Two vie for South Thomaston selectman post
South Thomaston — The two candidates for an open South Thomaston Board of Selectmen position laid out their governing style and plans for the town March 17 during a question and answer session at the town library.
Sonja Sleeper and Moira Paddock both have roots in the town, but are not originally from the area. The candidates shared similar sentiments to governance, including a commitment to listening to citizens and gathering facts before making decisions, and stressed the town must direct its board to make sound decisions for the municipality.
Paddock and Sleeper, when asked if they considered themselves agents of change or more likely to stick to the status quo, both said they see themselves as more open to change, but have no political agenda.
Sleeper is a Republican and Paddock said she is an independent but is enrolled as a Democrat. The select board term is for three years.
Sleeper, a previous candidate for select board, and current candidate for House District 92, moved to South Thomaston in 2012 and is employed at Atwoods Lobster. Sleeper said she would be responsive to needs of the people, and focused her opening statement on explaining ideas the town could consider to reduce reduce property taxes and improve the water supply for fire response. Sleeper said she wants to apply what she has learned as while getting more involved in the community. " We need a fresh perspective," she said.
Paddock moved to South Thomaston in 2006 to care for her parents. She previously owned and managed a large, state-wide grocery store in Alaska for 28 years, and now works for the State of Maine in four counties as a financial screener for the judicial system. Paddock is on the budget committee and the solid waste committee and said she is a strong candidate for the select board position with her experience. Paddock said she will approach all issues with common sense, and said moving the town forward is up to the give and take between the townspeople and the board.
Sleeper said the town has a low water supply, which costs citizens more in insurance. She has ideas to install water cisterns systems and said the community needs to be involved to discuss potential solutions.
Through campaigning and going door-to-door, Sleeper said she has learned a lot about the town and what its citizens want. She believes the exchange of ideas is an important aspect of governance. Additional ideas she presented included developing a second town landing and constructing sidewalks and general infrastructure in town, which could attract more businesses. Sleeper said she is against giving tax incentives to business, however.
Fire Department Chief Bryan Calderwood asked the candidates why members of the fire department should vote for them. Both Sleeper and Paddock voted against purchasing a new fire truck at last year's town meeting.
Sleeper said she is more interested in studying and improving the water system, and said she would work closely with, and consult the department about the water supply. She said the department would have to justify purchasing new equipment. She said it is a matter of providing the service in the most cost-effective way.
Paddock said she voted against replacing the 2003 fire truck because the town has older vehicles to replace, but she said she would need to gather all the facts before making a decision about the new proposal for purchasing a new truck this year. She also said department collaboration with St. George seems to be coming in the future, and that many changes need to be considered.
Sleeper said she would delay the purchase for another year to examine other solutions before fixating money on one item. "We need to reevaluate how we do things in town," she said.
Sleeper also said providing training to citizens in rudimentary first aid and some residents willing to keep cisterns on their property could benefit emergency response times.
Both Sleeper and Paddock said a balance must be struck between setting property taxes and the need to fund services.
Another discussion item was the aging population of South Thomaston, and how to attract younger people to the town to settle and volunteer.
Paddock and Sleeper both said the difficulty securing a good paying job in the area is a hindrance to attracting a younger population. Both discussed the need for training.
Paddock suggested employers should partner with schools to give students an opportunity to learn job skills, as her store had done in Alaska. She said ensuring students graduate and complete diploma requirements is another aspect in sustaining a viable, working community.
Paddock provided a personal story about her daughter, who trained as a nurse, but was unable to get a job at Pen Bay Medical Center when she graduated because the hospital wanted her to work elsewhere for six months, acquire more experience, then return. She was offered a job in Bangor and lives and works there now. Paddock said local employers need to be willing to hire new graduates.
"We are not growing, and other states are," Paddock said, adding it was a rude awakening to settle in South Thomaston and realize there were few jobs available.
Sleeper said talking to local employers and pinpointing specifically what skills need to be improved is key in deciding how to to meet the needs of job seekers and employers. She said students and graduates can enroll in programs at the career center, and that maybe they do not know about options they have to further their education.
Both candidates were asked about their opinion of the airport.
Sleeper said the 6 a.m. flight that travels over her house is an annoyance, but she said she likes the airport, and the service it provides to the community, including bringing tourists the the area.
Paddock said the airport is a good tool for the Midcoast, and said personally she uses the service and likes it. She said the county has invested a lot of money into the airport, the area needs the infrastructure and it brings business to the coast.
Paddock said she has been other places, seen other things, and has the perspective to look outside the box for solutions. " I see what works, and what doesn't," she said.
Sleeper said she is creative in decision making, and said she wants to see increased involvement by townspeople and said she prefers local control of money for projects the town wants to finance, rather than applying for state or federal grants.
She further said she wants to facilitate discussion, not stifle it.
Paddock said she is in favor of grants for the town, but said it takes experienced grant writers to get the grants appropriate for the community's needs.
Sleeper and Paddock are vying for the seat left open by one term selectman Robert Branco, who is not seeking reelection.
Town meeting is slated for Tuesday, March 25, at 7 p.m. at the Guilford Butler School. Elections will take place on the floor at the meeting.
Courier Publications reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.