AUBURN — The city will fund several programs aimed at addressing immediate needs caused by the coronavirus pandemic, including relief grants to local businesses and additional support for its food security efforts.

The City Council on Monday approved changes to the Community Development Block Grant action plan in order to more quickly disburse the $334,000 in additional federal funding.

It was the first council meeting to be held in-person in more than a month, though there were still some staff and a councilor taking part remotely.

During an earlier workshop, Assistant City Manager Phil Crowell laid out the program outline, highlighted by $134,000 toward the city’s food programs.

The funds will go toward a generator and freezer at the Senior Community Center, which has been the hub of Auburn’s “Grab N Go” meal program, as well as Auburn’s PAL Center, and the Immigrant Resource Center. Another $30,000 would go toward a startup program for Auburn farms.

A council memo said the funding was meant to “increase its capacity to provide food to its most vulnerable residents who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Crowell said $100,000 would be allocated to micro grants for local small businesses impacted by the pandemic, in order to pay for operating capital or necessary equipment to safely reopen or serve the public.

The memo states businesses must create or retain at least one job made available to low- to moderate-income individuals to be eligible, and that businesses that have already received payroll protection plan funding may not be eligible to use CDBG grants for similar purposes.

Councilor Leroy Walker said a number of businesses, including in his New Auburn district, will need the grant funding to address safety precautions in order to reopen to the public when able.

Another $50,000 would go toward a “public service assistance” program, in order to “assist essential public service providers to cover expenses of pandemic-related costs.”

Crowell said part of the funding will go toward a partnership with Goodwill, which will offer jobs to at-risk youth doing neighborhood beautification work, including exterior rehabilitation, debris removal, painting, or landscaping.

Some part would also be made available for scholarship assistance toward Auburn’s summer recreation camp.

Officials said given the pandemic, they are expecting a greater need for scholarships, though the summer program is still up in the air. A lot of cities have already canceled summer recreation camps, Crowell said.

The council unanimously passed the new guidelines and funding allocation, with the ability to reallocate the funding based on how the funds are utilized by the public.

City staff said the city manager would have the authority to reallocate about $50,000, if needed.

The amended rules shorten the public comment period on the funding plan to five days.

Councilor Holly Lasagna said, “I just hope there’s a big effort to make sure there’s community input into this plan.”

BUDGET UNCERTAINTY

Also on Monday, City Manager Peter Crichton said he is planning to present the council with a revised budget next week, based on a more bleak revenue outlook.

He told councilors Monday that he will likely edit next year’s budget to reflect a 20% reduction in municipal revenue sharing, which equals roughly $570,000.

Last week, the council discussed its budget proposal that would reflect a zero percent tax increase next year.

Crichton said there’s “been a history of the state cutting back (on municipal revenue sharing) when they hit rough times,” and that after looking at what similar-sized communities are doing, believes Auburn needs to make a reduction.

He said he’ll present the council with his recommended budget cuts next week in order to offset the loss in revenues.

“We’re going to stay at (zero percent), but the question is what do we do within the budget to accomplish that,” he said.

Mayor Jason Levesque said the City Council’s goal should be increasing Auburn’s taxable value, so that the city is not “reliant” on revenue sharing.

“There needs to be focus on a strategic broadening of the tax base,” he said.


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