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Warren candidates weigh in on local issues

02/09/2007

By Erin Post

Candidates for the select board and the board of listers in Warren fielded questions about everything from global warming and road maintenance to property taxes and the town library at a forum February 6.

The forum, filmed by MRVTV Channel 44, was held at the Warren Town Hall.

Newcomer Kirstin Reilly is seeking election to a two-year term of office on the select board, while Erin Russell-Story, also a newcomer, is looking to fill a select board seat that carries a three-year term.

The two candidates are running unopposed. Incumbent Michael Brodeur opted not to seek re-election, while the other current selectman, Steve Butcher, decided to run for the lister's position instead of for the select board.

Incumbent Priscilla Robinson is running against Butcher for the three-year lister's term.

At the forum, Butcher laid out four goals he would pursue if elected to the lister's post.

He said he wants to make sure the office is open to the public and that government is accountable to citizens.

He also wants ensure that the town's three listers "work together" to "fairly and accurately appraise property," adding that if he is elected, he would immediately speak to the select board about hiring Robinson to help complete the reappraisal currently in progress.

The board of listers "should have a short- and long-term plan" in place at all times, Butcher said. Making sure the town takes advantage of any professional help available, either through the state or other agencies, should also be a priority.

Butcher's opponent, incumbent Priscilla Robinson, told the modest crowd at the Town Hall that she is a lifetime Warren resident who brings years of experience to the job.

The office is now working on a major mapping project using Global Information Systems (GIS) technology, she said, and is "trying to improve the system all the time."

She said one of the most important parts of the job is to be available to answer taxpayers' questions and to be fair when it comes to appraising property.

Experience is also important, she said, highlighting her long tenure in the post and the courses she has taken to add to her skills.

Candidates for the select board fielded a wide range of questions from the audience.

In her opening remarks, Reilly said she wants to help "keep Warren a vibrant community" and is particularly interested in how to keep enrollment at the Warren school up.

Russell-Story, who currently serves on the Warren Conservation Committee, said she has experience working with alternative energy organizations and would be interested in looking at how Warren can take advantage of some of the developments in this field.  

In response to an audience question about where the candidates stand on property rights, both women said preserving the town's character in the face of rapid growth--while making sure landowners are treated fairly--is an ongoing struggle in Warren.

"It's got to be striking that fair balance," Russell-Story said. "That's as much an art as it is a science."

Reilly also highlighted the need for a "delicate balance" and said, "Each case would have to be looked at individually."

A proposal to move the library to the Town Hall drew a mixed response from the candidates.  

"My personal jury's still out on that," said Russell-Story, adding that what's most important is to make sure any decision satisfies a majority of town residents.

"I want to make sure we all go forward with something that works," she said.

Reilly said she was also still making up her mind on the idea but allowed that the move may be a "good temporary solution."

"I don't know if it's the best option," she said.

When it comes to strategies for keeping municipal taxes down, both select board candidates pointed towards energy conservation as a potential solution.

Although in some cases initial start-up costs may be high, Reilly said exploring alternative fuels such as bio-diesel for road crew vehicles might help the town save money.

Russell-Story said she would analyze the budget and identify the biggest growth sectors before deciding how to proceed. Often, energy costs are a culprit, she said, in which case conservation strategies could yield big results for little capital expenditure.

Both Reilly and Russell-Story cited additional sidewalks in the village of Warren as one change they would like to see in town.

Reilly also suggested bringing affordable housing to town should be a priority, while Russell-Story said she would like to see town residents approve the creation of a conservation commission this year.

Such a move would help the town take advantage of outside funding sources for affordable housing developments, recreation-related projects and other initiatives, she said.

Select board members and listers are elected on Town Meeting Day by Australian ballot.

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