AUBURN — A narrow vote Monday bought the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council some time and guaranteed their full funding for the rest of the fiscal year.

But the City Council’s vote came with some requirements for the group by supporters and sharp criticisms from council detractors.

“We should pull the money back,” Councilor Joshua Shea said. “I can guarantee you that this process of revamping the Growth Council will go a lot quicker if we pull the money back.”

Councilors voted 4-3 to fully fund the Growth Council through June 2014, with Councilors Shea, Tizz Crowley and Leroy Walker voting against it. At issue was the full $189,000 budget the City Council approved this past spring. That approval came with the requirement that the Growth Council and the Twin Cities negotiate a new contract by the end of November.

Growth Council officials met with Lewiston and Auburn city officials several times over the summer negotiating a new contract, drawing up a new proposal that focused on eight responsibilities for the Growth Council. They include developing economic strategies, coordinating efforts between the two cities and other groups, promoting the area, attracting and retaining local business, as well as managing a loan portfolio for local businesses and administration.

In November, Auburn councilors said they liked some ideas but not others and wanted to see more concrete benefits for the city of Auburn.

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Lewiston councilors responded by inviting their Auburn counterparts to negotiate a new deal for economic development.

Monday’s resolution calls for the two city councils to meet with the Growth Council by Jan. 27 to negotiate economic development and create a new joint economic development committee. That new group would guide economic development strategies and come up with a new contract.

Mayor Jonathan LaBonte said that even though the new contract was not settled, the groups had made progress.

“In essence, we didn’t need the finish line we hoped to have, but significant progress had been made that gives the council confidence in continuing forward with a good-faith effort,” LaBonte said.

But Shea said progress was not good enough. In his last meeting as a city councilor, Shea said he was disappointed the matter was not settled.

“I’m going to walk away tonight and honestly feel like nothing has been accomplished, not a damn thing,” Shea said. “That kills me because I ran saying that we needed to change economic development around here. You can drive 20 minutes in any direction and see what different places are doing — and doing better than us.”

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But Shea said councilors had made up their minds long before Monday’s meeting and the Growth Council would get their full funding.

“Right now, the mentality around here is, it’s good enough,” Shea said. “It’s good enough for some people but not for the rest of us. That really, really bugs me that we’re just sitting here giving them the nod and saying, ‘OK.’ This is an outdated system that does not work. We need to pull back their money until they fix it or we find another system.”

Former councilors agreed. Dan Herrick said he doubts the Growth Council’s work actually helps local businesses.

“I don’t believe that any developer that wants to come into this city needs the Growth Council to tell them what bank to go to to borrow money,” Herrick said. “I think they’ve got a handle on that.”

Joe Gray said Lewiston-Auburn needs better economic development work.

“I say cut LAEGC and go find the people who are promoting Brunswick or Freeport or anything in the Greater Portland area, because they are seeing growth and we are not,” Gray said.

With Shea, Crowley and Walker opposing the Growth Council and Councilors Mary Lafontaine, Robert Hayes and David Young supporting it, the vote came down to Belinda Gerry. She said she’s no fan of the Growth Council’s work, but would support Monday’s resolution.

“I believe we shouldn’t fund them, except what we promised them for this budget,” Gerry said. “That opens the door for when we talk with Lewiston about joint services. We can sculpt what we want in the next budget and give direction to the Growth Council.”

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