LEWISTON — The City Council is poised to approve next year’s proposed $39 million Capital Improvement Plan on Tuesday. It includes large infrastructure projects and planned upgrades such as a $2 million radio replacement project for Lewiston-Auburn 911.

The Capital Improvement Plan is adopted annually but updates priorities over the next five years. City Administrator Ed Barrett describes it as “a working document that sets the stage for the city’s annual operating budget process.”

If adopted Tuesday, it does not mean ultimate approval or funding of the projects within the plan. Each project requires funding approval from the council at a later date.

The fiscal 2019-20 section of the plan, at $39 million, includes about $11 million that would be bonded by the city, about $2.6 million bonded by the School Department, and another $13 million coming from state or federal funds. Among the larger projects coming from local money is the radio replacement project, which will upgrade Lewiston-Auburn 911 to a digital system.

Other local expenditures include $2.6 million for local street maintenance and $1.4 million in municipal garage vehicle or equipment replacements.

Among the planned projects funded by federal or state dollars is $7.6 million in runway resurfacing at the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport, $2.1 million for a Maine Department of Transportation project on Main Street, and $1.2 million for a state highway project on Sabattus Street.

The School Department’s section of the plan calls for roughly $900,000 for a districtwide security camera upgrade, among other projects.

Prior to voting Tuesday, the council will receive recommendations and comments from the Finance Committee and the Planning Board.

The City Charter requires that a capital improvement program be prepared annually for review by the Planning Board, the Finance Committee and the City Council and be adopted by the City Council at least four months prior to the end of the current fiscal year.

A memo submitted by the Finance Committee states that it largely supports the plan, but with some exceptions. The committee does not support projects like a citywide revaluation, a police department expansion project, and School Cepartment items related to a high school wing expansion.

A statement from the Planning Board regarding the plan stated, “While the majority of the board expressed support for the (fiscal 2020) LCIP, concern was shared by a number of members of what appears to be years of deferred maintenance by the city that is now requiring the amount of authorized debt to greatly exceed 80 percent of the average amount of annual debt being retired over the three previous fiscal years,” a limitation that is established in city ordinance.

CITY UPDATES BUSINESS LOANS

The City Council will also vote Tuesday on updates to its commercial loan programs, including a few new programs aimed at Lewiston’s low- to moderate-income census tracts.

Lewiston is updating its business loan programs in response to guideline changes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, as well as a local effort to survey previous customers of the city’s programs.

According to Lincoln Jeffers, director of Economic and Community Development, city staff recently surveyed local business owners who had previously used a city loan program “about what worked and what didn’t.”

In response, staff has added a few new programs and updated others.

Among the proposed new programs is a “micro-enterprise” loan, which will allow small business owners with one to five employees to access funds for a variety of uses, “including working capital, business plan support, training to increase capacity, and rehabilitation to make a space ready for the business.”

In order to access the funds, business owners must either create jobs for low- to moderate-income individuals or be low- to moderate-income.

The changes also impact the city’s commercial rehabilitation and facade improvements program.

According to Jeffers’ memo, the amendments to the city’s commercial loan programs “are the first changes proposed in many years. The changes are driven by the expressed needs of business and building owners; feedback received from users of our programs on how they can be improved; and the need to bring our programs into compliance with changes in HUD regulations.”

EXTENDING TERM FOR RENTAL REGISTRATION COMMITTEE 

Also on Tuesday, the council will decide whether to extend the term of a temporary committee on rental registration and other housing issues for the second time.

The committee started off on controversial footing last year with tension between members over how a rental registration program would impact landlords and tenants in Lewiston. However, since then, the committee has taken on a broader goal of establishing a detailed housing safety plan for the city.

The committee presented an interim report to the council in December that outlined the comprehensive approach to multifamily housing issues, and at the same time, requested a two-month term extension to the end of February.

According to a council memo, the committee is hoping to finalize its work later this month, but is requesting an extension until the end of March. Its final report to the council is expected to be a fully formed housing program, with identified costs and implementation steps.

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