2018-10-05 / Community News

Scarborough Town Council

Election 2018

Meet the candidates

This year’s town council race in Scarborough features four candidates vying for three open seats. And with two of the incumbents — Shawn Babine and Chris Caiazzo — running for state legislature this cycle, voters are guaranteed at least two new faces on the seven-member governing body.

In the race are the remaining incumbent, Will Rowan, along with newcomers John Dittmer, Don Hamill and Paul Johnson.

Survey forms were provided to all candidates and are printed below in alphabetical order.

Name: John “David” Dittmer

Age: 51

Address: 11 Woodside Drive, Scarborough.

Phone: 217-2271

Occupation: Co-owner/practice manager, Focal Point Physical Therapy.

Family: Married to Marie Dittmer. Two daughters, Grace and Rose.

Education completed: University of Maine School of Law (J.D., 2001); Earlham College, (B.A. history, 1989).

Organizations and activities (including past political experience): Current: Vice President of Scarborough High School volleyball boosters; Scarborough Education Foundation. Past: Wentworth Building Committee

Additional: Former Parks and rec director in Waterboro; Underwriting and sales for Fidelity National Title Insurance; Staff attorney, Legal Services for the Elderly.

Top three issues:

1. Supporter of strong schools: Scarborough has one of the top school systems in Maine. The combination of talented teachers, involved parents and motivated students makes Scarborough one of the most desired communities for young families to relocate.

Beyond the obvious value of quality education for our children, there is also a monetary benefit that the schools add to our property values. Our schools make Scarborough a appealing place to live, not only for new families, but also for people who are looking to live in a vital and thriving community.

In our efforts to keep our taxes as low as possible, we have ignored the value that the schools add to our community. As a minimum receiver district, Scarborough will continue to face funding challenges from the state level.

We must recognize that the high quality of our schools defines our community. Each year that we use the school budget as a pawn in our tax battles, we risk damaging our schools and the value they bring to our children and to our town.

2. The Downs project: I have eight years experience in the title insurance industry. If it moves forward, the Downs will be one of the largest projects in southern Maine for a generation.

The developers used the town comprehensive plan of 2006 (and forecasted 2018), with zoning changes of 2013, to address the various land uses necessary for managed long-term growth.

The plan includes a balanced mix of residential, commercial, industrial, and civic/ greenspace.

It also addresses the issue of over-building residential housing, by limiting the number of single-family units. The controversial part of the plan is the TIF/CEA portion; that returns a portion of the tax revenue to the developers over a period of 30 years.

This is not an unusual arrangement. The town of Westbrook just approved a TIF/ CEA agreement where the developer and town split the tax revenue 50/50. The Downs agreement is 60/40 in favor of the town, with incentives for success and penalties if minimum goals are not met.

After meeting with members of the planning board, the town council and the developers, I think the current Downs plan is a sensible one.

3. Long term tax stability: Our current tax burden in Scarborough falls primarily on residential homes. As our community grows, we must look to attract businesses to provide revenue to stabilize our taxes. Light industry is one example of low impact, high reward businesses we could welcome.

Businesses are taxed on their land value, plus the value of their equipment. Many new industrial businesses need smaller spaces than traditional manufacturing, but still provide significant value in their equipment.

The developers of the Downs project are ready to break ground and have enticed several light industrial companies to join them. This means we could boost new growth within a couple of years, rather than the decade it would take currently.

By postponing the Downs project, we place Scarborough in a precarious position. Other towns, like Westbrook, are pursuing this same real estate segment. Opposition to the Downs project may have long-term consequences if Scarborough is deemed not business friendly. This could have a serious chilling effect on enticing businesses to relocate to Scarborough.

In your own words, why are you seeking elected office?

I am running for town council to facilitate change in the conversation. Scarborough will grow significantly in the next 10-20 years, whether we like it or not. Our community is currently divided. Unless and until we come to the table as a community ready to engage despite discord, the success of our community will be diminished. We must improve our abilities to negotiate and compromise, to move Scarborough forward.

The foundational change in Scarborough is not about land, or schools, or taxes; rather we need to change our vision. This is how I plan to change the conversation. By looking to the future, we can address today’s problems through a long term perspective.

We are at a crossroads both figuratively and literally this year.

We, as a community, have not declared where we want to go. We can take these opportunities to control our growth, diversify our tax base and still preserve our identity as a town, if we work together.

