SOUTH PORTLAND — There are four candidates competing for two at-large seats on the City Council.
Incumbent Tom Blake is finishing his first, three-year term on the council and is seeking re-election. Councilor Linda Boudreau cannot run because of term limits.
Residents Albert DiMillo, Alan Livingston and Donald Russell are all seeking to either unseat Blake or replace Boudreau.
The candidates discussed the budget, education, the city’s foray into the power business, the need for a new City Hall, the ongoing review of the Comprehensive Plan and whether South Portland should have a popularly elected mayor.
Thomas E. Blake
Blake, 59, is a retired firefighter who now manages properties and is an adjunct faculty member at Southern Maine Community College. He and his wife, Dee, have four grown children and eight grandchildren.
Blake, a lifelong city resident, said he is seeking re-election to continue working on initiatives that began during his first term, including green energy and sustainability initiatives, strategic planning and bridging the gap between City Hall and the School Department.
Blake said he supports the $41.5 million high school bond, but called it as a “huge sum of money” that will be a “tremendous burden” on taxpayers. Blake said he supports creating a local tax-relief program for senior citizens.
“The problem isn’t going to go away,” he said of school’s condition. “It will only get worse.”
Blake said he would like to produce budgets that do not increase the property tax rate, but said cuts in state revenue sharing and education funding will make that difficult.
The city needs to be more creative in generating revenue, he said, including pressing state leaders to allow a hotel tax and a local-option sales tax. The city should, once again, increase oil tanker inspection fees, he said.
City and school departments must also increase efforts to secure grants, he said, and consider instituting pay-to-play sports and establishing community gardens with user fees.
Blake said he doesn’t support buying 100 Waterman Drive for a new City Hall, because there are other priorities, like the high school, middle school consolidation and a new Public Works and Transportation facility. If the middle schools consolidate, he said he would like to house all city and school offices at Mahoney Middle School.
Blake said he believes residents – not councilors – should elect their mayor, but the roles and the duties of the position should not change. He said he also believes the city should pursue proposals to buy electricity at wholesale prices and build a natural gas-fired power plant for the semiconductor industries.
The city should also take a more regional approach to its Comprehensive Plan, he said, and emphasize sustainable principals.
Albert A. DiMillo Jr.
DiMillo, 56, is a retired accountant and corporate tax director with 30 years of financial experience. He and his wife, Linda, have lived in the city for four years and has an adult son and daughter.
DiMillo has never run for public office, but advised the successful statewide effort in June to repeal the Legislature’s tax reform plan.
DiMillo said he is running for council to reduce property taxes. He said he would do that by controlling school spending, which consumes two-thirds of the city budget. He said councilors and School Board members lack financial experience.
DiMillo said he would vote against the school budget until the district addresses what he says are its annual budget errors. He said the school budget has produced surpluses in each of the last six years. He said he would also call for the schools to cut $1 million in middle school administration costs and technology investments.
DiMillo said he doesn’t support the $41.5 million high school bond, because the plan would result in a 50 percent expansion of the building; contains too much space per student; rebuilds relatively new areas, like the cafeteria, and contains so-called “team rooms” for faculty.
Meanwhile, he said he would push for “zero-based budgeting” – where departments must annually justify every dollar – and creation of a finance committee that would scrutinize every major purchase.
“There is generally a total lack of budgets and cost-benefit analysis,” he said. “Nobody on the City Council has the ability to do that analysis.”
DiMillo contends councilors are “illegally” receiving taxpayer-financed health care. If elected, he said, he will not accept his $3,000 stipend and will pay for his own health care.
He said he would tighten term limits for councilors, capping service at six consecutive years, requiring at least four years off and instituting a 12-year lifetime cap.
DiMillo said he doesn’t support the city getting into the utility business and opposes a new loan program for small business. He also doesn’t support an elected mayor.
DiMillo said the city’s Comprehensive Plan should increase the minimum lot size for new homes and focus on high-end housing for “empty-nesters,” who would pay property taxes, but not use the schools.
Alan R. Livingston
Livingston, 60, is a math teacher at private Cheverus High School in Portland, and has lived in South Portland since 1955. He and his wife, Anne, who works for HomePartners elderly care, have three adult children.
He is completing the first year of a three-year term on the School Board.
Livingston said he is running for the council to “build bridges” between the two elected bodies and to explore consolidating some city and school administrative positions and services, such as transportation, to save money.
Livingston said the city has done a good job managing its budget, but the school budget needs to be more transparent. He said he is concerned about property taxes, but would not identify any potential budget cuts to keep taxes low amid declining revenue.
Livingston said he supports the $41.5 million high school bond. He said the city has been creative in trying to limit the projected tax impact, and he hopes parts of the new school, including a proposed 100-seat lecture hall, will be used by the whole community.
“It gives the city something to be proud of,” he said.
Livingston said “something new needs to be done” at City Hall, but is concerned about tax increases. He said 100 Waterman Drive is a “great deal” and the city should investigate ways to leverage its current property to pay for it.
“That would be less expensive than building new,” he said. “I think it’s something we should look at.”
The city should make preservation of open space a priority in its Comprehensive Plan, he said, including pursuing acquisition of 71 acres of land on Highland Avenue owned by Portland Pipe Line, although the property is not for sale.
Economic development should be concentrated on the Main Street corridor, he said, and the city should pursue an East-West connector from Highland Avenue to Main Street.
Livingston said he supports the city getting involved in the utility business, but opposes having a popularly elected mayor. He said he would also like to see a tax cap for seniors.
Donald M. Russell III
Russell, 50, is founder of South Portland-based BrandME Marketing and is a past president of the Waterfront Market Association. He and his wife, Sue, a Realtor and member of the Zoning Board of Appeals, live on Meeting House Hill. They have two children in public schools.
Russell, who is finishing his first three-year term on the Planning Board, said he would bring a unique perspective to the council, noting he would be the only councilor with school-age children.
“I’m right in the fox holes talking to teachers and parents,” he said. “But I’m not someone who is in lock step.”
Russell said he would try to increase collaboration between the city and schools, including consolidating services. Potential areas include facilities, grounds maintenance and transportation, he said.
Meanwhile, Russell said a committee made up of councilors and qualified residents should be formed to study major expenditures, such as the high school bond and a new Public Works facility, and to issue recommendations to the council about the merits and timing of financing.
If service cuts are needed to balance the budget, Russell said he would separate critical needs, such as police and fire, from secondary needs, like public transportation.
The city should get more creative with generating revenue, he said, and should lobby legislators to allow the city to levy its own meals, lodging and other local-option taxes.
“We could have more leadership and vision,” Russell said. “I hope to bring that to the party.”
The city should not consider a new City Hall until more important issues, like the high school, middle school consolidation and a Public Works facility, are resolved, he said.
The city’s new Comprehensive Plan should have a “formidable” open space plan that maintains public access, he said. Development in the Maine Mall area should not be confined to retail stores, but should also include residential developments, he said.
Breathing life back into Knightville-Mill Creek should also be a priority, he said.
“We need to reinvent downtown,” Russell said. “It’s just inching along.”
Russell said he supports the $41.5 million high school bond, because failure to address the issues now will damage the city’s reputation and image.
“(The) really real dangers and damages of another losing vote far outweigh the imperfections and missteps of this process and plan,” he said.
Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Thomas E. Blake is one of four candidates for two at-large seats on the South Portland City Council
Albert A. DiMillo Jr. is one of four candidates for two at-large seats on the South Portland City Council.
Alan R. Livingston is one of four candidates for two at-large seats on the South Portland City Council.
Donald M. Russell III is one of four candidates for two at-large seats on the South Portland City Council.