In recent years, the second of the three readings of the Lewiston budget was marked by numerous amendments from city councilors who wanted to leave their mark.
But the second reading of the 2022 city budget on Monday evening revealed only three such changes. And only one of them can go anywhere, despite having to wait for the final reading next week.
That change came from Alderman John Pernsteiner, who suggested taking about $ 440,000 from city reserves to lower property taxes. The amount equates to about five days of city operations, and Administrative Services Director Dan Marsh estimates the books have about 108 days of reserve.
Pernsteiner suggested that the city could conveniently access and use this fund balance to replace the same amount of property taxes.
“I think it is good practice to have around 90 days (in reserve). So if we use five of those days we still have a cushion, but it also reduces the overall tax burden, ”he said.
Councilor Bob Blakey supported Pernsteiner’s proposal, but only for discussion’s sake. He asked Marsh and City Manager Alan Nygaard if they had any reservations about the move. Nygaard said although he trusted Marsh’s memory and numbers, it would be better to return to the council next Monday with accurate numbers for the final budget reading.
“I would much rather see us give you the exact information and then make the right application based on that exact information,” said Nygaard, noting that reducing the tax burden was a “good cause”.
If adopted next week, the change would reduce the amount of property tax revenue in the city budget from $ 104 million from the current $ 23.3 million to $ 22.9 million.
Another change also involved the use of reserve funds, with Councilor Kevin Kelly suggesting using 2.2 days, or about $ 200,000, to hire two additional officers to enforce the code at the Lewiston Police Department. Code enforcement is a long-standing problem in the city, with only two officials tasked with educating, monitoring, and citing residents on things like junk cars, weeds, and noise violations.
And while other councilors shared Kelly’s concerns, they found the city is creating a new position on the prosecutor’s office to help with code enforcement issues. And last week, Police Chief Budd Hurd found that one of his law enforcement officers had just resumed after being out for nearly a year while recovering from an injury. Councilor Cari Miller said she would rather wait and see what impact this has on code enforcement before committing to hiring two full-time officials.
Blakey also rejected the one-time source of funding for ongoing positions and the lack of discussion in the council on the matter. He also said Hurd should comment on the proposal, which he couldn’t do on Monday as he couldn’t attend the meeting.
“I don’t like creating new jobs in the blink of an eye,” said Blakey.
The proposal failed when only Kelly voted for it.
Alderman John Bradbury also asked for a change to take the proposed $ 250,000 from the town library to repay the final amount the town plumbing fund borrowed to build the new library and reimburse it directly to the fee payers instead to put him in the city budget. This change failed for lack of a second.
City councils approved the first reading of an ordinance creating a new urban renewal district that would encompass much of the inner city and part of Normal Hill with 4-2 votes, with Pernsteiner and Bradbury voting no. Mayor Mike Collins was absent.
The ordinance was due to be presented to the council earlier this year, but was withdrawn when the American Recovery Plan Act allowed the city to fund a downtown aqueduct project that was the top priority for the new area. The revised plan now focuses on other infrastructure goals, such as improved connectivity between Normal Hill and downtown, signposts to help tourists find areas of interest, and homeowners to help remove dilapidated buildings.
The goals of the plan are largely based on the master plan for the inner city, which the council adopted in 2019 in order to advance the redevelopment of the most important historical district of the city. The council must approve two more readings before the area is officially created. In this case, the area will begin collecting property taxes from the new growth in the area. The city could then use the money to eventually fund projects or secure funding based on a promise of future funding.