LUNENBURG -- The pavement-management plan, the ongoing budget constraints before the town and developing a plan to sell or lease buildings that are underutilized or vacant were three of the main concerns the selectmen candidates raised Wednesday night.
Selectman Tom Alonzo, Planning Board Chairwoman Joanna Bilotta-Simeone and Phyllis Luck are vying for two open seats on the Board of Selectmen. Alonzo is running for re-election, and Dave Matthews has announced he will not be seeking re-election.
Luck, whose husband Carl is on the Sewer Commission, said they often came to Lunenburg when they first got married because his family owned a home on one of the lakes.
When they could afford to do so, they moved to Lunenburg and bought their home on Lake Shirley.
"This is my last stop," she said during her opening statement. She said if elected she would focus her attention on establishing a more rigorous maintenance plan for Town Hall while preserving the rural nature of town and developing a business district.
Bilotta-Simeone said if elected she would work to find common ground with her fellow board members and residents wherever possible and would like to see more of a commercial district.
"My priority would be to build a commercial tax base that would relieve some of the pressure on the residents," she said.
Alonzo, who has been a member of the board for nine years, said that as selectman, it's his job to "help voters who run this town make good decisions."
After their opening statements, each candidate was given time to give answers to a number of predetermined questions, before fielding questions from each other and from audience members.
When asked about what capital and infrastructure needs she sees in town, Luck said she feels the town needs to turn under-utilized buildings into productive establishments, update the town's zoning to attract more businesses and find alternatives to the budget crisis.
"If the state of our financing is solid, we can face whatever comes our way," she said.
Alonzo, answering the same question, said he felt the pavement-management plan as presented by the Department of Public Works is the most important issue facing the town.
The Board of Selectmen heard a presentation from the DPW at its meeting Tuesday night, and Alonzo said what he found most troubling was if the town invests $5.8 million into the roads over the next five years, the condition of the roads will not change from where they are now.
"They won't get any worse, but they won't get better either. We need our roads to be driveable," he said.
Bilotta-Simeone agreed with Luck, saying the work the current Building Reuse Committee is doing at looking at options for various town-owned buildings is key in the town moving forward.
"Ultimately, I think we have to sell or lease vacant buildings in town and implement an overlay district," she said. That, she said, would help to promote more businesses coming to Lunenburg.
The candidates were also asked whether they would support an override in the coming years. Alonzo and Bilotta-Simeone both said they didn't know what the future held, and would address the issue as a selectman if and when the need arose.
Luck, however, said she couldn't see herself supporting an override in the next several years, especially with the new middle-high-school project about to be reflected in tax bills.
"When they feel it's worth it, people will spend it. I can't foresee supporting an override in the foreseeable future. In two years time, we're going to be taking on all the debt from the school," she said.
An override was proposed for fiscal 2012, but failed at Town Meeting. Alonzo, a member of the board at the time, said he supported putting the warrant article forward as a selectman and supported its passage as a resident at Town Meeting.
"I voted to put the override on the ballot. I believe it was up to the voters to decide on that," he said.
When asked to give an example of how she made a positive difference during her time as a member of the Planning Board, Bilotta-Simeone said for her, it was when she ran last year and received a letter of support from a resident whose property abuts the Pleasant Street solar project.
She said the board and the neighbors worked together for many months to put together a new solar bylaw that would protect the town and the residents but not unreasonably restrict developers.
"It showed I am making a difference," she said.
In response, Luck said "if the first bylaw had protected the town in the first place, that re-write wouldn't have been necessary."
In his closing statement, Alonzo said he believes the three pillars to any productive municipality are communication, cooperation and the community at-large.
"I believe a strong community should be important to us all. We need to do it together," he said.
Luck said in her closing statement that the town's volunteers are "really the gears that turn the town's wheels" and thanked residents who had opened their homes to her as she's been out campaigning.
Bilotta-Simeone also praised the work of volunteers, saying selectmen should "respect, value and thank them" for all the work they do.
"You have a choice to make in the future of our town," she said. "The selectmen aren't just the caretakers. They also chart our course. We have to look at how not to burden our taxpayers."
Wednesday night's debate was also a chance for other people in contested races to garner support. Each was given time to introduce themselves and talk about what prompted them to run.
The School Committee has three people running for two open seats, the Planning Board has two people running for one open seat, and the Parks Commission has two people running for one open seat.
The annual town election is scheduled for May 17 at the TC Passios Elementary School.
Wednesday night's debate was put on by the Lunenburg Civic Forum and co-sponsored by the Lunenburg Ledger.
Follow Katina Caraganis on Tout and Twitter @kcaraganis.