AUBURN — The City Council approved a waiver of foreclosure Monday for the empty Auburn Enterprise Center industrial park, giving the beleaguered project at least another year to secure potential tenants. 

The council voted 4-1, with two abstentions, to allow the waiver, two weeks after officials tabled a vote on the issue.

The land off Lewiston Junction Road near the Auburn-Lewiston Airport is owned by the Auburn Business Development Corp., a private economic development organization that has struggled to secure a single tenant for the nine lots developed in 2013. 

Because the corporation has not sold any lots, it has failed to pay property taxes on the land. Tax liens were previously filed for the nine properties for unpaid 2016 taxes and will mature Jan. 10. The city also holds tax liens for unpaid 2017 taxes. 

If the city did not grant the waiver, it would have taken ownership of the land. 

Councilor Belinda Gerry voted against the waiver, while councilors Alfreda Fournier and Leroy Walker abstained. 

Gerry said the corporation has been a “vital” part of economic development efforts in the city, but said waiving foreclosure would set a worrying precedent that isn’t afforded to the average taxpayer. 

“I cannot in good conscience vote for the waiver,” she said. 

The majority of the council, however, said the city simply isn’t prepared to handle the large industrial park property if it became the owner. 

Councilor Bob Hayes said private corporations like the ABDC can manage economic development projects with long-term commitments that elected officials with two-year terms, or limited city staff can’t do. He added that many industrial park projects have faced similar challenges. 

“It’s a partnership that’s needed,” he said. “The investment was made years ago, and the market has changed. Are we going to do any better than the marketing effort that’s been made to date?” 

The city approved a $3 million bond in 2005 for the project to do the necessary site and utility work. 

The ABDC has a board of directors that manages its assets and listings. The corporation describes its mission as facilitating the physical settlement, or resettlement, of business enterprises in Auburn.

A scheduled executive session prior to the regular council meeting took the entire workshop period Monday, forcing the council to hold another scheduled executive session after the meeting. 

Fournier, prior to abstaining from the vote, criticized the ABDC for apparently staying with the same real estate broker, stating, “I would’ve fired them.” 

The total property taxes owed at the Auburn Enterprise Center for 2016 is about $36,700. 

The city’s tax liens for the 2017 taxes  will mature in December 2019. At that time, the council will again have to decide whether to waive foreclosure. 

Councilor David Young said the waiver does not mean the city is forgiving the taxes.

“It’s not the same as an individual that lives in a house,” he said. “They’ll be paid eventually. I’m in favor of giving them a little extra time to do what they need to do.” 

Mayor Jason Levesque said his predecessor, former Mayor Jonathan LaBonte, was “adamant in de-constructing” the ABDC, referring to LaBonte’s past criticism of the group.

“We’re here to construct new business opportunities,” Levesque said Monday. “You have a partner up here. We want to work with you.”  

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