councilors are "doing the best they can for what they have work with," adding that while he could see taxes remaining at the same level for a while, he doubts they would decrease.

He noted that the council is charged with ensuring that the city's money gets allocated to the right places, without creating a greater tax burden than necessary in meeting its goals.

Bath's population consists largely of retirees or people on Social Security, Scott said, noting he has heard residents saying they cannot afford significantly higher taxes.

"People are looking at this and saying, 'how much further can I go?'," he said, adding that Bath citizens would at least like taxes to stay flat, if not being reduced.

"It requires a certain view of dollars to see if there are ways that we can get the level, or maybe even an increase, of goods and services for the dollars, and at the same time make sure that we're utilizing every dollar as best we can," Scott said. "I think my business background ... puts me in a different position than someone who hasn't had that exposure."

Stilphen said the City Council seems to be "pretty judicious" in its spending.

"I think we have a good school system, but (school spending) is something that we just need to be on top of," he said, noting the importance of keeping the tax rate down.

Priorities

One of the City Council's priorities in the year ahead should be making Bath more user-friendly for businesses wanting to locate there, Mitchell said. "The city needs to take a long look at what they're doing right now," he said, "because it's not really working that well."

Bath should look into recruiting companies that could utilize its waterfront and the city's Wing Farm Business Park, Mitchell said.

"If we can attract more small- and medium-sized businesses here, then it's absolutely going to spread out the tax base a lot better, and hopefully take some of the burden off from the taxpayers," he explained.

Scott called Bath a good example of what small-town Maine really is, noting that "it's critical that we not only maintain it, but improve it."

He said he also wants to be sure money being spent is going toward its best uses.

"At some point, we have to recognize that we ... should be operating a little bit like a traditional budget for a family," Scott said, criticizing spending increases. "We know that we have a certain number of dollars ... we need to earmark those dollars."

Stilphen said the city needs to do "a much better job" with economic development, and that it should focus on upgrading its infrastructure. Bath was recently named one of Maine's business-friendly communities, he noted, "but now I think that's something we need to live up to."

"I believe we should tap into our huge resource of citizens for solutions to our everyday problems and our future problems," Stilphen said. "I'd like to see more transparency in the city administration. I want people in my ward ... to understand what the budget is, and what they're getting for their tax dollars, and I want them to understand that in very clear and concise ways."

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