AUBURN — It may be time to get more residents who could benefit from federal block grant dollars to help decide how that the money is spent, city officials said Monday night.

Councilors said they may favor changing a committee heavy with housing professionals and social service agency representatives. The committee reviews the city’s Community Development Block grants and what kind of programs they are used to create.

“In my opinion, if you are a social service agency or person who would work with this committee, you should not be on the committee,” Mayor Jonathan LaBonte said.

Auburn receives federal block grant money to pay for economic development projects in the city’s most impoverished areas — parts of New Auburn, Union Street and residential areas downtown.

That money can be used to pay for housing improvements, work on public facilities such as parks and sidewalks in the target areas and to promote economic development.

Part of the federal requirements is that the city write a plan to show the grants will be used every five years. Community Development Director Reine Mynahan said the city is in the first stages of writing their new plan. It calls for creating a Citizens Advisory Committee that will begin working on the new plan this summer. It would be completed in and approved by the City Council by May 2015 and sent to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The current draft calls for eight members on the committee. Three would be selected by Mayor LaBonte and the rest would be picked to fill certain slots. They would include at least one resident with special needs, one from the Lewiston Auburn Alliance for Services to the Homeless, one from the Auburn Housing Authority, a Realtor or landlord, a housing developer, a minority person, a person that has used the city’s housing program and a person who lives in the target area.

LaBonte argued that the community should do a better job of reflecting the downtown area. He suggested councilors could pick residents, property owners or business owners, one from each area, to fill the committee.

“This is the time now to influence how this meets council objectives like improving citizen engagement and like making neighborhoods stronger,” LaBonte said. “We need to make sure this document reflects how we see it really playing out.”

Councilors agreed that the committee needs more than 11 people.

“I see this as an opportunity for us to have a document, like a Comprehensive Plan, for housing and economic development,” Councilor Tizz Crowley said.

City Manager Clinton Deschene said the staff would bring changes back to councilors for a second workshop discussion.

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