LEWISTON — After another round of emotional talks, the City Council decided Tuesday to officially support a legislative bill that would fund an immigrant resource coordinator position in the city. 

The vote in favor of the resolve, 6-1, did not include a vote from Mayor Shane Bouchard, who does not support the bill. Councilor Michael Marcotte cast the lone vote against the resolve. 

The legislation, sponsored by Republican Sen. Roger Katz, would allocate $75,000 in state funding to establish a position in Lewiston similar to the New Mainers Resource Center in Portland, and would put money toward English language and workforce training programs. 

Supporters say the new position, administered by Lewiston Adult Education, would align city services and help immigrants join the workforce faster.

Dozens of supporters, along with a few in opposition, have exchanged hours of comments that continued into Tuesday. While most have spoken in favor of boosting access to language services, the discussion also turned into a larger back-and-forth on immigration.

James Mosher, a veteran, spent minutes arguing that the legislation seeks to attract more immigrants, which he said is “an existential threat” to Maine and the country. He said immigrants and refugees “have run Maine’s economy into the ground” and that “assimilation is not happening.” 

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He commented on a list of violent terrorist incidents – none of which have occurred in Maine – and his overall stance brought out emotion among members of the immigrant community.

Fowsia Musse, a community health outreach worker for Healthy Androscoggin, who worked on a recent immigrant resource committee, said she has the same fears for her family’s safety as other Americans. She’s been a taxpayer for 22 years, she said. 

She said “this country was built on immigrants,” telling Mosher, “I’m not your issue. I’m not your enemy.” 

“If I was a white European, would you do this to me?” she said. “You can’t blame people for their circumstances. You can’t scapegoat everything that’s wrong with this country on immigrants and refugees.” 

During its previous meeting on Jan. 22, the City Council tabled a vote on the resolve after they had received an outdated version of the legislation.

Many councilors had said they supported the legislation, with some saying they would travel to Augusta to advocate for it. 

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Lewiston State Rep. Roger Fuller told the council Tuesday that he supports the bill because of its focus on workforce development.

“We hear over and over again how the workforce is in decline,” he said. “In Maine, we’re either growing or declining.”

Included in the approved language of the resolve: “these new Mainers have become important members of our community and will be one essential element of addressing the current and future labor shortage projected for the Lewiston economic region and Maine as a whole due to the aging of our population.”

State Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, has also spoken in support of the bill. He said Tuesday that funding for the coordinator position is the most important piece of the bill for Lewiston.

He said the same position has been successful in Portland for readying new Mainers for the workforce, and he believes the state should fund a Lewiston position based on its similar immigrant numbers. 

In committee in Augusta last week, he said, the amended bill garnered a 10-3 vote in support. It will now move to the Senate floor for consideration. 

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City Councilor Jim Lysen said funding for the bill “will be competitive in Augusta,” but added, “I think this is one that is a good investment.” 

In a written statement Tuesday, Bouchard said that “while I will not support LD 1492, I will continue to work on programs that accomplish the same goals without taxpayer funding.”

He said he’s already been working with community partners to “put something together and the feedback so far has been incredibly positive. I understand the community need. I just feel like we have a much better and more cost-efficient way of doing it.” 

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After blowback, council confirms sidewalk plow purchase 

LEWISTON — The city will spend roughly $160,000 for a new sidewalk plow, following public concern over unsafe sidewalks after the last major winter storm.

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Much of the emphasis was put on sidewalk maintenance, after Public Works Director Dave Jones said that his department only has three working sidewalk plows – two that are dependable. 

A replacement sidewalk plow was already included in next year’s Capital Improvement Plan, but during a council workshop two weeks ago, councilors were interested in hurrying the process. 

During the same workshop, Superintendent of Schools Bill Webster said some 1,000 students walk to school every day, but that the numbers have been declining.  

He said there are a number of factors that have played a role in the declining numbers, including a greater level of congestion and traffic and parent sensitivity to safety issues.

“An icy sidewalk may well lead to a parent deciding that they would take their child(ren) to school,” he said, adding that once that starts, a pattern easily develops. 

Jones said there are 50 miles of sidewalks identified to be plowed in Lewiston, with 33 miles listed as “priority” routes in the downtown and around schools. 

He said during the recent storm Public Works was averaging 3.4 miles cleared per 12-hour shift. With only two of the machines running and available, he said, it would take five days to complete the priority routes. 

With the council’s support Tuesday, the city’s bidding requirements in its purchasing policy were also waived, meaning the new plow could arrive in a few weeks. 

The purchase price includes the vehicle plus a tow-behind sander. 


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