Casco selectman race

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

Jeannine Oren

CASCO — When voters go to the polls this Tuesday (June 12), they will choose between candidates Jeannine Oren and Grant Plummer for a three-year seat on the Casco Board of Selectmen.

The News posed the following questions to the candidates (answers in alphabetical order):

Q: What in your estimation are the most pressing issues in the Town of Casco?

Oren: The most pressing issues facing Casco residents are fiscal accountability in the town office, and protecting our Crooked River Watershed.

As a former member of Casco’s Finance Committee, I’ve been raising the alarm about reckless money management for nearly three years. Casco brings in more than $8 million a year in revenues, and we can’t afford sloppy bookkeeping. A few weeks ago, Casco’s new auditor issued a seven-page document confirming many of the areas of weaknesses that I have been talking about. I’ve created a link to this document for you on my website at www.ORENforCasco.com. If elected, I would require immediate action to remedy these problems, and if our financial “house” is not in order within four months, there would be changes in management and leadership. Providing detailed fiscal oversight is something I can and will do for the people of Casco.

As for threats to our environment, just take a canoe trip up the Crooked River if you think it’s not happening. It’s real. From illegal toxic dumping to widespread erosion that has left some homes and dooryards on the brink of slipping into the river, the time for action is now. We live in a visually idyllic area of the world, but just beneath the surface there is an urgent cry for help. Visit my website for more details on the recently completed “Crooked River Watershed Survey” conducted by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. We must preserve and protect the land that makes up our watershed, the air above it, and the groundwater below. Everything, from our health to our economy, depends upon our daily commitment to protecting our environment.

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Grant Plummer

he good news is that we don’t need to reinvent the wheel to fix these problems — solutions are already in place, but they’re not being enforced. If elected, I would insist on holding environmental violators accountable for breaking current laws and regulations. I would also strongly support programs already in place that provide environmental community outreach and education action plans.

Plummer: I think finally deciding on the long-term location of our town office is critical at this point.  This is an issue that has been discussed for several years now, and it is time to finally put all of the information together to make some decisions and see the process through to completion.

Property revaluation is also a pressing issue for Casco.  It is important that the process is completed in a timely fashion and that our townspeople feel that they have been treated fairly.

I think re-establishing the trust of the community by getting back to doing business for the community is what Casco needs from its board of selectmen.  No personal agendas, just an honest can-do attitude is what is needed.

Q: Is there a line item in the Casco budget that could be reduced? Is there an area which Casco should spend more money?

Oren: Based on the recently released seven-page “Management Letter” (mentioned earlier), I feel that every line item in our current budget should be reviewed for possible reduction. I believe careless money management over the last several years has led to careless spending. On the flip side, I believe there should be a freeze on spending any new money until Casco taxpayers are issued an independent assurance that their fiscal house is in order.  My experience is that the current board of selectmen does not have the fiscal literacy to go “head-to-head” with the town manager (and contractors) on most line item issues. If elected I can assure you no one would pull the wool over my eyes regarding any money issues. My 20-year career as an award-winning investigative reporter, who spent many years covering the “business beat,” is your best bet against government waste and fraud.

Plummer: I think we need to look hard at our town-owned properties and at our town-owned buildings. Having served as a member of the Energy Committee for the past year, I think there are innovative opportunities to reduce the energy costs of our town-owned buildings. As chairman of the Open Space Commission, I have also recently reviewed all town-owned properties. The board of selectmen needs to make recommendations regarding these properties based upon the commission’s findings in order to reduce overhead and increase revenue.

Our town really needs to take a closer look at the roads we maintain.  We have a small window of opportunity to do roadwork in our area, and in the recent past, we’ve had difficulty making decisions regarding where to spend these funds. To effectively and responsibly spend money from our road maintenance fund, we need to put a system in place where we prioritize specific community needs, review projects, make decisions and get the work done.  We need to do this with an eye on the future so that we can plan ahead for next year’s projects as well.

Q: What are your objectives/goals if you are elected to the board of selectmen?

