Three vie for new county commissioner Dist. 1 seat

By Lisa Williams Ackley

Staff Writer

Annalee Rosenblatt—Scarborough

Three candidates are vying for the newly-created Cumberland County Commissioner District 1 seat representing the towns of Baldwin, Bridgton, Gorham, Harrison, Scarborough, Sebago and Standish that voters will decide at the polls on Nov. 8, 2011.

Neil D. Jamieson Jr. of Scarborough, Annalee Rosenblatt of Scarborough and Lisa R. Villa of Harrison are all seeking the new District 1 County Commissioner’s seat that will take effect on January 1, 2012.

Neil D. Jamieson Jr., an attorney who has lived in Scarborough for 19 years, says he has two reasons for running for the District 1 County Commissioner’s seat.

“I served on the Cumberland County Charter Committee, since 2008, and spent two years drafting, revising and promoting the County Charter,” said Jamieson. “I spent two years looking inside Cumberland County government and saw, as a direct part of that process, ways we could improve the efficiency and effectiveness of it.”

“(Cumberland County Manager) Peter Crichton and his staff are very good stewards,” said Jamieson, “but, I am always looking for improvements.”

“I am committed to public service,” said Jamieson. “My wife and I teach our children that you have to be vested in your community and the public process, in some way, and make contributions through volunteer service.”

Neil D. Jamieson Jr.—Scarborough

Jamieson pointed out that, under the new County Charter, the positions of Register of Deeds and County Treasurer will be appointed, rather than elected, as in the past.

“The County Finance Director will interview the persons who have the best skills,” said Jamieson.

“One thing I think is very important, as a county commissioner, is to continue the consolidation of services for local municipalities,” Jamieson stated. “My goal would be to try to work together using the same resources and ideas that will make county and local governments more effective and efficient.”

“There is a school wide program called ‘Back Office’ that takes IT, Human Resources and Finance Directing and provides those services for several school systems at the same time,” Jamieson said. “It would be small baby steps, but we would benefit, if we can try to use and consolidate those types of resources.”

Candidate Jamieson said another goal he has, if elected to be the District 1 County Commissioner, “is to try to maintain and increase funding for Community Development Block Grants (CDBG).”

“These rural towns are often more sensitive than larger municipalities, and this program specifically allows small towns to get access to federal money through the Community Development Block Grants,” stated Jamieson. “Bridgton, specifically, was part of a special set-aside of $250,000 for sewer improvements. Each of the seven towns in District 1 could benefit from CDBG funds. The (CDB) grants fill gaps towns can not fill.”

Lisa R. Villa—Harrison

“I would also like to continue, through the Greater Portland Council of Governments (GPCOG), the coordination and implementation of ideas we can all promote, to increase the interaction between communities of how to consolidate services at the town level and school level,” said Jamieson. He stated further that the subject of consolidating tax assessing “is very sensitive.”

“But, think of the money each town would save,” Jamieson said.

Asked his stance on the $33 million Civic Center bond question, Jamieson said he is in favor of it.

“I support renovating the Civic Center,” Jamieson said. “I have done a lot of research and I know where improvements are needed. The Civic Center is 34 years old. We have a resource there, and if we don’t make repairs now, it will be in more disrepair. There has been a complete economic analysis done, and investment now will make it profit — in the first year the gross profit is estimated to be over $1.5 million. It will turn a profit. Second, there is $12 to $15 million in spin-off business generated by the Civic Center — restaurants, hotels, cab services and shops. All of that money is significant, and County residents are employed in those businesses. There has never been a time when interest rates were low to borrow money. Also, it is a competitive time to build something — it would be a good investment for the money you pay.”

“I think it is relevant that, as a small business owner, I appreciate having to meet payroll every week and cutting costs where needed,” said Jamieson. “As an attorney, I understand the law and the legal process and its impact on county government.”

Annalee Rosenblatt, who owns her own management company, is the current chair of the Scarborough Republican Committee and a past chair of the Cumberland County Republican Committee.

Rosenblatt was quick to point out that she is the only conservative running for this seat. She said that, for this year only, the new Cumberland County Charter dictates that candidates will appear on the ballot as non-partisan. However, she emphasized that she is a Republican and that the other two candidates are registered Democrats.

“This year, more than ever, it is essential that we elect a conservative to represent the citizens of the district,” said Rosenblatt.

“If elected to serve as your District 1 commissioner, I am committed to promoting financial accountability in County government and serving as a strong advocate for Public Safety,” Rosenblatt said.

In addition to running her own business as a management consultant, Rosenblatt currently serves or has served on many community boards including the Greater Portland Chamber of Commerce, Scarborough School Board (former chair), National Public Employer Labor Relations Association (past president), State Civil Service Appeals Board (former chair), American Business Women’s Association (former chair) and Youth Alternatives, now YA/Ingraham, (former chair).

