Androscoggin budget committee agrees to fund WMTS to expand services

0

AUBURN — Following two failed attempts the past two years, Western Maine Transportation Services received the blessing Wednesday night from the Androscoggin County Budget Committee for funds for fiscal year 2019.

The committee awarded WMTS its full request of $42,500 by a 12-1 margin.

Androscoggin County joins Franklin and Oxford counties in budgeting funds for WMTS.

Funds from Androscoggin County will allow WMTS to claim more than $85,000 in federal matching funds.

The results of a public transit feasibility study earlier this year provided WMTS with the ammunition to push for a more regional approach, which the Budget Committee saw as beneficial.

Craig Zurhorst, the community relations director, said Lewiston and Auburn would serve as sort of an urban hub. Zurhorst and Budget Committee member Kristen Cloutier both said area businesses are excited about the concept of a transportation service to get workers to and from jobs in L-A and the region.

The first two commuter lines WMTS is looking into serve the following routes:

• Farmington to Lewiston/Auburn via Route 4; and

• Connecting Lewiston/Auburn with Lisbon, Topsham, Brunswick and Bath.

Another possibility still being studied is a bus connecting Lewiston/Auburn with Sunday River ski area in Newry this winter. The service could bring workers in the Twin Cities and along the route to the employment opportunities at the ski resort.

WMTS will still provide transportation to anyone needing rides to medical appointments, shopping, education opportunities and employment and other events and services.

Andrew Titus of Auburn expressed concerns about providing funding for the regional service during a strong economy with low unemployment. He was worried about how viable the service would be if the economy weakens in a few years.

Cloutier, Anthony Reny of Greene, Steve Bolduc of Mechanic Falls and Allen Ward of Lisbon saw benefits with the regionalization of transportation services. Ward added that Lisbon saw so many benefits that the town has agreed to provide additional funding to WMTS.

“Everybody benefits,” Reny said.

Only Titus opposed the funding request.

In addition to WMTS, nearly every account in the 2019 county budget reviewed by the committee was approved with no changes. These included the registry of deeds, register of probate, information technology, employee benefits and two outside agencies that receive funding — Androscoggin/Sagadahoc Extension and Androscoggin Valley Soil and Water Conservation District.

The only cut came in the facilities account, where $5,000 was subtracted from the natural gas budget line.

The Budget Committee’s vacancy in District 3, which includes Greene, Durham and part of Lewiston, was filled Wednesday by Pauline Gudas of Lewiston, who is a member of the city’s planning board. That seat had been vacant for more than a year.

The panel’s final budget review is set for Oct. 10 when it looks at the sheriff’s budget, including the county jail, and anticipated revenues.

The Budget Committee is expected to make its final recommendations to commissioners on Nov. 1.

Androscoggin County Building in Auburn. 

Advertisement