LIMESTONE, Maine – Limestone is extending its search for a new town manager by two months because it’s dissatisfied with the first round of applicants.
The town selectboard has opened a new round of applications with a March 26 deadline.
The Aroostook County town has struggled to retain managers, burning through 11 of them in the past seven years, and received only five applicants for the current opening. The hitch is attracting people who actually have municipal experience, town leaders said. They’re counting on the extension to draw better candidates.
“Most had almost no town management experience,” Town Manager Walt Elliot said after reviewing applicants with the selectboard.
Limestone started its latest search last fall after former town manager Tara Henderson suddenly resigned. In her resignation letter, Henderson cited burnout among herself and staff members as reasons why she was leaving.
Selectboard members agreed her inexperience with municipal government might have also played a role.
The town will continue working with the Bangor-based law firm Eaton Peabody to advertise the position across Maine and several other New England states.
But the board won’t increase the future manager’s annual salary to $90,000 because they worry about citizens’ reactions. The position has a potential annual salary of $70,000 to $80,000 as advertised.
“I don’t want to see us go to more than $80,000 [for the salary],” said Selectboard Vice Chair Randy Brooker. “I think we would have a lot of frowning faces.”
Limestone holds an annual town meeting in which residents vote on town budget line items. Last year, a majority of residents voted for significant budget cuts after complaining about what they believed to be excessive spending.
The town hopes to hire a new town manager by May 31 and have that person begin work by July 1, after residents approve the next fiscal year budget.
Selectboard members extended Elliot’s contract through at least the end of 2023, if necessary. Elliot noted that he’s willing to stay on as long as the town actively pursues the search.
If the town finds a manager by May 31, Elliot will stay on briefly after July 1 to assist with the transition.
Limestone has several other unfilled positions that opened up in late summer. The town is relying on an interim police chief and highway foreman, and has yet to find full-time equipment operators and drivers for the highway department or a new recreation director.
The town has hired a full-time librarian.
Most towns are in the same position in the post-pandemic world, because many people who were undecided about retirement before COVID-19 retired earlier after the initial lockdown in 2020, selectboard member Fred Pelletier said. As a result, there were not enough younger people in the workforce ready to fill those empty slots.
Elliot noted that he has renewed all job positions on websites like Opportunities Aroostook and Maine Municipal Association and will be in touch with people who expressed interest about the recreation and highway departments.
“Somehow we have to reinvent the wheel,” selectboard member Chris Durepo said. “Maybe look at sign-on bonuses for the highway department or radio ads. If you don’t change the bait, you’re never going to catch the fish.”