By Diana Bowley, Of the NEWS Staff - DOVER-FOXCROFT - When Owen Pratt added the role of acting town manager to his municipal functions of welfare director, tax collector and recreation director in 1978, he intended it be short-term.
Today, retiring after more than two decades as town manager, he laughs at that early assessment. "I never thought I would stay for 26 years," Pratt, 59, said during an interview this week.
Nor did a very prominent local doctor. With a chuckle, Pratt recalled that after conducting his first town meeting, the late Dr. Linus Stitham told him that he wouldn't last six months on the job. Fifteen years later, the doctor apologized, he said.
Pratt entered the job when Jimmy Carter was president, a first class stamp cost 13 cents, and the town was reeling from a cash shortfall.
In 1976, the town could not pay back a tax anticipation note because municipal officials had overexpended the budget, so a $200,000 loan was taken out that carried a $50,000 yearly payment.
That mistake by previous town officials caused the formation of a Taxpayers Association that pushed reform and whose members closely observed town spending into Pratt's first years. "They made some big changes for the best," he said of the group.
Pratt calls himself fortunate to have worked with the diverse group of people who served on the local boards and with his trained and dedicated office staff.
These are community-minded people who tackle problems in a logical manner and come up with solutions in the town's best interest, he said.
"The thing about town government is it has a far-flung mission: There is no end to the issues, the wants and needs of the people," Pratt said.
The hardest but most satisfying project for Pratt over the years was the construction of a $13 million solid waste treatment system.
He recalled that a local entrepreneur, who opposed the construction of the treatment system, supported the installation of composting toilets. At one board meeting, Charles MacArthur plopped a box of composted human waste on a table in an effort to convince town officials the toilets were the most efficient and less polluting way to go.
Although he could not sell local officials on the alternative, MacArthur was successful in convincing an Environmental Protection Agency official, who ordered that the town conduct a feasibility study costing $15,000.
Today, Pratt said he has no doubt that the treatment system was the best way to clean up the Piscataquis River and to ensure economic growth.
And growth has occurred in the community under his tenure. In 1978, there were only two businesses operating on West Main Street - Hibbard's Nursing Home and Brother's Chevrolet. Today, the street is lined with businesses.
Other growth equally as important was the construction of a new hospital, the YMCA, a business park and the addition of Creative Apparel, PQ Controls, Pleasant River Lumber Co., the Charlotte White Center and Pleasant Meadows.
The town is in a better place than it was in 1978, Pratt believes. The gulls are gone from the landfill and locals no longer go to the dump to shoot the rats, he laughs.
Joking aside, Pratt said the town is fortunate because it now has a diverse group of taxpayers. And he believes the town will continue to prosper and grow in the future.
As for his own future, Pratt said he is starting his retirement the same way he started the job, with mixed feelings.
"It has been a very interesting job and I would have done it all over again," he said.