Raymond Town and School Board Candidates Night


Local Candidates Make Their View Known At Annual Candidates Night
By Leslie O’Donnell   2-28-19

Almost all the persons running for local offices in Raymond attended the annual Candidates’ Night Feb. 19, becoming part of a tradition dating back to the 1970s.

Christina Vogel served as moderator and kept the candidates on task, as hopefuls for the Board of Selectmen, School Board, Board of Library Trustees, Planning Board and Budget Committee fielded questions from Vogel and members of the audience. She emphasized the evening was not meant to be a debate, but was instead a chance to meet the candidates.

Board of Selectmen

Four residents are running for two seats on the Board of Selectmen. Current selectmen Greg Bemis and Wayne Welch are not seeking re-election. The candidates are Carlos Maldonado, Kathy Hoelzel, Josh Mann and Chris Long.

Carlos Maldonado said he and his family moved to Raymond in 2015 for its small-town ambience. Raised in Haverhill, Mass., he has a Bachelor’s degree in business and Master’s degree in finance, and is a bank vice president.

“I want to be here forever and want to help make decisions that are best for all of us,” he said.

Also new to Town politics is Chris Long, who said he is a lifelong Raymond resident who has seen “the good and the bad changes” through the years. “It’s time for change and fresh new blood,” he said. “I’d like to make some changes; I’m a no frills kind of guy and am here to listen to people to see what they want.” He works for Harley-Davidson in Manchester.

Josh Mann has 17 years in Raymond and several years in between in Candia. He moved back to Raymond in 2008, and has served five years on the Budget Committee, four years on the Capital Improvements Plan Committee, and volunteered with the fire department and ambulance in Raymond. “I’ve always volunteered and given back to the community,” he said. He works as supervisor of communications maintenance for the State of New Hampshire.

Kathy Hoelzel has lived in Raymond for almost 50 years. She served 11 years on the School Board, and was a member of the Budget Committee. She has been Town Moderator for 20 years – a position from which she would have to resign if elected selectman – and is in her eighth term as a state representative.

“I do these things because I feel it makes me part of the community,” she said.

Vogel asked the candidates to state their top three issues for the Board of Selectmen, and how they would propose to address them.

Long said he had seen multiple comments on social media about Town-deeded properties, and said he did not think it was in the Town’s best interest to hold on to them if they could be sold. He also cited road conditions, which he described as “horrible,” particularly Harriman Hill Road going up to the high school, and infrastructure, saying Exits 4 and 5 were two “great sections” for development to lessen the tax burden.

Hoelzel said she thinks the selectmen did a good job on the proposed budget this year, citing the use of the unexpended fund balance to buy items that have been needed for a long time. Her second issue was space, noting the police station is seriously overcrowded, as is the Town Office building.

Mann called for a plan for the Town. “We need a cohesive, strategic plan for the next one, two, three, five, 20 years,” he said, including a path to accomplish the plan. “The Board of Selectmen need to compile information and make a plan. Road conditions and infrastructure will fit into that plan.

He added that the Town has done a great job with budget cuts this year, but more can be done. He cited the need to examine contracts to make sure the Town is getting what it needs for the right amount of money. And he said businesses and economic development are needed to help offset the tax impact.

“The Board of Selectmen needs to create marketing for the Town to get people interested in coming here,” he said, citing high-tech and clean industry as desirable for exits 4 and 5. People need to know, he said, that “Raymond is here and open for business.”

Maldonado’s three points were taxes, with the need to find additional revenue streams; roads and infrastructure; and balancing the desire to keep the small-town atmosphere with growth. “There’s a lot of negativity,” he noted.

Speaking from the audience, Doug Vogel asked the candidates if the boards would be willing to develop a local policy on how to calculate the default budget, within the guidelines established by the state. All four selectmen hopefuls said they would favor that idea, as did both School Board candidates.

Doug Vogel then asked if they would favor giving the job of establishing a default budget to the Budget Committee, and only Maldonado agreed with that. Mann said the Budget Committee “already has a full plate,” and Hoelzel said creating their respective default budgets is the responsibility of the Board of Selectmen and School Board.

