LEWISTON — A number of city councilors are open to the idea of a “gesture of goodwill” toward taxpayers following a budget season of tax increases, but no one agreed Tuesday on how or if the city should do it. 

The City Council ultimately tabled a resolve spearheaded by Councilor Michael Lachance that seeks to either reduce by $30 the base stormwater rate charged to each Lewiston household, or provide residents with a $30 rebate in the form of a check or prepaid cash card. 

The $321,690 in funds would come from the unassigned fund balance, a contingency fund which is typically kept at roughly 10 percent of the city’s overall operating budget. 

Lachance said he had city administration look into the possibility over the last few weeks — a way to give property taxpayers relief from increasing utility rates and tax rates anticipated for next year. 

“With fees going up, the mill rate up, it’s time to do what we can to give back to the ratepayers, the taxpayers in this city,” he said during the meeting. “It’s something we have the ability to do.” 

He acknowledged the idea of a small rebate is “unorthodox,” and may present logistical challenges, but said even a small gesture will be appreciated for what it’s worth. 

City Administrator Ed Barrett and some councilors have reservations. 

Barrett said cutting $30 checks for every homeowner would come with associated costs. He also said the fund balance may end up being important next year, especially with the city looking at replacing each of its Fire Department substations.

Councilors Jim Lysen, Kristen Cloutier and Joline Beam agreed.  

Lysen said that with uncertainty remaining with the state budget, he supports keeping the fund balance, possibly considering a rebate “down the road” once the state budget is adopted. 

Cloutier said she was disappointed the council was asked to make a quick decision on the resolve, rather than discuss it in a workshop. She said utilities are “intended to be self-supporting through user fees,” and is also concerned with the upcoming Fire Department needs.

But, she said, next year’s tax increase is “more than I’ve seen since I’ve been on the council.” She said she’d support using the fund balance to offset next year’s $10 stormwater rate increase. 

“I like the idea of giving something back, but I’m not sure what it should be,” said Councilor Shane Bouchard. 

Barrett said the unassigned fund balance sits at 10.9 percent of the operating budget, about $1 million over the 10 percent target. 

He said another drawback of Lachance’s proposal is that Lewiston nonprofit organizations would also get a rebate, and it would be based on usage. Places such as Bates College could get refunds in the thousands. 

“We should have talked about this during the budget process,” Councilor Joline Beam said. “I’m not ready to vote on something with so many implications.”

Councilor Tim Lajoie argued in favor, stating he’s “pained” by continued excuses why the city can’t give back to taxpayers.

“The burden always goes to the ratepayer,” he said.  

The City Council will take up the issue during a workshop in June. 

In other action, the council unanimously approved the Capital Improvement Plan bond for next year.

The total cost of the bond is $13.4 million and includes over 20 projects and programs. The most notable include $2.7 million for street maintenance, $1.2 million in municipal garage upgrades, $1.9 million in water main replacements, $1 million in sewer main rehab and $1 million in Jepson Brook Channel upgrades. 

The council also authorized city staff to apply for a $500,000 grant to help pay for the planned expansion of the Lincoln Street parking garage. The project has been a piece of the ongoing Bates Mill No. 5 redevelopment efforts. 

[email protected]

filed under: