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Candidates share stances on school, revenues and cost-cutting

Date: 5/24/2010

May 24, 2010

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

LONGMEADOW -- A group of nearly 40 voters attended the Select Board candidates question and answer session last Tuesday, which took place in the Business Technology Center inside Longmeadow High School -- a fitting setting, as several of the questions asked revolved around the high school project.

The four candidates -- Michael Clark, Mark Gold, David Gustafson and Christine Swanson -- all participated in the session, which was sponsored by the Longmeadow Youth Sports Council. This was the second annual Town Select Board Candidates Question and Answer Forum hosted by the group.

Gold is running for re-election, and Swanson is currently a member of the School Committee. Gustafson and Clark have not held elected positions before.

Questions were submitted prior to the forum. The first question asked was what experience each candidate had when it came to creating budgets.

Gustafson noted his degrees in economics and his 27 years of experience in business as well as his analytical and leadership skills. Gold mentioned his experience putting together the fiscal year 2011 budget that was approved by voters earlier this month at the Annual Town Meeting; Swanson similarly mentioned her work crafting the School Department budgets over the past four years. Clark, a student at UMass Amherst, said he knew what it was like to carry debt and why financial planning is an important thing to focus on.

Discussion of budgets led to a question on whether or not each candidate supported the proposed $78 million high school project.

Swanson, who is also co-chair of the School Building Committee, answered with an emphatic yes. Clark also said yes, because of the opportunity to receive $34 million in reimbursements from the state.

Gustafson listed some pros -- but more cons -- of the project before stating that his stance should be gleaned from them. Gold said this was "the wrong project" at the current time because of the associated costs.

Candidates were also asked what they would do to cut costs in town as well as generate new revenue.

Ideas shared by the candidates included creating a solar farm on top of the closed landfill, adopting the .75 percent meals tax and regionalizing select services. Gold noted the trash contract being shared by Longmeadow and East Longmeadow and talks of purchasing the streetlights in town to save money; Clark said two easy ways to cut costs was to weather-proof and modernize public buildings and to engage the community to volunteer more services.

In their final remarks, each candidate stated why residents should cast their votes for them.

"I believe strongly in the needs of the high school and the needs of the entire town," Gold said. "I believe I have the breadth of experience to address whatever issues or obstacles the town will face. I've helped put together a successful budget. I will continue to ask questions and do homework."

Swanson noted her concerns are revenue and service based. "I've put together successful school budgets. I'm a proven leader, a strong collaborator and I can plan for the short term and the long term," she said.

"I will offer leadership to tap into the town's tremendous resources," Clark stated. "I will provide a fresh perspective. I am working toward an inclusive community."

Gustafson closed the forum by saying, "This town is a jewel. We're all in this together. We all realize we need a lot of work here. We need folks with genuine management skills to move forward, and I have that. I can provide a fresh perspective as well."

The full forum can be viewed on LCTV on May 27 at 7 p.m., May 29 at 2 p.m., and May 30 at 5:30 p.m.

The four candidates are running for two three-year seats on the Select Board. Current Select Board member William Scibelli will not be seeking re-election. The election will take place June 8.