From the audience, Kathy McDonald asked if the selectmen candidates would consider keeping some of the Town-owned properties as conservation land, if that were recommended by the Conservation Commission.

All said it would depend on the individual property. Mann added that if the property had come in via tax lien, he would like to see the Town get its money back. While Long said he would evaluate each parcel on a case by case basis, and said Raymond “absolutely” needs conservation land, “we have to make sure you don’t overstep boundaries and that the property should be in conservation.”

The candidates also expressed their interest areas for committee membership and their experience, in response to a question from Gretchen Gott. In her response, Hoelzel suggested establishing a liaison from School Board and Selectmen to meet with their state representatives.

Kathy McDonald asked how the selectmen would promote Raymond to small businesses. Maldonado cited using social media as much as possible, perhaps highlighting a Business of the Week or Month.

Mann said it comes down to marketing the good things that are already part of Raymond – its location, its workforce, its schools “on the rise again,” and its base for shoppers.

Agreeing with Mann, Hoelzel also emphasized the importance of each individual promoting the Town. Long agreed with the others as well as suggesting wider promotion of events such as the Town Fair.

Christina Vogel suggested bringing both boards together, and all candidates for both boards agreed. “I wholeheartedly agree with meeting periodically – that goes back to a strategic plan,” Mann said, noting that bringing the Budget Committee and CIP Committee to those meetings on occasion would be beneficial as well. School Board candidate Joe Saulnier said he agreed with Mann’s emphasis on planning, and said the Town Manager and Superintendent of Schools should also work together.

School Board

Janice Arsenault and Joe Saulnier are running for re-election to two seats on the Raymond School Board.

“I think Raymond has great things ahead of it,” Saulnier said. “Sometimes saving a penny now costs us more in the long run – we see that with our computers and CIP. We need to be budgeting properly – tuitioning students into Raymond would be a fantastic thing to see and would greatly reduce tax rates.”

Arsenault said the School Board has begun tackling difficult issues and using its resources wisely. “We need to tighten some areas so that we can serve students in an efficient way,” she said.

Arsenault has lived in Raymond for 35 years, majored in accounting, and has a master’s degree. She worked as an accountant for 20 years and as a high school teacher for another 20 years in the public school system. “My goal is to see our schools run efficiently and to advocate for what students need to be successful in school and afterward,” she said. “If we keep our eye on how we spend money, we’ll have a frugal, fiscally responsible budget.”

Saulnier has lived in Raymond 16 years. “I believe over the next three years, Raymond will have made great leaps and bounds,” he said. He said the School Board has historically not saved the amount of money it should have, and his goal is to make sure the Board budgets appropriately. He would also like to see test scores improve, which he said requires having the correct curriculum in all grades.

“That goes along with technology,” Saulnier added. “We have not done well with technology in the past, with 13-year-old computers in the high school.”

Arsenault’s top three issues are enrollment as it relates to staffing, the CIP and facilities; properly funding the CIP; and having adequate funding to produce successful students and programs, with a budget that does not increase dramatically.  “We’ll get there,” she said.”

Asked by Christina Vogel about School Article 10, known as the Pinkerton article, Arsenault emphasized, “it is absolutely not true that the School Board is promoting shutting down Raymond High School. We are only looking for more information.”

Noting that when she served on the School Board in 2002, residents claimed it would be less expensive to tuition Raymond High students to Pinkerton than to maintain its high school, she said that argument has never been formally addressed. To do so this year, the School Board presented Article 10, which would establish a committee to look into possible tuitioning of Raymond High students to Pinkerton, and to appropriate $50,000 to study converting the high school into an elementary school.

“We’re just trying to answer residents’ questions,” she said. “Should this pass, the only thing it does is direct the board to form a committee to look further into it. All we’re looking for at this point is an opinion.”

Saulnier emphatically said the School Board is “not pushing any agenda. We want to know what the citizens of Raymond want to do. Some people say it would save millions. That’s not the case. It’s not a ‘yes, we’re moving to Pinkerton,’ but it could be a ‘no, we don’t want to consider Pinkerton.”

