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Staff Writer

AYER — Races for Board of Selectmen and Planning Board will headline the April 23 ballot for local office.

Incumbent Cornelius “Connie” Sullivan has confirmed he’ll seek a fourth term, though he’ll be challenged by former police Sgt. Mark Coulter.

The decision to seek another term was an easy one, said Sullivan, citing several issues of interest.

He’s been a staunch supporter of the schools during its recent budget crisis. That support is something he expects to continue. While early projections show fiscal year 2008 being a lean one revenue-wise, Sullivan said he’ll advocate for sound budgeting for the town and schools.

Also, he said his 26 years of experience as an attorney could be an asset to a town facing two civil-rights cases for wrongful imprisonment stemming from the early 1980s.

“We certainly have our challenges ahead of us, but I like to think I can work with people to address those issues,” he said.

Having worked for the town from 1988 to 2004, Coulter indicated he wants to remain involved with public affairs.

“I’m interested in the town,” he said. “I’m interested in being sure budgets are closely watched and that the town doesn’t dig a hole it can’t get out of. I want the budgets to be treated like a home budget where you don’t spend what you don’t have.”

He said he supports education and town departments, but it has to be done responsibly.

He also voiced reservations with plans to establish a 350-space parking garage at the Rail Trail lot. The downtown draws little benefit from the commuter-rail station, he said, and gets traffic issues in return. Coulter also cited aesthetic concerns.

“I just think a monstrosity parking lot anywhere downtown would throw off that small-town look,” he said.

To date, Sullivan has strongly backed efforts to establish the garage at the Rail Trail, citing it as an opportunity to provide downtown parking and keep the rail station there.

On the Planning Board, four candidates will vie for two seats.

That race will see 22-year board veteran Peter Johnston and former board chairman William Oelfke challenged by Gervais Ford General Manager Mark Fermanian and Pleasant Street resident Evan Torlin.

Oelfke stepped aside last spring, but pulled papers in February after board Chairman Elizabeth Hughes announced her intent to resign after the election.

Fermanian, of Snake Hill Road, has been with Gervais for 36 years and has lived in Ayer for 25. He recently came before the board seeking a site-plan approval for the dealership’s facility near Carlton Circle. Though he was happy with the board’s final decision, he said that experience played into his decision to run.

“It was a fairly simple plan with no variances, and it took five months to get it through,” he said. “I feel I can help streamline the process.”

This will be Fermanian’s first try at elected office.

Torlin, who has worked in the information technology and security constriction fields, said his decision to run springs from a desire to be more involved with public affairs. Having lived in Ayer for three years, he’s already a member of the town’s Communication Committee and the Downtown Parking Task Force.

Torlin is on a subcommittee of the latter group that’s evaluating whether a series of satellite parking lots near the train station would be preferable to the 350-space garage. He said he’s not married to either idea yet.

“I’m open to all options,” he said.

Efforts to reach Johnston for comment were unsuccessful.

Also, there are two seats open on the School Committee, but Viola Barnes and Cheryl Alfieri are running unopposed.

The deadline for paperwork to appear on the ballot was March 5.

On the Board of Health, Margaret Kidder confirmed she’ll seek another term.

Elsewhere, Parks Commissioner Bruce Paige has returned papers to appear on the ballot.

In addition, Constable Clark Paige, who has held the office since the early 1990s, will seek another term unopposed.

Finally, resident Daniel Swanfeldt is running unopposed to become the next town moderator.