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Incumbent promises to continue on fiscally conservative path

Gus Benavides Courtesy photo. (click for larger version)
February 17, 2010
Gus Benavides is up for re-election after serving his three-year term on the Board of Selectmen and said he will continue to keep his promise to the taxpayers of Gilford and remain fiscally conservative in what might be another challenging economical year.

Benavides, a resident for 14 years, said he moved from Massachusetts to Gilford with his wife Colleen to find a more rural setting to raise their children. They now have a 21-year-old daughter Saige attending Suffolk University in Boston, a 15-year-old son Malcolm, a freshman at GHS, and a 13-year-old daughter Noelle, a seventh grader at GMS.

Benavides transferred his job as assistant store director for Shaw's Supermarkets and said he left Massachusetts because of his concern for housing costs, depleting schools, and a rise in taxes and the crime rate.

He said he and his wife, who had ties to the Lakes Region, always loved Gilford, the lake, and the environment, and felt this move would be best for their future. Benavides said he had no ties to Gilford when he first became a resident but wanted to get involved with the town and joined the Gilford Rotary Club.

When the time came, Benavides decided to put his finance degree from Salem State College to good use and ran for a spot on the Board of Selectmen.

"I had no ties to committees and officials. I just wanted to give back to my community. I got to be someone who can come in and be a voice, with no political agenda," said Benavides, who had become concerned with rising taxes in Gilford, among other issues.

In 2007, Benavides ran against incumbent Dennis Doten and scored a seat on the Board of Selectmen. He said he kept his promise to be fiscally conservative over the past three years and now has a track record to prove it.

"I continue to make sure we have conservative, realistic budgets that meet the needs of residence and employees. In a global recession, we need a true fiscal conservative. If we spend, it's because we absolutely need to, since the taxpayers are paying," said Benavides. "My concern in hard economic times for Gilford families is to make sure local government is run as efficiently as possible with the leanest budgets, since this is taxpayer income."

Benavides pointed out that town budgets have been lean, with little growth over the last three years. He said he has helped to save the taxpayers thousands of dollars over the past three years by finding solutions and making negotiations throughout his term.

The Board of Selectmen directed the Facilities Planning Commission to obtain detailed blueprints, which reduced the cost of the project by $100,000, said Benavides. He pointed out that town employees also did not contribute to their health benefits before he was on the board, and now that employees pay insurance rates, the taxpayer's burden has already been somewhat alleviated.

Over the last two years, Benavides said he has been the board representative of the DPW and negotiated with the union to end cost of living adjustments, and has changed annual raise increases to merit-based increases, based on performance. He explained that the increase was also changed from 0-5 each year to 0-4, which could "potentially" save thousands. Recently, after negotiating, the DPW has also agreed to end their sick pay bonuses, which will save $20,000 a year.

"Even the union and town employees knew what we were trying to do. They knew this would be a burden on taxpayers," said Benavides.

With Benavides on the board, the selectmen also suggested that the SAU utilize the old library as their new office space when they moved out of the town hall. The previous lease agreement with the School District cost taxpayers $36,000; the town will now charge the district a $1 a year at the vacant library.

Benavides said it has always been important for him personally to run an open, "transparent" government. In his first year, Benavides proposed to move selectmen meetings from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. to ensure that residents, employees, and parents had full accessibility to meetings at a more convenient time. He also successfully pushed to have meetings videotaped and aired on the Cable Public Access channel.

An RSA request is also no longer needed to view the town's posted Manifest, or "checkbook," now available on the town Web site for the first time in town history, where residents are able to look up every payment the town makes online.

When town issues arise that affect a lot of different entities, Benavides said the Board of Selectmen holds multiple work sessions for the public, and for anyone involved or concerned with the situation, before making a final decision. He used the change of the Glendale Facility Ordinance as an example. After many talks, the selectmen came up with an ordinance that would work for every committee, department or worker involved.

Benavides has also personally pushed for 100 percent removal of coal tar on Liberty Hill, an ongoing concern of the town. He said he was also the only selectmen to meet with the governor in Concord and further discuss the Liberty Hill situation.

Benavides describes himself as a true conservative who can meet the needs of residents in hard economic times.

Benavides has worked on the Historic District Commission and helped develop guidelines for the committee. He has also worked on the Airport Authority, the Budget Committee, and the Capital Improvements Plan Committee. For the second time, Benavides has been endorsed by the Gilford Professional Firefighters.

Martin Lord Osman
Brewster Academy
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