Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, February 20, 2014
Three-way selectmen’s race slated for Stonington town elections
by Rich Hewitt
When Stonington voters head to the polls to decide on their elected municipal officials for the coming year, they will find a three-way race for two open seats on the board of selectmen. The top two vote getters will assume the seats.
In addition to the selectmen race, there are two open three-year seats on the Stonington Sanitary District board for which no papers were filed. Those seats will likely be filled by accepting write-in candidates.
Polling hours have been set on Monday, March 3, from 8 a.m. to noon upstairs at the town hall, with the meeting reconvening at 3 p.m. to vote on the remainder of the warrant articles.
Ben Barrows is seeking a three-year term on the board of selectmen.
Barrows grew up on the Island and earned a degree in International Affairs from American University in Washington, D.C. He has worked in a number of countries organizing construction and reconstruction projects in war zones and in response to natural disasters, and as a consultant on social and economic programs through a variety of U.S. and international organizations. He currently works as the general manager of Penobscot Bay Press, the company that publishes the Island Ad-Vantages newspaper.
That experience, he said in an email, has helped him to build a set of skills that he hopes to use to “get involved in supporting and bettering the place I care about most.” As a selectman, he said, he would bring new blood and a new perspective to town government, but most important, he would bring an ability to listen and collaborate, whether with fishermen, local business owners, artists and other craftspeople as well as others in town government and in the town.
“If you want to talk to me, I’ll listen,” he said.
One of the key challenges facing the town, he said, is economic development and finding ways to protect and enhance livelihoods on the island.
“There is enough local experience and expertise that, if properly understood and harnessed, can successfully address our challenges and ensure our future,” Barrows said.
While the core fishing and tourism industries are of the “utmost importance, I think the town can also take a role in strengthening and expanding year-round opportunities for work, business and recreation to make the winter a little less ‘lean’ for us all,” he said, adding that he would work with both local and regional groups and individuals to develop “creative and durable ideas.” He pointed to the influx of green crabs, as a way to turn the potential threat to the lobster fishery into a commercial opportunity.
“If done correctly, and I think that town government has a certain limited role to play in this, a solution can be a win-win,” he said. “Lobster fishermen have a threat to their catch removed, and those harvesting, processing and selling green crabs have a new revenue source.”
Serving as selectman, Barrows said, would not be a conflict with his position with the local newspaper since he has no role in deciding what the newspaper covers or the contents of any of its articles. He said he would expect the paper to treat him no differently than any other holder of public office.
Richard Larrabee is seeking a seventh term on the board of selectmen.
A Stonington native, he works as a lobster fisherman in town where he and his wife have raised four children.
That long experience on the board—along with service on various other boards and committees in town—has given him a real understanding of how the town works, he said, and will help in dealing with issues facing the town in the future.
During his time as a selectman, he said, the board has worked to put the town on a firmer financial footing.
“When I was first elected, the town had hardly any surplus at all, and now we’ve built the surplus to close to a million dollars,” he said. “We’ve faced a lot of problems over the years and that experience will definitely help in the future.”
Larrabee said he does not see any major problems for the town unless there is a major problem with the lobster industry.
“If anything happens to lobsters, the town will definitely have to revamp,” he said.
Even if the fishing industry is healthy, Larrabee said, the town needs to work to promote economic development.
“What we really need is to get small businesses to start up here,” he said. “Then they might employ some of the kids who would stay here instead of everybody moving away.”
He said he wants to find ways to encourage a variety of small businesses to come to the town, business tied to the fishing industry as well as others in order to build a diversified business base. While the town looks at different ways to do that, he said, it also needs to work on its infrastructure, particularly the water company. The water system is more than 100 years old and is in bad shape, he said, noting that the town has begun the work of upgrading the system to not only support existing customers, but to provide for new customers as well.
“Hopefully, more people will want to come to town,” he said. “There’s some room for more people; we need to have the water to support that.”
Larrabee said he is concerned that the state might make steep cuts to the revenue sharing program that could have an impact on the town budget and, in the end, hurt taxpayers. The town has a lot of elderly residents who are on fixed incomes, he said, and can’t afford major tax increases.
George Stevens is seeking reelection to another three-year term on the board of selectmen.
A Stonington native, Stevens joined the U.S. Navy in 1962 right out of high school and traveled all over the world as a naval electrician until 1984. Upon retirement he returned to town and worked for the U.S. Postal Service as the postmaster in Deer Isle from 1985 until he retired in 2011.
Stevens previously served as selectman in the 1980s and was again elected six years ago as a write-in candidate. He was reelected to a second three-year term and has served two years as the board chairman.
It has been an interesting job, he said.
“I enjoy it,” he said. “I’m interested in what I do and I learn something new every day. There’s never a dull moment.”
The one challenge that the board will face in the coming years, he said, will be the budget.
“The big thing for us will be to maintain a minimal budget so that we don’t have to increase taxes,” he said.
That’s why the town has planned for major projects and worked on them over time. Projects like the Main Street sidewalk have been done over several years in order to spread out the cost in order to minimize the impact on taxes, he said.
Improvements to the town roads have been a key focus for the selectmen, and Stevens said the town will continue to focus on improving local roads. But, he stressed that those types of improvements—roads, repairs to Hagen Dock, even the much needed work on the town water system—all need to be planned out to minimize the impact on taxes.
That’s where his experience can help, he said. In addition to serving as selectman, Stevens also has served on many other boards and committees in town. In addition, he said, he has had management experience in both of his previous careers.