Oren: My goals for Casco are simple: I just want to save you some money, and I have a proven track record of doing so. I saved Casco taxpayers $78,000 in 2010-11 while on the Finance Committee by plugging a “system leak” in the management of Casco’s welfare funds. Then, I increased services without increasing costs by broadcasting (on television and through the Internet) all selectmen’s meetings at no new cost to taxpayers. I found the funding for this program (an allocation of nearly $25,000 annually) in an account where it didn’t belong. This misallocation had been happening for more than 20 years.

If elected I will provide the long overdue management and the fiscal oversight that will help us move toward a more abundant, financially secure and comfortable future.

Plummer: I’d like to turn the page on the struggles that our town seems to have with conducting business effectively. As a capable communicator who is honest, respectful and willing to really examine all sides of an issue without a personal agenda, I think I can help streamline the town’s decision-making process so that we can become more productive.

I think that our townspeople always want to be informed and often want to be involved. For years now, our town has struggled with the issue surrounding our town office facility. My experience as a builder, my creativity and my goal directed decision making skills will help the board of selectmen to sift through the many options so that we may present the public with a clear and informed direction.

As a community member, I think it is important to take an active role in making sure that our town is a great place to live and part of this is making sure that our town is fiscally responsible while also balancing the priorities of the community. I will address the many issues that we encounter with reason, compassion, responsibility and personal attention to the unique needs of Casco.

Q: What seems to be the main concern(s) of Casco’s residents?

Oren: Casco residents are alarmed and angry that their taxes went up by 13% last year alone. There was simply no need for it, and it has absolutely impoverished some of our people. Our auditors have been warning us for years that there are problems with the books, that our investments have not been review “in years,” and that we need to make some serious changes – immediately. The problem is that the people charged with making these corrections (the selectmen) lack the fiscal literacy to implement and oversee the necessary changes. I get it. I understand the accounting problems, and I speak the language. I know how to fix these problems. There will be accountability for non-compliance. I can save you money, and hold down taxes.

Plummer: Over the last several years, I have heard many different concerns expressed by our townspeople, but the one most pervasive concern that keeps resurfacing is that our town is losing its sense of community.  Our ability to work together toward a common goal has been overshadowed by negativity and personal agendas.

Each of us may have chosen to live in Casco for a variety of different reasons — because we love our lakes and ponds, because we love our rural way of life, or because we love our small town character.  Whatever our reason for choosing to live here, it’s our sense of community and our connections to each other that will make us stay.

As a community member, I think it is important to take an active role in making sure that our town is a great place to live and part of this is making sure that our town is fiscally responsible while also balancing the priorities of the community. I will address the many issues that we encounter with reason, compassion, responsibility and personal attention to the unique needs of Casco.

Q: Do you think additional staff hours are needed to complete the additional workload?

Oren: On behalf of Casco’s taxpayers I cannot support any additional spending until the selectmen have balanced our books, reviewed our investments as they relate to current market trends, and micro-managed every line item to guarantee that our money is being safely managed. That’s currently not happening, but I believe that within 6 to 8 months I can provide the leadership and knowledge to make this happen. It begins with your vote for Jeannine Oren on June 12. Please visit www.ORENforCasco.com for more details on my plan for Casco’s future, and thank you in advance for your support.

Plummer: The recent changes we have had to our town’s office hours have been in effect for a very short amount of time. We will need to assess the efficacy of this change using a review process that involves employee input as well as community input.  We have also recently subcontracted a webmaster to improve the town’s website.  Anything we can do to keep information up to date and at the public’s fingertips is certainly worthwhile.

The Draft Audit report presented at the last board of selectmen meeting (May 22) suggested it would make sense to cross train staff. The board will need to review the costs for implementation of this. It also recommended that a system be in place that ensures timely availability of the minutes of any selectmen’s meeting. Should the selectmen recommend a subcontractor or hiring of a part-time position for the town, these positions should be reviewed frequently to make sure we are providing the public with the services that they need in a fiscally responsible manner.

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