PALMER — On June 11, voters will have the chance to cast their ballots in the annual town election.

There is only one contested seat in this year’s election, with three candidates vying for a two-year councilor-at-large position on the Town Council: Christopher Pelletier, Lucas McDiarmid and John Comerford. Reminder Publishing reached out to each of the candidates to ask them their opinions on how to best serve and improve Palmer.

The candidates have different visions for Palmer, exemplified by what they would like to see the town accomplish in the next five years. Pelletier said he sees a need for a professional review of the town’s government, including its fire and water districts. He said he would not rule out district consolidation. He’d also like Palmer to invest in its recreation areas and specifically cited Burleigh Park as a site which could be put to better recreational use. Finally, Pelletier also thinks a new DPW facility would support needed services.

McDiarmid cited public safety as a priority for the short-term future. He said that “to provide quality services [the fire districts] need better access to communications” used by the Police Department. In turn, he said, he would like to outfit the police station with security barriers and referenced a 2021 incident in which a man with a firearm drove a vehicle into the Leicester police station.

McDiarmid said funding water infrastructure is important and can be addressed by seeking state and federal funding, and budget requests, which he said the town has “rarely” done in the past. He also said funding conservation and recreation areas. “From our trails to our village parks, these can be the cornerstones for economic growth that we need,” McDiarmid said.

Comerford said he planned to work “tirelessly” with the state to ensure the proposed East-West Rail stop in Palmer becomes a reality, saying it would “connect the region with the job opportunities of other areas of the state.” He also said he wanted to “increase safety for all.”

Bylaws provide structure and guidance for municipalities, but as the town’s needs change, so must its regulations. The candidates reflected on how the bylaws could be altered to improve Palmer’s economy.

“The most critical ordinance in improving the town’s economy is the town’s zoning ordinance,” Pelletier said. “I would work with our Planning Board to consider expanding our commercial zones and identify areas where our ordinances make new development restrictive. I also believe that we need to evaluate our permitting process to ensure that developers are able to get through the overall permitting process in a timely manner because for these developers, time is money, and we want them to invest that money here in Palmer.”

While Comerford did not identify a specific bylaw that could be changed, added or removed, he said, “I believe that Palmer cannot solely rely on the cannabis dispensaries for sustained economic growth and I will work with other council members to explore all possible solutions.”

For McDiarmid, the town’s economic future lies in being a right-to-farm community. “Supported by an agricultural commission, homesteaders and farmers can be the backbone of suburban/rural communities like Palmer. Right to farm ordinances allow for greater economic development, creating more jobs in a sector that feeds locally, and has the ability to increase revenue for the community and individuals.”

As the legislative director for Speaker Pro Tempore Kate Hogan, staffing the 21st Century Agriculture Commission, McDiarmid said, “I have seen first-hand how farms and agriculture can drive a sustainable and environmentally friendly economy. With the introduction of a right-to-farm ordinance, we can support the local economy, create jobs, and feed ourselves. By engaging this sector, we can open up more opportunities for funding through federal organizations like the USDA, and state agencies like MDAR.”

Palmer has not escaped the opioid epidemic, with the Police Department reporting 56 overdoses in 2020, 36 in 2021, 30 in 2022 and 38 in 2023. Overdose fatalities during those years ranged from two to six cases. So far in 2024, there have been four overdoses recorded and no fatalities.

“The opioid epidemic has affected many of the citizens of Palmer,” Comerford said. Massachusetts was among states that settled lawsuits related to the manufacturing and distribution of opioids in 2021 and 2022 against drug makers Johnson & Johnson, Teva and Allergan, and pharmacies Walmart, CVS and Walgreens. “Any money received from the settlement should be used to lessen the negative impact. Treatment, education and prevention should be first and foremost,” Comerford said.

Pelletier also said education is key. “I believe that the best investment of funds received to combat the opioid crisis is to educate our youth on the dangers of misusing prescription drugs. Additionally, the town should consider using the funds towards intervention services to assist those who have been impacted by the opioid crisis receive the appropriate support in their recovery.”

McDiarmid said Palmer cannot tackle the opioid epidemic alone and urged a regional approach. “The town should engage the public with educational and awareness materials while working with a partner like Sheriff [Nick] Cocci who has a proven track record in dealing with this issue,” he said, pointing to Franklin County as an area where such an approach has been undertaken. “The town should engage with neighboring communities, maximizing the impact of funds. Palmer can have a broader reach. Then, we not only deal with the issue at home but help address the issue that drives this crisis into our communities,” he said.

There are other seats on the ballot with candidates running uncontested. Mark Caci is running for the three-year councilor-at-large seat, Norman Czech is on the ballot for Planning Board and a School Committee seat is being sought by Anthony Braden. Barbara Barry and Karl Williams are running for the District 2 and District 3 councilor seats, respectively.

Polls are open between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m.