She has also worked as a consultant to several communities in Maine, as well as Cumberland County in the areas of human resources, policymaking and training, including training for the Maine County Commissioners Association.

“The relationship between the County and its municipalities is an important one,” Rosenblatt stated.

As a County commissioner, Rosenblatt said she would expect to have budgetary justifications from all County department heads, as she did when she served on the Scarborough School Board.

“I think it is important to hold department heads accountable (as was done in Scarborough),” said Rosenblatt, “so that when doing their budgets in September and October they need to remember the promises they made in January and February about expenses in their departments — and they truly did reduce expenses, but not requests in the budget.”

Rosenblatt said she is opposed to using $33 million in taxpayer dollars to renovate the Cumberland County Civic Center and will vote “No” on this issue in November.

“I’m not supporting it,” said Rosenblatt of the Civic Center renovation project. “Not only is the timing bad, but there are going to be no new seats and (those promoting its passage) said large acts require a larger venue — but it will still not be any larger. I think it is disingenuous to make the argument that it’s not going to cost anything just because (the County) is retiring one bond in exchange for another. It’s disingenuous — it’s (the Civic Center renovation project) going to cost us, for years to come.”

“It seems to me the County’s business ought to be Public Safety,” said Rosenblatt. “That’s where our energy and dollars ought to be going — and, if other services can be performed by the County, there must be a savings. Unless there’s a contraction that matches the expansion, then it’s just growing more government.”

Lisa R. Villa of Harrison responded to the question of why she wants to run for the District 1 County Commissioner seat.

“I’m a good candidate, not only for western Maine, but for the entire district,” Villa said. “I have six years of experience as a selectman, and I understand the fiscal pressures that municipal governments are under.”

Villa said she believes her current and past involvement in Cumberland County government has been invaluable in preparing her for the position of County Commissioner.

“I served as co-chair of the committee that wrote the first County Charter, which was approved by county voters last year,” Villa stated. “We have the opportunity to reshape county government to serve as a facilitator, convener and — in some areas — as a regional service provider.”

“I served as a representative on the Lake Region Transportation Coalition and Economic Development Council,” said Villa. “I also served on many county committees as a representative of our district. I’m well respected by my peers, and for the past two years was named Chairman of the County Finance Committee. I am co-chair of the Community Development Block Grant Municipal Oversight Committee. Now is the best time to elect a candidate who can work collaboratively with others, and who understands the needs of the region and county.”

“It is a critical time,” Villa said. “Issues surrounding the Civic Center provide an example of why we need a Commissioner who understands precisely how county government works, and has a line-by-line understanding of the entire county budget.”

Villa said she opposes the $33 million bond for the Civic Center renovation project.

“I have been a leading opponent of the proposed Civic Center bond, for many reasons,” said Villa. “We can’t continue with a band aid approach to both maintaining and operating the civic center; in fact, we need to craft an exit strategy. We need a hardworking, proactive leader, who is not afraid to ask questions and is knowledgeable about the workings of the County. I am that leader.”

What would she do, if elected county commissioner?

“I would seek to eliminate the recreation district, which oversees the Civic Center,” Villa said. “I have a hard time with an organization that uses the county funds to pay for debt service and capital expenditures. The Civic Center should be run like a business, and it’s not. Last year, County taxpayers provided the Civic Center with a $920,000 operational subsidy. If this bond initiative passes, we will be paying $1 million or more per year for at least 25 years — if they fail to meet revenue projections, that amount will be much higher. The Civic Center has been losing money for years, and the current plan doesn’t address the major shortcomings, such as limited parking, seating, and it’s limited by the size.”

Villa stressed the knowledge she has gained from her service on the County Finance Committee.

“I have served on the County Finance Committee for three years, two as Chair, and every department within Cumberland County has done their best to whittle down their budget right down to the use of stamps, with the exception of the Civic Center, which uses the County as a money tree and it has to stop,” said Villa. “I also want County government to work collaboratively with municipalities, to better understand their needs and see how we can use economies of scale to save our taxpayers money.”

What issues would Candidate Villa support?

“Once the economy improves, I would support an arena in a location that truly serves the region,” Villa said. “Properly located, a new civic facility would create jobs and spur economic development in and around the area it was built. I would support converting the existing facility into a downtown convention center that would increase hotel occupancy rates and help local restaurants and businesses in Portland. The Civic Center bond issue sells the County short, on many levels. If passed, we could miss the opportunity to do something transformational for the County — we won’t get that opportunity, for another 25 years.”

“This is the discussion we should have with citizens in Cumberland County,” said Villa. “I want a county government that focuses on important regional initiatives and economic development, so the entire county can prosper.”

Please follow and like us: