Ward 2 City Council candidate Rita Horsey decided to run for office against two-term Councilor Roger Lee out of a concern for how taxpayer money is being spent.

“It just seems to me that the City Council, because they have a limited amount of money to work with unless they raise taxes, that they have to be very careful about spending it, and I don’t think that they’ve been terribly sensitive to the fact that it is taxpayer money,” she said. “When they buy something, they’re not spending money out of their own pocket, they’re spending your money and my money and my neighbor’s money.”

She offered as an example a recent situation in which Ward 1 Councilor Marina Delune requested, against the recommendation of newly-hired Belfast Economic Development Director Thomas Kittredge, that the city put up a sum of money as a show of faith on a grant application.

“I thought, lady, that is not your money, that is our money that you are spending, and I think they forget that. I think they see it in the pot and they figure they can spend it, but not being sensitive to where it comes from.”

Horsey did not support the Council’s recent decision to buy a stretch of the old Belfast & Moosehead Lake rail corridor for a mix of recreation and rail uses, in part because the land cannot currently be accessed without crossing private property. She saw the purchase of a piece of land on the corner of Belfast Common — a $299,000 draw from surplus — as necessary, but said it should have gone to a public hearing before the sale. Several councilors expressed similar opinions after the fact.

“They’re spending all this money for a walkway [the proposed Coastal Walkway along the Belfast waterfront], and there are people on welfare,” Horsey said. “They have not been using the money to bring businesses into the city. They just don’t have their priorities straight.”

Horsey’s focus on taxes is understandable, given that she is a founder of the Tea Party Patriots of Midcoast Maine, a local branch of the anti-tax Tea Party movement. By the same token, she feels the grassroots movement has suffered from an unfair share of negative publicity, including a recent Republican Journal editorial cartoon that she believes painted the group as racist.

“People around here are just petrified of the Tea Party, and I’m just not exactly sure why,” she said. “Well, mainly because they don’t understand it.”

Horsey said the Tea Party stands for three things: lower taxes, smaller government and personal responsibility.

“It only plays into my running for my running for City Council only because I do believe in smaller government. I do believe in lower taxes, and I do believe in personal responsibility and private enterprise.”

Horsey has a few ideas about how to make good on her campaign slogan, “Let’s try lower taxes.” For starters, she would review the city budget.

Many services like police, fire and roads are essential, she said, but she doesn’t favor giving money to some outside organizations — she gave festivals as an example. “I think anything that can be funded with private money doesn’t need to have taxpayer money spent on it,” she said.

She conceded, however, that cutting off funding to smaller budget lines wouldn’t make much of a dent in the tax rate. The larger cuts, she said, would require new businesses coming to Belfast, broadening the overall tax base. And to do that, the city has to relax what she sees as an unnecessarily complex set of regulations.

She pointed to the recent debate over the number of parking spaces certain businesses were required to have under the city’s code of ordinances. Complaints from several business owners and a subsequent study by Councilor Lewis Baker comparing standards in other towns ultimately prompted the Council to amend the ordinance, but Horsey mentioned one business for which she said the old regulations created a major hardship.

Asked about the city’s new economic development director, Horsey expressed skepticism and a desire to see results. As part of his application, the director should have been required to show a portfolio of businesses willing to move to Belfast, she said.

“Not signing agreements with them, because he certainly wouldn’t be able to do that, but he would have a good idea whether these businesses are going to be willing to come to Belfast or not.

“He’s making a lot of money, and I don’t see any activity at all. Now if they’re doing it behind closed doors, any negotiation, he at least could say he’s talking to a certain number of businesses and they’re in negotiations to come here, and I haven’t heard anything like that,” she said. “But again, I don’t know if it’s worth the money.”

Among the types of jobs Horsey would like to see come to Belfast, she indicated a desire to see an expansion of the working waterfront.

“I love to see people make money. Maine has three major industries: forestry, fishing and farming. And we have the waterfront, so we should take advantage of it.”

As a newcomer to politics, she said she doesn’t have all the answers yet, but looks forward to getting into office and representing the people of Belfast, particularly those whom she says haven’t had a voice with the current Council.

While campaigning she has made it a point to talk to residents she believed were not being represented by the City Council, including residents of a trailer park near her home, many of whom, she said, were not registered to vote and were disenchanted with the political process. If elected, she said, she would continue to seek the views of all residents. Recalling a conversation with an elected official who said he rarely heard from constituents, she said she hopes to do better.

“I want my phone to be ringing off the hook with people’s ideas when an issue is coming up,” she said. “I want people to feel free to call me and let me know how they feel about a particular issue. … It’s important to go to the people and not to hold yourself above and not to have an elitist attitude.”