My life and work experiences enable me to solve current problems, while recognizing how today’s solutions will prepare us for tomorrow’s challenges.

No matter what we decide about the schools or the Downs project this year, our town will survive. If we are not looking down the road far enough and following a workable plan, we may not like where we end up. For a stronger Scarborough, please vote for me on Nov. 6.

Name: Don Hamill

Age: 62

Address: 3 Bay St., Scarborough.

Phone: 420-1116

Occupation: Human resources consultant.

Family: Married (Susan Toohey Hamill) – 34 years. Four children: Daughter and three sons.

Education completed: BA, cum laude - Colgate University 1978; MILR – Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations - 1981.

Organizations and activities (including past political experience): Member Maine Panel of Mediators – appointed by Gov. Angus King; Portland Maine – At Large Member School Committee – Finance Committee; Pine Point Neighborhood Association.

Top three issues:

1. Fiscal responsibility and sustainability: Reduce our debt load. Stop capitalizing operating expenses. Live within our means as a town. Work efficiently and effectively in delivering town services. Make smart choices on top priorities: Great schools, great place to live and work, great place to retire.

2. Engage the public and involve them in key decisions that affect them: Create a process for two-way communication between public and council on key issues. Expand opportunity for public input and comment in council meetings and workshops. Utilize Q&A’s. Open forums. Use town-wide referenda on key issues. Explore use of ad hoc polling, focus groups.

3. Build trust and transparency: Upfront education and communication. No more private deals without public input and participation. Do what we say.

In your own words, why are you seeking elected office?

I am running because I believe for democracy to function, each of us has a duty to be an active participant in it – especially in local civic matters that affect us.

The concept of public service seems lost now in our local government. I want to change this by engaging our townspeople better and inviting them to participate more actively in decision making that affects them.

In recent years the public has been involved only at the last minute without a full and fair opportunity to have their voices heard and acted upon.

Some of the recent decisions made by the town council have been contrary to our successful growth and successful evolution as a community. A key example is our exploding town debt of over $100 million – one of the largest of any town in the state.

The current Scarborough Downs TIF/CEA project is another lost opportunity to build public support without a town-wide referendum.

We need to improve the trust of our citizens in their local government and to increase transparency into the operations of the town.

Name: Paul Johnson

Age: 37

Address: 78 Mitchell Hill Road, Scarborough.

Phone: 749-4888

Occupation: High school math/science teacher.

Family: Wife of 10 years, 9-year-old daughter.

Education completed: BS in economics from University of Southern Maine.

Organizations and activities (including past political experience): Owner/ Founder of The Study Hall; Partner/ Founder of Tulu Salon and Spa; No previous political experience.

Top three issues:

1. I view my seat on the council as a vehicle for the residents of Scarborough to cast their vote at the table. The town council has a responsibility to check in with the residents of Scarborough and not simply reaffirm the council’s beliefs.

2. When everyone is brought to the table from the onset, I believe fiscally responsible decisions can be made while preserving crucial services.

This includes the current TIF/CEA decision before the town council. I believe both sides of the equation (costs and benefits) need to be made public. After the council releases to the public all pertinent information, the sheer magnitude of the decision requires a non-binding advisory referendum.

3. I believe every geographical region of Scarborough should be treated equally and fairly with the informed representation it deserves.

Decisions about town infrastructure, spending and ordinances should consider everyone, not just the specific neighborhood.

In your own words, why are you seeking elected office?

After becoming heavily involved in the recall process this past spring, I had many discouraging interactions with town officials.

I understand the recall was a threat to the current governance institutions, and that can be unnerving, but it is not an excuse to dismiss the town majority’s concerns.

Since the spring, I believe the town’s public discourse has improved – but there is a lot of work left to be done. Until we have fresh perspectives and invested voices on the council, we run the risk of business as usual. I continue to converse with hundreds of Scarborough residents who feel disenfranchised and discouraged.

I want to encourage, include, and represent the current and future town of Scarborough.

Name: Robert “Will” Rowan

Age: 41

Address: 14 Bonney Grove Dr., Scarborough.

Phone: 740-6162

Occupation: Principle software architect at Vets First Choice.

Family: Wife and two daughters (8 & 11).

Education completed: Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell University and a Master of Science degree in computer science from the University of Southern Maine.

