On the issues: Warren Select Board Candidate Richard ‘Rick’ Butler

Wed, 05/26/2021 - 9:30am

    Four individuals are vying for a pair of Warren select board seats for the June 8 municipal election. Michael Doucette, John Crabtree and Richard Butler are pursuing Seat 3, while Jan Macdonald is pursuing Seat 4. 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 concise biography of yourself.

    I’m 45 years old, born in Waterville, Maine, in 1975. I graduated Lawrence High School in 1994. I briefly attended Thomas College before enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps.

    While in the Marines I served for 11-1/2 years as an administrative clerk and then an administrative chief. Both of these jobs are equivalent to working in human resources.

    I left the Marines in 2006 and then started working for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs at Togus in Augusta, Maine. This is where I continue to work now as a worker’s compensation specialist for the VA New England Healthcare Network.

    I moved to Warren in 2013 with my wife Shannon and my family. My wife owns Hair and Nails By Shannon, a beauty, hair and nail salon that’s located in our home.

    I have five children. The oldest daughter, who was 28, passed away in 2019, a set of boy/girl twins who are 20, a 17-year-old daughter, and a 16-yearold stepson. I also have two wonderful grandchildren. My wife and I have legal guardianship of our two grandchildren. Our grandson is four years old and our granddaughter is two years old.

    As for as my political career ,I attended Maine Boys State in 1993 at Maine Maritime Academy in Castine. While at Boys State I was elected as a town selectman by my peers.

    From August 2019 to April 2020 I was a school board member for both RSU 40 (Medomak) and Region 8 (Mid-Coast School of Technology). I served on the Policy and Finance Committee for RSU 40 and the Finance Committee for Region 8.

    Since 2019 I have been a member of the Warren Budget Committee.

    I also serve as a trustee on the Union Fair Board of Trustees. I’m a designer and planner for the Union Fair haunted “Trail of Terror” that takes place during select nights in October. Last year, we had our biggest season ever having close to 2,000 guests walk our trail.

    What are the three most pressing issues facing Warren today and how would you like to see them resolved?

    First is the mil rate (aka property tax rate) in Warren. As I detailed in a recent video that I posted on my Facebook campaign page, the Town of Warren pays the highest mil rate than any of the other towns in RSU 40. Warren’s current mil rate is $19.40 per every $1,000 a property is assessed. Waldoboro is the next highest town at $18.20 per $1,000. Our neighbors in Union pay $18.00 per $1,000.

    Warren is slated to have a town wide property reevaluation starting in 2022 which could take well over a year to complete. After this reassessing is completed, in theory property values will go up which should lower the mil rate.

    In the interim Warren, according to the 2020 annual report, has an unallocated fund balance (aka surplus) that’s over $2 million dollars. That’s well over three times the amount of the other towns’ fund balances in RSU 40. What I would like to do is use around $300,000 of that fund balance to lower the mil rate (property tax rate) to be similar to the other towns in RSU 40. At least $18.20 per $1,000.

    Second issue is the marijuana ordinance, which I will speak about in the question below.

    Third issue is the Steamship Navigation Inc. property more commonly known as the Rifle Range. This property and the waste, buried and not buried, on these 71.4 acres has been an issue for around 20 years.

    This property currently has a property tax bill of $533. That’s $533 for a building and 71+ acres which the owner does not pay. Every December the town has a special meeting to decide if the town will start the process to foreclose on the property. Last year’s meeting had a total of 16 people in attendance. That’s 16 people which included the five selectmen. In an 11-6 vote the town decided to “kick the can” down the road for another year.

    It’s far time that the town forecloses on this property. Some of this property could be subdivided and sold to investors. There is valuable road frontage on Route 90 that could be sold and assessed at a higher property tax value than $533. Maine DEP has also stated that they could help the town obtain brownfield grants from the U.S. EPA that could assist in the removal of some of the material on the property. There may also be other companies like Dragon Concrete that could use that material as a fuel source. Bottom line, the town needs to take action that’s long overdue.

    How will you protect taxpayers as you shape and govern a municipal budget and juggle various interests that request municipal funding through the year?

    Being a member of the Warren Budget Committee I see all the current spending requests. The budget for the last two years remained relatively flat. The Department Heads do a excellent job with their budgets.

    The only concern I always have is to ensure our salaries for our town employees are competitive with other towns. With snowplow driver shortages and ambulance/EMT shortages the town always works hard to retain and possibly recruit more staff so we can avoid paying high per diem costs for EMT staff, for example. Being a fiscal conservative, if elected as a selectman, I’ll continue to ensure the towns money is spent wisely.

