Three years ago, Lionel Berthiaume won his first term on Auburn’s Board of Selectmen. He was not sure what to expect but has since become comfortable with and excited about his role.
“I really enjoy it” says Berthiaume. “It is time consuming, but it is interesting and rewarding at the same time. I love being involved and seeing what goes on behind the scenes. I realize a lot of people think the BOS [Board of Selectmen] run the town, but that is not really the case.”
Berthiaume says he believes Auburn has earned a strong reputation for its management and fiscal policies, and he credits that to a strong team.
“The BOS is really guiding an outstanding group of professionals. From the town manager and the CFO to our department heads, we are so fortunate to have the people we have at the helm.” Berthiaume added that the town leaders all work well together and there has been high retention in town management. “It runs pretty smooth, so we’re doing something right.”
While three years have gone by fast, Berthiaume points to some significant accomplishments since joining the Board. Berthiaume is the BOS representative on the Senior/ Veteran Exemption and Abatement Advisory Group.
“I’m proud of the Tax Abatement Advisory Group that was put together” he said. “They work with the assessor, Council on Aging, senior center director, veterans director and other parties to maximize the exemptions and abatements available for seniors and veterans.”
Berthiaume explained that these tax benefits are regulated by the Commonwealth, so the town needs to work within state law guidelines. But the Advisory Committee has enabled the town to maximize the benefits that are allowed by law.
“We were also able to add an inflation adjustment to the calculation at the last town meeting so that we don’t have to redo the plan every time. That will save time and effort moving forward.”
He is also proud of the support the town and the BOS has been able to provide the police and fire departments, which he calls the best in Central Mass, if not the state. He also pointed to the progress made in the redevelopment process for the former Mary D. Stone and Julia Bancroft Schools.
“It is a huge involved process” Berthiaume explained. “There are a lot of permissions and applications involved with transferring the properties to a third party. Then for the third party the applications for tax credits and other permits, permissions and regulations take a lot of time. It is definitely a long-term project. But this is going to be a great thing for the town in many ways, and we will start seeing that redevelopment soon” he added.
Of course, there are always issues and challenges to address in any community, both short and long term. In Auburn, Berthiaume says there are ongoing challenges, namely taxes and maintaining infrastructure. There are also larger long-term projects like Drury Square and exploring a public safety complex.
“Taxes are inevitable” says Berthiaume. “It is a two-edged sword. Homeowners want their property investment value to go up, but also want their property assessed low to keep taxes low. No one, including the selectmen, likes paying taxes” He adds, “The reality is that values go up and costs go up and taxes go up. The challenge is to do the best we can to minimize the costs and the taxes while realizing the value increases.
We have one of the best public safety departments in the state. We have an infrastructure and capital
improvement plan. Union contracts have to be negotiated. Health care increases. Ed [Kazanovicz] and the Finance Committee have done as best they can to take care of all parties in town, and still not taxing to the max 2.5% rate in many years.”
“We have two relatively new schools, and one of the best school districts in the state” he said. “Just about one half of Auburn’s budget goes to the public schools. With that, there are a lot of required expenses and unfunded mandates in education, so many of these increases are unavoidable.”
“There is a lot to it” Berthiaume continued. “A lot behind the scenes that the average homeowner doesn’t see. Things like Auburn’s bond rating are so important because we can borrow at the best possible rates saving taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s hard to overstate how important that is.”
Looking to the future, Berthiaume sees the Drury Square project as a larger topic, one about which he is cautiously optimistic. “I am in favor of revitalizing a downtown area” he says. “We want to make sure that what we do there is effective and that we do it without overspending. I am in favor of continuing the improvements, but at the same time I am not rubber stamping everything related to Drury Square. It needs to be effective in order to follow through on the project.”
He also sees the public safety complex project as a big upcoming issue facing the town.
“We have an incredible fire and police department with amazing response times” said Berthiaume. “For a small town, they respond to an incredible number of incidents. We’ve done a great job as a town supporting them. There was a study funded last year through Town Meeting to look at solutions to both fire and police outgrowing their existing facilities, so we have to look at the best solution for that.”
Berthiaume says he’s happy to be involved in town government and excited to be part of Auburn’s future.
“During my first term [as Selectman] it took a good 6 months to learn the ropes. Now I am looking forward to helping shape Auburn’s future, and that’s exciting.”
He continued, “I am proud of the way the BOS and all the town administrators and committees handles themselves respectfully and professionally, which is a critical aspect of politics.”
Berthiaume feels he has much to offer the Board. “I don’t have an agenda. I listen to each item and look at it on its own merits. I will continue to try to listen and absorb, and not jump to conclusions. I always want to make the best decision for the town.”
“I have been a resident of Auburn for 56 years and I love my town; I would do anything for Auburn. I have 30+ years of business and accounting experience helping all types of businesses. I am a coach. I am a team player for several sports and organizations. My experience working with people and listening, being patient, help me to be a good selectman I try to take a very common-sense approach to everything I do.”
Overall, Berthiaume’s goal is to keep Auburn on its current path of strong growth, financial strength, and desirability.
“I hope we get good weather, a strong voter turnout, and that people have seen and appreciate the job I have tried to do on the BOS and for Auburn the last three years and allow me to continue that work for another three years. “
The annual Town Election is Tuesday, May 21. Polls are located at the Auburn High School and are open from 8am to 8pm.