“No matter the vote, we would be sending no one anywhere,” Arsenault added.

Two Three-Year Budget Committee Seats

In another contested race on the March warrant, three persons – incumbent Sharon Stolts, Michael DiTommaso and Christine Harris - are seeking two seats for three-year terms on the Budget Committee.

DiTommaso said he has lived in Raymond half his life and works at a lumberyard in Kingston. “We want to know our tax money is being spent responsibly,” he said.

Harris moved to Raymond almost four years ago for its small-town feel. She sees a need to keep taxes low and “reasonably level.” Adding that she would like a “little bit of say in how the Town moves forward,” this is her first run for office.

Stolts was appointed to the Budget Committee earlier this season, and moved to Raymond about a year ago, after having lived for several years in the Midwest and serving in local government there.

“Our job on the Budget Committee is to get the public to understand both sides and decide on what is best for the community, not what I think is best,” she said. “You have to look at the big picture and the end result. I’m going to ask questions even if I know the answers, and I’m completely approachable.”

Stolts said her areas of focus would include finding out how much something would cost, and how many people would be happy or unhappy with that expense. “Our job is to leave our personal agendas aside and be able to discuss things, because everyone gets passionate,” she said. “The challenge is balance, whether financial or emotional.”
 
Stolts said the duties of the committee include providing information about where tax money is going. She cited the importance of understanding and listening. “I’m a general manager at work,” she said, noting that listening and creating a plan, and understanding how to implement it, are important.

Stolts added that she understands the sense of community in Raymond and how wrong decisions can impact people.

“I’m a parent, I pay taxes, there are things that are important to me, I can ask the right questions and listen to the answers,” she said. “We have to leave passion aside, keep sifting through information, and face the public with what we have learned. Keeping the community together is very important.”

Harris said her focus “all boils down to taxes, and what is going to be best for everyone in the community.” She also cited the need for balance between wants and needs, and the importance of using tax funds in a way that is best for the Town and for all residents.

DiTommaso cited trash pickup as in need of focus, looking for a solution that would work for everyone and keep taxes down. “I believe the core of any community is its schools,” he added. “Balance is key. The biggest challenge for the Budget Committee is that when they recommend an article, they have done the research.

“I’m a very analytical person,” he said. “I care very much about civic engagement and having a vision of what the future should look like.” He noted the importance of the use of taxes in a way that maximizes benefit to the town, while making sure there is no wasteful spending.

DiTommaso said he would like to see roads improved and infrastructure maintained. “When the Town is well maintained, people like it,” he said. “We need to make sure the center of town remains vibrant. In the long term, Raymond would be a place where people know the schools and community are good, and I want to see Raymond as the most desirable place to live in 2040.”

Harris, who grew up on Cape Cod, said Raymond needs to maintain its small-town feel even as it grows. “We need to bring in businesses that will keep the quaint feel but help us with our taxes,” she said.

She added, “I want to help out and be more than just a resident.”

 
Single One-Year Budget Committee Seat

Sarah Maldonado is seeking to fill a one-year term on the Budget Committee, to which she was appointed earlier this budget season. The post is not contested.

Maldonado said her service on the committee this year has been a “test run” and was “eye opening.”  Originally from Augusta, Maine, she moved to Raymond with her family three years ago. “Raymond has a good sense of community, and I thought this would be a great way to contribute,” she said, noting she is a financial analyst, with a focus on analyzing and preparing budgets

One challenge, Maldonado said, is to effectively communicate what taxes are paying for. She said she found it very helpful to have Town Manager Joe Ilsley and Superintendent of Schools Tina McCoy go through their budgets line by line with the committee “and basically defend the taxes to be spent.”

She added, “I have a vested interest in town – we don’t want to move again – we are going to be here a long time.”

Maldonado said the Budget Committee has to responsibly allocate money for the betterment of the Town, making sure it is good for the future of the community.

Harris did not offer specifics.

Library Trustee

The final contested race is for a single seat as a Dudley-Tucker Library trustee. Candidates are Terry Austrew and Jill Galus.

