FRYEBURG, Maine — A new chapter for the town of Fryeburg will begin July 5, when Sharon Jackson will retire as town manager, a position she has held since March 2010.
Jackson, 66, and husband Bill, 74, will retire on the same day, which is the day her husband began his career in the construction industry 44 years ago.
Bill currently works for American Industrial Construction.
“We had always talked about retiring together,” Jackson said Tuesday. "We’ve been planning this for a while.”
The couple lives in Oxford, Maine, and has no plans of moving.
Jackson said she will continue to work her regular hours up to her last day to finish next year’s budget and “get things ready for next year.”
She said Fryeburg has had a heartfelt impact on her and that she’ll miss its people dearly.
“I’ve made some very good acquaintances and hope to keep up with those. Fryeburg has been my second home. It was part of me. I’ve done everything I would have done if I had lived here,” she said.
As far as the couple's plans in retirement, Jackson said they’ve usually taken two vacations a year but with more time they’d like to revisit Italy.
“We do plan on doing some traveling," she said.
Jackson, who said she also looks forward to spending more time with her six grandchildren, noted that she has taken out nomination papers for an Oxford selectman seat.
Municipal government has been one of Jackson’s passions so becoming a selectman is a natural transition.
If she is elected, the commute will also be a lot easier than it was coming to Fryeburg. “The town office is just about a mile from my house. I can walk there, I have before,” she said with a smile.
Jackson spent three months as interim town manager in Fryeburg after the previous manager, Martin Krauter, was terminated. She was then appointed as full-time manager.
“It was interim right in the middle of budget season,” Jackson chuckled, but putting the budget together “is my favorite thing to do.”
Jackson said she had little trouble coming in as Fryeburg’s manager as she had been town manager of South Paris, Maine, for about five years prior.
Jackson grew up in Millinocket, Maine, and worked for the paper mill there for a number of years.
Her tenure in town government began in 1997 as finance clerk in Oxford and was interim manager twice.
When Jackson came on as full-time manager in Fryeburg, “there was a lot of tension. It was two sides. I think it was the tail end of the Poland Spring era, which I actually knew nothing about.”
She had a lot to research after that.
The town’s financial situation was “not in very good shape” either, she said. “We’ve worked hard for the past nine years to turn that around.”
She added that over a period of years, “things were done not the way they should have been done,” and that led to a budget that had many issues.
“I’ve always worked in finance and accounting, and your books have to be balanced, and I believe in having reserve accounts so you save it for a rainy day,” Jackson said.
When she came in, 10 years of debt had accumulated and her goal from the beginning was to pay the debt down. Replacing and fixing town equipment, as well as hiring needed staff with additional training, also were priorities.
“This year, our debt is only $74,000,” she said.
Having a clean audit is one of the things Jackson is proudest of, especially since the town used to have “several pages of deficiencies” from auditors.
The hardest thing during her tenure was not being able to advance “some of the things a lot of people supported,” such as the now-defunct Poland Spring bottling plant proposal at the Eastern Slope Airport.
“It would have helped the town of Fryeburg bring in revenue.”
Jackson hopes the next manager will take care of the hard-working town employees and “look at what we have and continue to build on it.”
Building the economy and increasing the tax base through businesses that are “going to come in and employ more people,” is something Fryeburg can improve on, she said.
Along the same lines, Jackson also supports the medical cannabis industry but added that “ordinances need to be implemented; it needs to be in a controlled state.”
Local road improvement over the past nine years is another success Jackson feels good about, saying, “It will last for years to come.”
To find a replacement manager, the Maine Municipal Association of Augusta will enter into an agreement with selectmen and do a needs-based assessment that will hopefully find a good candidate for the position in time for Jackson’s departure.
That process will begin in the next few weeks, “so there’s not too much a gap in time” from when Jackson leaves in July, she said.
MMA assists Maine towns in interviewing and hiring municipal employees.
In a statement on behalf of the Fryeburg Board of Selectmen, Rick Eastman said, “Sharon has faithfully done her job as manager and leaves the town of Fryeburg fiscally strong, and in good order. She will be greatly missed! Please extend her a 'job well done' when you see her.”