LEWISTON — Elected officials are being forced to reassess priorities for the next two years due to the public health crisis.

A long list of goals developed during a daylong planning session in early March will likely shift to prioritize recovery following the pandemic.

Officials said this week that the pandemic has cut into the council’s momentum in planning for the next two years, but that the focus must now shift to helping the city and its businesses recover from the crisis.

The City Council discussed the results of the planning session last week, and will finalize a short list of priorities in the coming weeks. The priorities will likely include economic development and supporting local businesses in the wake of the crisis, as well as housing and public safety.

“When it comes time to really start working on the recovery, which I already believe we’re starting to do, having these goals really will guide us to do the best job possible for the community,” Mayor Mark Cayer said.

Multiple councilors said one of the goals, listed as “enhancing perceptions of Lewiston as a safe community,” must remain a top priority. Cayer said this week that it will likely be included in the “top three” priorities, “if not the top one.”

During the discussion, Councilor Lee Clement said it should be moved to “the forefront” of the council’s plans.

“It’s one of the things I made as a basic platform when I ran for council,” he said. “We can’t really do justice to the other things unless we can ensure that safety to begin with.”

The goal is mostly focused on public safety — developing a policing plan for the community with focuses on violence, prostitution, and drug dealing, and more community policing efforts like an “enhanced police presence through a periodic walking beat, bikes, (and) officers interacting with residents.”

Councilor Luke Jensen said he agrees with the policing goals, but said the overall issue of changing the perception of Lewiston as safe should also include code enforcement.

Most councilors agreed with keeping economic development and housing as the top two priorities.

“Two of the first items – economic development and housing — are two of the biggest discussion points during the pandemic,” Councilor Alicia Rea said. “Knowing that our lens was already focusing there, and that we have a group of folks committed to working on that, makes me feel we are working toward the right outcomes. It was affirming in a way.”

The goals listed under economic development include supporting a “sustainable local economy” with small businesses like niche restaurants, retail, and “nightlife offerings appealing to younger residents.”

It also includes calls to review zoning ordinances and regulations to “ensure Lewiston is a community that works to find ways to say yes to projects.”

On Tuesday, Cayer said he was in his office looking through next year’s budget. Looking at revenue projections, he’s expecting a “tough year,” he said.

“I’m quite confident in saying economic development is going to be one of those top goals,” he said.

But now, the focus will be on recovering the economy, he said. Even if the shelter-in-place order were to continue into the summer, Cayer said, the council will have to plan for recovery efforts.

“Even since staff presented the initial budget, they’ve really had to reevaluate everything,” he said.

Councilor Stephanie Gelinas said she agreed with economic development staying “at the top of the list, especially because of where we are right now.”

The list of economic development goals also lists “support CMP corridor,” a reference to the controversial Central Maine Power hydropower transmission line that would pass through Lewiston at a yet-to-be-built converter station.

Lewiston officials have supported the project due to a projected windfall of tax revenue from the converter station if the project is ultimately approved.

More goals included focus on housing, relationships, infrastructure, “placemaking,” governmental services, employees and committees.

The council will be given a final list of priorities to adopt at an upcoming meeting.


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