On the issues: Union Select Board Candidate Bill Lombardi

Mon, 07/13/2020 - 12:15pm
    On July 14, voters in Union will choose two of four total candidates to serve on the Union Select Board, filling two seats. Penobscot Bay Pilot has posed questions to each candidate, providing the opportunity for the public to better understand their position on issues important to the town and region.
    Please provide a biography of yourself. 
    Who I am is a lover of Maine, a professional decision-maker, a creator of community, and, in my wife’s opinion, a fun and likable guy. As a nature lover and longtime admirer of Maine, my wife and I moved to Union in 2013 and found our own piece of heaven.
    In my 25 plus years in the financial services industry as a broker and manager, I was responsible for the financial success of my clients, managing over $400 million in assets, training and developing new brokers and staff.  The leadership and decision making required of me were instrumental in my role as the chair of the finance committee in Freetown, Mass., where my responsibilities included interviewing department heads and school management to establish budgets.  In creating a start-up business with my wife, I further developed my business management abilities and customer service practices through kind, clear communication and contract negotiation skills.
    Actively creating community is important to me. I obtained an elementary education certificate and volunteered at several schools’ reading and mentoring programs.
    The Aging in Place Committee and the food pantries are issues near and dear to my heart. Farming is both my way to nurture the land and to contribute to the people of Maine through working with Good Shepherd and three different food pantries.
    When I’m not in our fields tending to plants, you can find me making a delivery to a food pantry, in the kitchen making pies, or playing golf at the Union Golf Club.
    What are Union's greatest strengths, and how do you hope to support them?
    The people are Union’s greatest strength.  The sense of community and pride the folks have in Union including the generosity of spirit is awesome.  Union is diverse in its beauty, from lakes to farms to the rolling hills and sights.  Plenty of birds and other wildlife add to the charm and experience of a village that is rural in nature yet close to facilities. 
    What are Union's greatest problems to address?
    The town needs a plan to control property taxes and the municipal budget.  Additionally,  plans for the Thompson Community Center, Elderly and Affordable Housing, a walking trail and broadband for residential and commercial need to be addressed.
    Increasing real estate taxes take a financial and emotional toll, particularly on our seniors but really on all our taxpayers.  I’m concerned that the level of tax growth is unsustainable.
    There is a gap in communication and outreach.  It is key to have respect for the public.  I look forward to working with the citizens of Union.  I will be open and available to listen to their concerns.  
    Does Union need to adjust zoning to accommodate business growth and housing construction?
    I have heard a Select Board member talk about the need for more affordable housing in Union perhaps by allowing cluster housing — a controversial and charged issue.  I think that this issue needs more development.  Any changes need to be well thought out and discussed in detail with taxpayer input.  It is important not to impact the character of the town while creating an environment that is accommodating to both business growth and housing.
    Isn’t it grand that there are no Traffic Lights in Union!  I would like us to keep our rural character while accommodating the possibility of business growth particularly on Heald Highway.
    Broadband would help Union promote itself as a “remote work” location.
    Given the shortfall of housing in Maine, how should your municipality approach the need for more workforce housing, as well as re-entry housing for the formerly incarcerated, and emergency shelter for those suffering through extended power outages?
    We do have a housing shortage in Union that cannot be answered in a few sentences.  I would solicit input from other towns, other members on the Board who are in the building business, developers and the community.  This is a long-range issue facing many communities.  One of the questions is how we make our community more attractive to development and keep the spirit and nature of the town intact.
    What is the importance of local government, and how do you see yourself, as a potential select board member moving forward, in it?
    Everybody is busy these days with work situations, kids, schools, activities, socially isolating due to the virus, the list goes on.  It is not reasonable to expect that taxpayers/voters can attend formal meetings or have the time to develop and research informed opinions on all issues.  Social media works sometimes, letters to the editor can be helpful, being available helps, perhaps bulk mailings periodically.  Most important is creating an atmosphere where people are not made wrong or feel that they are bothersome because they have questions or a different opinion.  Let’s create an atmosphere of inclusion.