    What steps do town officials need to take in the coming months to ensure the community recovers economically from COVID-19?

    Now with the latest Executive Order signed by Governor Mills starting on May 24 that allows businesses to make their own decision to require masks, ask for proof of vaccination, or allow everyone in unmasked is a huge step forward. I have spoken to several business owners in and around Warren. Their biggest complaint was that they were forced to be ‘“mask police” or risk loosing their state license(s). With this burden eliminated business owners can again run their business as they see fit.

    This is going to be a huge summer tourist season. I hope all local businesses are able to obtain all the employees needed to make this season a success. The lack of people applying for jobs and the lack of foreign visas being issued this year will be hardest felt by the local farmers and other tourist businesses that depend on these workers.

    Is Warren zoning adequate enough to sustain economic vitality and quality of life?

    I have a lot of confidence in the Warren Planning Board. I don’t see any changes that need to be made in zoning right now.

    My only concern is the lack of public notice given when a public hearing needs to be made. Currently the Town will post public notices on their website, a few fliers around town at local stores, for example, and in the paper edition of the local newspapers. In this day and age not many people will go to a single website for information or read a physical paper newspaper. More effort needs to be done to expand these notices to social media.

    There is a person that runs an unofficial town Facebook group that will copy and paste items from the Town of Warren website to that page, but that should not be that person’s job. The Town should have its own official Facebook page. When I have spoken to several Warren residents about recent public hearings most people had no idea said hearing ever occurred.

    What is your stance on the town's proposed marijuana ordinance?

    I feel the town is skipping a step and I’ll explain. In November 2016, Question One was on the ballot to ask Mainers if they wanted to legalize recreational marijuana. Question One did pass statewide, but it failed in Warren. The town voted 1,023 Yes, 1,107 No, and 23 ballots were blank.

    What I would have liked to see if to have a vote in the town to see if the residents wanted to even allow marijuana shops (both medical and recreational) in the town. If that question passed than an ordinance could be drafted.

    With that being, said the State, under this law, have given every municipality an automatic “opt out’ clause when it comes to marijuana stores. An operation license will not be issued in a municipality where no ordinance has been drafted. This means if and when an ordinance is approved by the municipality license can be issued for that town.

    The Town of Warren has one chance to make this ordinance perfect as changing ordinances after the fact is a long process.

    I recently went to the Warren public hearing on the proposed marijuana ordinance and addressed some of my concerns. I was told that the vote on June 15 has to be on the ordinance as written and no changes can be made. I was told it’s “all or nothing.” You can vote to approve the ordinance as written or vote against. I do have some concerns with the ordinance as written. The ordinance states “No permit shall be granted for any marijuana establishment within five hundred (500) feet of a boundary of any preexisting school or place of worship.”

    Two issues: First, I feel the distance should be 1,000 feet as suggested by the State. Also the word “boundary” could be confusing to many. I would rather see the ordinance use the word “property line” as that word is used in the State law. There is no mistake what “property line” means unlike “boundary.” 

    Also, the ordinance lists operation hours for these stores can be between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. My concern is how will businesses let people know they’re open after dark. In the Town of Warren there is only two streets that are permitted to use lighted signs. Those two streets are Camden Road (aka Route 90) and Atlantic Highway (aka Route 1).

    This will tie into another concern that I’ll mention now. The ordinance also allows for up to twelve (12) marijuana shops to operate in the Town of Warren. That’s six (6) medical and six (6) recreational marijuana stores. A business can also hold a license for both and there are State laws that make those rules. My recommendation is to have up to six (6) businesses (up to three medical, and up to three recreational) that could operate on Route 90 or Route 1 between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. The other up to six (6) licenses would be reserved for legally registered cultivators who want to operate a “farm stand” to sell their products. These businesses would operate between 7 a.m. until dusk as these businesses are located on roads other than Route 90 and Route 1.

    So to the original question I don’t support the proposed ordinance as written and I would urge voters to vote no on June 15. The voters could reject the ordinance in June and the ordinance committee could make changes in time for the November election. Again, the Town has one opportunity to make this perfect, if the Town is inclined to allow such businesses. Once the “pandora box” is open and the ordinance is approved it will be very hard to make any changes.

    Free Space: Is there anything else you would like voters to know about you?

    If anyone would like to talk to me about any of the town issues the easiest method is to send me a message on my campaign Facebook page at facebook.com/RickForWarren or send me an e-mail RickForWarren@gmail.com. I’m glad to talk to people over the phone and even meet people in person. I want to thank the voters who took the time to read this and I hope to have their vote on June 8 or earlier by absentee ballot.