PEPPERELL – With days to go before residents head to the polls, Denene Premus and Norman “Joe” Radwich covered many topics in front of over 60 people at the Pepperell Senior Center during Tuesday night’s Meet the Candidates event.
The duo are running against each other for a seat on the Board of Selectmen, with election day set for Monday, Nov. 18.
The special election came about after Board Chair Lisa Ferolito resigned on Aug. 28, citing disagreements with Town Administrator Andrew MacLean.
Moderated by Laurie Masiello, the event had the candidates provide opening and closing statements with 12 questions from the moderator and six questions from the audience thrown in-between.
Right off the bat was a question on if another local town has a template for Pepperell to follow, to which both candidates shared a similar answer.
“My favorite town is Pepperell,” Radwich said. “I think Pepperell should be leaders and not followers, since some of our committees would like to poach and cut things from other towns. I’m excited for Pepperell and the people in Pepperell.”
“I think Pepperell is the basic template for itself,” Premus said. “I did grow up in the small town of Chester, New Hampshire and it basically is a lot like Pepperell: a single blinking yellow light, apple orchards, farms, cows, horses. When my husband and I moved to Pepperell, we liked the rural character and community here. However as the saying goes, nothing stays the same and just like people, our town needs to change and develop to stay healthy. So it only makes sense to look to neighboring towns form ideas on improving our fiscal health.”
Money was a topic frequently touched-upon during the event, first when the candidates were asked how they would balance tax-payer concerns with that of local school budget demands, given the $1.4 million Proposition 2 1/2 budget override approved by voters on May 13. Premus recommended the town investigate “creative ways” to save money and cut costs, including new busing options. Radwich pointed out a “great idea” mentioned to him that the North Middlesex Regional School District band together with other regional school districts and ask state officials for more access to Chapter 70 funding. The candidates were also asked how they would balance the needs of the economically diverse population of Pepperell.
“I disagree with that question,” Radwich said. “We shouldn’t be trying to separate by class, we’re all equal here. A lot of people moved to Pepperell because of the tax base. When I bought my house 42 years ago, it was more house than I could afford and I told my wife, ‘Don’t unpack everything because I don’t think we can afford it.’ So you grow into your house.”
“I think that what we need to look into is aggressively pursuing state grant funding that would reduce our capital expenditures and capitalizes on private investments.” Premus said.
The candidates were later asked about revising the town’s taxes to create fairness for residents and businesses, with one option being establishing a split tax rate. The other option would be adopting the Community Preservation Act that would add an additional one to three percent to residential tax rates and move money to fund projects, including affordable housing, historic preservation and recreation.
“Under Mass. law, we cannot change the tax code at a local level. I do agree with the Tax Assessor concerning the split tax rate issue,” Premus said. “It was recommended that the Selectmen vote to retain a single tax rate. As far as the Community Preservation Act is concerned…we have so many communities around us that are taking advantage of funds that are available and Pepperell really should consider doing this.”
“I’m not for splitting the tax,” Radwich said. “The town is not a business, we don’t make money. We have to manage our money, which is your money and my money. Pepperell is a wonderful community so I just don’t want to add more percentage because the water bill is going to go up here because of the treatment plant and the sewer bill is going to go up. We’ve got to be watching our pennies.”
Attendees at the event were also given the chance to ask questions to the candidates. Deb Fountain asked the candidates about their prior experience in advocating for municipalities. While Radwich admitted to not having any prior experience, Premus pointed out that she was one of the residents who protested the Kinder Morgan oil pipeline proposed in 2014 and is currently one of the residents protesting the proposed dump of toxic soil at 161 Nashua Road.
Phillip Durno, a member of the Pepperell Board of Health, asked the most blunt question of the night: Why did the candidates want to be a Selectman in Pepperell?
“When the seat unexpectedly became open, I looked at it as an opportunity,” Premus said. “I have spent a lot of time volunteering in this town, I’ve put a lot of effort into making it a better community. Honestly, I really do love this town.”
“I’ve been here 42 years,” Radwich said. “I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I do have a little more time, I’m self-employed, I can make the time when needed. I thought it was time I give back to Pepperell.”