Organizations and activities (including past political experience): Served on the Scarborough Town Council since 2015, served as council liaison to the Scarborough Economic Development Council, the Senior Advisory Committee, the Scarborough Housing Alliance and the Historic Preservation Implementation Committee; Since 2007, advocated in support of people with disabilities at the state and federal level both as a parent and as a past board member of the Maine Down Syndrome Network; Community Services soccer coach (3 years) and assistant basketball coach (1 year).

Top three issues:

1. Pragmatic economic development – The secret is out. Scarborough is a great place to live, work, and visit. People and businesses want to locate here and development is steady.

During my two years as council liaison to the Scarborough Economic Development Corporation, I worked on attracting good corporate neighbors to fit into the current mix. In order to preserve open space, protect our natural resources, and maintain historic landmarks, we need to be smart and deliberate about how and where development occurs. Once an historic building is destroyed, or a farm is converted to a subdivision, it is lost forever.

I have spent three years as an active member and council liaison for the Historic Preservation Implementation Committee, working to promote awareness of our historic landmarks and I have the utmost respect for people, places, and traditions that are quintessentially Scarborough. I also understand that the arc of time moves in one direction, forward.

With that in mind, I will advocate for growth that considers the above parameters, as well as the impact on traffic and school capacity. We all want to live a community that invests its existing resources wisely and that has a cohesive vision for its future growth and development.

2. Addressing needs across the lifespan – I’ve lived in Scarborough for almost 10 years and I plan to stay here for the rest of my life. As a town councilor, I support policies that consider needs of residents across the lifespan. Scarborough can remain attractive to young families by maintaining strong schools.

I have resisted reductions in the school budget that would result in unnecessary cuts to essential programs and services, and I’m proud of the fact that the school referendum has passed on the first attempt two out of the last three years.

At the same time, I am committed to honoring older residents’ wishes to age in place by expanding tax relief to low-income seniors, ensuring that sidewalks, parking lots, community spaces and business are accessible, and continuing to prioritize community services programming targeting those in our vibrant 55-plus crowd.

I served one year as council liaison (and two more as alternate) to the senior advisory committee and I was a vocal supporter of the senior activity center in Memorial Park. I am also a strong advocate for Scarborough to, not only be recognized by the AARP as an age-friendly community, but to do everything we can to actually be an age-friendly community.

3. Affordable housing – During my time on the council, I’ve served three years as an active member and council liaison to the Scarborough Housing Alliance, where we’ve been working with local and professional low-income developers to increase the supply of affordable housing in town.

Diverse communities bring broader skill sets to the table, spur creativity and help drive economic growth; and additional affordable housing options would increase the likelihood that more of the people who work in Scarborough could afford to live here.

Real-estate developers are in business to maximize return on investment. The free market is not meeting and will not meet, the diversity goals that we have as a town.

Scarborough has a very generous definition of affordability in our housing ordinance, even so, the vast majority of new development does not pass muster. The Scarborough Housing Alliance has published an official request to solicit proposals for affordable housing projects and will continue to grapple with this challenging problem.

In your own words, why are you seeking elected office?

It’s been a tremendous honor to serve on the town council these last three years, but I struggled with the decision to run for re-election.

The late nights, weekend research and time communicating with constituents mean less time for family meals, bedtime stories and countless small moments in between. Ultimately, I’m running because, in the face of unprecedented uncertainty in town, I can offer the stability, wide-angle perspective and willingness to compromise that we’ll need to move forward on decisions that will shape Scarborough’s future.

My daughters will soon outgrow bedtime stories, but they’re just the right ages to learn that public service is a worthwhile sacrifice.

With over 20,000 residents in Scarborough, I’m skeptical when someone claims to speak for everyone. There is more than one side to every issue and no one has the monopoly on community sentiment.

We can, and must, work together to improve the tone and tenor of the public debate, and we should be cautious about electing candidates who take uncompromising positions and who respond reflexively based on incomplete or biased information.

During my time on the council, I’ve demonstrated both the requisite temperament and a willingness to strive for middle ground and consensus.

I’ve worked diligently to make informed decisions over the past three years, voting with the majority, the minority, and occasionally, as the only dissenter; and I will continue to be equally thoughtful and deliberate in future decision making if I earn your vote on Nov. 6.

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