    If situations arise where constituents feel an ‘us vs. them’ it is ultimately our – the Select Board’s – responsibility to sort out where we can do better in our communication, most importantly listening and how we speak with the townspeople about their concerns.
    I would work with the Board to develop a plan to document goals for town needs and objectives in order to control tax increases.  A constant focus on management and control of taxes is imperative.  For example, in creating the last budget, it is proposed that a bond be issued for road maintenance and repair.  Taking on additional bond debt now diminishes the possibility of future projects without tax increases.  This balances the budget in the short run at a future cost.
    How do you see Union fitting into the greater regional economy and culture, and how would you like develop that?
    Farming plays a large role in the economy and culture of Union.  They contribute to the fresh local food base in the area.  Agriculture needs to continue to be supported as it is key to Union’s character. 
    The Thompson Community Center could be a significant contributing asset.  The TCC could be a regional spot for startup businesses, a place for community theater, a social gathering spot for seniors and other groups and numerous other activities that were proposed by the community.  Recreational activities could be increased.  Broadband fits into this scenario to support business.
    A multipurpose walking trail would be an excellent addition to the town.  Investigating utilizing the old rail bed would be a possible location, if not for a recreational experience then for development.
    The farming community is vital to the character and feel of the town.  It needs to continue to be nurtured.
    Where are your favorite places to spend time in the Union community?
    Check out GeorgesRiver.org.  Holly and I are members.  There are great spots in Union and surrounding towns. 
    Two of my favorites:
    100 Acre Island in the winter, snowshoe out to the island when Crawford Pond is frozen.  It’s like a wonderland with the snow and ice, the old growth trees and the quiet.
    The Pool Preserve after a rainstorm.  You can feel, hear and smell the power of Georges River plus there is an interesting old power generating infrastructure still visible.
    The “Aging in Place” luncheons were always fun! I look forward to them resuming once we get the “all clear” with the pandemic restraints.
    What is your opinion on how Gov. Mills’ administration has handled the pandemic in the State of Maine?
    What a difficult job!  My opinion is: The response has been well planned, thoughtful and willing to change with results and responsible input.  I think that the administration’s efforts have saved lives.  The measures are painful for businesses, families with school age children and more. 
    If there is a second wave of COVID-19 in the near future, how would you seek to shape how Maine responds the next time around?
    I think that the current response has been well planned and communicated.  We did some outreach to seniors at the beginning of the pandemic.  If there is a second wave, I think that a phone chain with regular contact to mitigate the isolation and to check on our senior’s needs would be appropriate.
    What is your vision for the Thompson Community Center's future?
    The community meeting that was held last October clearly indicated that the majority of attendees felt that the TCC was an underutilized asset to the town and needs to be developed.  I support continued outreach to the taxpayers and enrollment in creating a possible viable outcome for the town.  How it is presently run it is not viable.  There have been multiple possibilities put forward.  Without further volunteers and an expanded board none of these ideas will come to fruition.  A concerted effort by the Board of Selectman to engage the community in a productive dialog is imperative.  The community meeting provided multiple ideas including multiple commercial and civic uses to enhance the center and community life in Union and to make it financially sustainable.  It is imperative that all parties meet to discuss possibilities, cooperation is needed.  It would be a positive to the town to reinvigorate this important asset without increasing taxes.
    What is your opinion regarding the possible sidewalk project from the Post Office to Ayer Park?
    This is an example of lack of understanding, outreach and kindness that has led to ill feelings towards virtually everyone involved.  Bottom line: if the people on Depot Street want it then we install the sidewalks.  If they don’t, then no more time, effort or money needs to be allocated.  Sidewalks to Ayer park would not have been a priority I would have pursued.
    Free space! Anything else you would like voters to know about you?
    We are all stressed by the pandemic and all the accompanying changes and adjustments to life. This is a great time to show our spirit, accept other folks differences and opinions and work together for the common good. If we can do this in Union Maine, it will be a good start.