Lewiston council funds new code officer with block grant money

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LEWISTON — Downtown will get one additional code enforcement officer, paid for with a federal Community Development Block Grant.

City councilors on Tuesday unanimously approved a $989,494 spending plan that will pay for literacy programs and senior citizens assistance as well as economic development, housing rehabilitation and community infrastructure work.

Lewiston, like Auburn, has received federal CDBG money since 1974. The communities have used the money to pay for social service agencies, building affordable housing and paying for community amenities such as Festival Plaza and Bonney Park in Auburn, and Simard-Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston. The cities also use the money for economic development in the form of business loans and support for the Bates Mill Enterprise Complex.

Members of the Visible Community and downtown housing advocates the Neighborhood Housing League have been pushing the city to hire two additional code enforcement officers to inspect downtown apartments and help make them more habitable.

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That effort continued Tuesday, but councilors said the city could afford one new code officer — paid for with block grant money.

“You have to understand the economic times that we are in and that our funding from the state level and the federal level are down,” Mayor Larry Gilbert said. “We are at the bottom of the pile here.”

According to Mark McComas, acting director of economic and community development, the city looks to receive $152,000 less in block grant money for the coming year than it did this year.

The city received $1.9 million worth of requests for block grant money. Members of the block grant review committee adopted a new rating policy to help determine which groups would receive money. Groups that get money include Catholic Charities, SeniorsPlus, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, The Trinity Jubilee Center and the Sexual Assault Crisis Center.

A plan by the Visible Community to purchase a $3,898 translation system that will be available for use by other groups also received funding.

Councilor Renee Bernier questioned that decision, noting that the American Red Cross Disaster Services group didn’t get the $2,870 it wanted.

“That’s what happens when you reduce the budget and raise the standards,” Councilor Tina Bailey said. Bailey sits on the block grant committee. “We don’t have unlimited money.”

The YWCA also didn’t get block grant money it wanted to help purchase a $50,000 boiler, although that was due to the group not filing its funding request in time. President Lee Young said she would make sure to make her request earlier next year.

staylor@sunjournal.com

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