Austrew said he was a library trustee several years ago and has been a Raymond resident for decades. “I understand the importance of books,” he said. “I’m running to support the community with whatever is needed as a trustee.”

Galus said she has lived in Raymond since 1998 and had been a middle school science teacher until about 13 years ago. She has been a Girl Scout leader for years, part of her effort to encourage young people to become active in their community. “I have time and am willing to work with the library,” she said.

She said the trustees work with the library staff so that all services patrons need are within the constraints of the budget. She would like to increase library patronage, balance the services available, and make sure the budget and other constraints are in balance. “I’m there to make sure the library director is making the best decisions,” she said.

“Previous directors did wonderful things for the Town, and now that we have a professional librarian, the first thing she should do is communicate and listen and find out how we fit within budget constraints,” he said. “We (trustees) would help her form a professional plan for what Raymond needs in its library. Obviously, technology is very important now. The Trustees’ task is to help us get to where we should go – and the goal is that the Raymond library should be a world-class facility.

“We have a wonderful collection and should have the ability to grow and to get what we need,” he said. “It’s a team.”

Planning Board

Jonathan Wood, currently an alternate on the Planning Board, and Gretchen Gott, a long-time incumbent, are seeking two seats on the Planning Board in March in an uncontested race.

Gott said she has lived in Raymond for decades and has served on the Planning Board for about 21 years, as well as serving on the Ethics Committee, Zoning Board of Adjustment and School Board through the years.

“We need to continue to make the Town comfortable for those of us who moved here and who are comfortable with what Raymond is,” she said.

Wood, an appraiser, has been a Raymond resident 22 years, and served as a selectman, a member of Friends of Raymond Recreation and on the Conservation Commission, as well as having many years of experience on the Planning Board. He said he has extensive knowledge of Raymond, both of its landforms and its regulations.

“We have a pressing need for planning within the Town – planning out for 10 or 15 years,” he said. “We need to modify zoning and subdivision regulations, mostly because they reflect a time when straighter and faster roads were preferred by the road agent, and now we need to look at neighborhoods and update the Master Plan.

Concerning the top three issues he sees for the board, Wood said that would be looking at subdivision and earth excavation regulations and in some cases, rebuilding the Master Plan. He also said consideration of a change in the type of government would be warranted, as few people take part in Deliberative session. He would like to see the Town explore a town council form of government, with people elected to represent different areas of Raymond.

Wood said he also would like to see greater participation in Town activities on the Common, and he noted that Raymond is a prime location for residential development between Portsmouth and Manchester. “We need to structure our vision so that we have contiguous open space, and that’s where the dilemma lies,” he said.

“We need to have a vision,” Gott said as well. “I think the Planning Board has lost that. How do we maintain the atmosphere people moved here for, at the same time as we have growth?

“I have been told that we need to have a good school system or we would not attract businesses, so we need to support each other,” she said, referring to the Town and School District. She also cited a balancing act needed in working with both developers and abutters.

From the audience, Kathy McDonald asked the candidates what type of businesses they like to see for Raymond while still keeping its rural character.

Gott cited small to medium size businesses, and Wood suggested office space. “I’m more for light industrial that would provide good jobs but not require major infrastructure changes,” Wood said.

“I’m dedicated to being part of Raymond as a great place to live and work,” Gott said in conclusion. “I would like to continue learning about planning and taking training to be a good Planning Board member, and to continue to ask questions and listen to all sides.”

Other Seats

Not attending Candidates Night were Supervisor of the Checklist candidate Aimee Hayes, Mark Desrochers for Trustee of the Trust Funds, and Pam Turcotte for Ethics Committee. All are running unopposed.

Wood concluded that alternate seats exist on almost all boards and committees, and offer good learning experiences for people new to town politics. And he emphasized the importance of turning out to vote in the local election March 12. “You get to flip the levers of power and (decide) how much your taxes will go up or down,” he said. “It would be wonderful to have as many people show up for the local election as for the federal election.”

The election takes place Tuesday, March 12 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Iber Holmes Gove Middle School.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Click Raymond VIP.org to visit the Raymond Voter Information Project website.


 

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