BUCKSPORT — It would be easy to see Town Manager Derik Goodine’s first year as a trial by fire.
He took the job in June 2014, less than four months before Verso Paper Corp. announced it was closing the paper mill that paid almost half the town’s property taxes.
And, indeed, there’s been fire.
“It’s been a challenge, doing the budget and everything. There were so many moving parts,” Goodine said.
The challenges have included getting a new tax valuation for the mill property, convincing state lawmakers to approve a measure that’ll bring more school funding next year and learning the quirks in previous town budgets.
Goodine also had to set a new sewer rate, just as voters approved the construction of a secondary treatment system and the largest ratepayer, Verso, left. That’s meant higher bills for residents.
And Goodine did all that without a finance director. The last person to hold that job, Katherine Hickson, resigned last fall and hasn’t been replaced.
Goodine acknowledged it’s been hard. He’s pulled several all-nighters and lost 25 pounds in recent months, he said. He’s also been seeing a physical therapist for back pain that, he said, has “been agitating me.”
But overall, Goodine framed his first year less as a trial than a catalyst for the type of positive change he’d like to see going forward. There’s been a burst of new summer activities in Bucksport: a “Third of July” celebration, the Wednesday on Main event series and an upcoming arts festival.
Goodine was planning to encourage such events when he took the Bucksport post after managing the lakefront town of Naples, he said. The mill closure just hurried things along.
Besides Naples, Goodine has also managed Sangerville and Levant.
In an interview, Town Councilor David Kee pointed to Goodine’s more than 20 years of experience in town government and said that, “Overall, he’s doing a good job.”
Kee did offer one criticism, though. In drafting the budget, he said, Goodine “had to do a lot of rewriting. It was really a financial tsunami that hit us with the mill and water treatment plant. It took longer to do the budget than some of us would have liked.”
But, Kee added, “it got done, and it got done on time.”
The Town Council recently held its one-year evaluation of Goodine. Because it was an “executive session,” or closed-door meeting, Kee wouldn’t comment on how it went.
With redeveloping Bucksport more important than ever, Kee also described Goodine as an “idea man.”
Indeed, in interviews and Town Council meetings, Goodine will periodically float ideas for bringing downtown Bucksport to life.
Goodine has never been lacking in vision. Early in his college career, he said, he wanted to learn Russian and become an academic — “but I’d also be, like, a correspondent on CNN, if Lithuania or the Ukraine got out of hand.”
Then the Soviet Union fell apart, dashing Goodine’s interest in Russian, and an internship with the town of Veazie stoked his interest in municipal work.
After briefly managing a nightclub in Bangor, he was offered the Sangerville job.
He attributes that offer to a job interview in which he was asked how he’d handle a hypothetical budget shortfall that needed to be resolved over a couple months.
Instead, he described an actual situation in which his nightclub had booked performer Eddie Money — of “Take Me Home Tonight” fame — but didn’t have the $10,000 required to pay him on the night of the show. By delaying when Money went on stage and selling a lot more drinks, they made up the “shortfall,” Goodine said
Twenty years later, the Brewer native is back on this side of the Penobscot River, and the question of how to get Bar Harbor-bound travelers to turn left off the Verona Island bridge is more relevant than ever.
He wants to hold more downtown events throughout the year and add a scenic lookout sign, he said, “because I don’t think we’ve sold ourselves well enough in the past as a true tourist destination, and I think the way you get tourists is to make it a fun place to be.”
His more off-the-cuff suggestions have included installing an old-style, red phone booth on Main Street and starting a community garden.
More immediately, Goodine is focused on hiring a new economic development director and trying to attract investment in the mill site, which new owner AIM Development wants to tear down and redevelop as soon as possible.
With several fiber Internet cables running through this region, he suggested a datacenter could make a good fit there. Such facilities get very hot, and nearby Silver Lake could be used for cooling, he said.
Besides bringing investment to Bucksport, the Town Council is also considering how to best manage its finances in a way that frees up Goodine to do more economic development work. With tax rates and sewer rates rising, they’ve discussed hiring a part-time accountant to regularly look at the books.
Bucksport by the numbers
Population (2013 Census bureau estimate): 4,932
Median age (2010): 43.3 years
Area: 56.5 square miles (51.5 square miles of land, five square miles of water)
Annual budget for 2015-2016 (includes $554.9K in planned capital improvement funds): $5,335,223
Manager’s salary: $82,000
Valuation (2015): $432,596,828
Tax rate: 17.1
Number of municipal employees (not counting volunteers or Regional School Unit 25 staff): 40 full-time employees and 31 part-time or seasonal employees
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the town Derik Goodine last worked in.