Spaced well apart, members of the Auburn City Council meet Monday night.

AUBURN — The city wants to be ready for when businesses are allowed to reopen.

While Androscoggin County was not included in a number of rural counties allowed to reopen retailers and restaurants Monday, Auburn officials have been gearing up for weeks.

On Monday, city staff said it will be sending letters to local restaurants offering help in getting outdoor dining or other social distancing protocols up and running, and that they are going ahead with the city’s summer recreation camp and summertime use of the Norway Savings Bank Arena as planned.

According to city administration, Auburn Hall will likely reopen to the public next week if safety protocols are ready.

The moves come as the City Council is finalizing next year’s budget, which will account for a steep decline in revenues due to the pandemic. City Manager Peter Crichton said Monday that he will present the council with proposed cuts next week based on a projected revenue hit of $735,000.

For the last several weeks, the city has had an economic “recovery team” in place, led by Marc Gosselin, executive director of community partnerships and sport tourism, that hopes to put the city on a quicker road to recovery than most municipalities.

But, during a pandemic, a single community can only move so fast.

Late last week, the mayor’s office released a statement following Gov. Janet Mills’ amended plans for reopening the economy, which allowed 12 rural counties to reopen more businesses beginning this week.

Androscoggin County, considered one of three counties where community transmission of the coronavirus has been detected, was not included.

“We understand that it is disappointing for Auburn businesses that this reopening plan does not include Androscoggin County,” said Mayor Jason Levesque in the statement. “We’re disappointed, too. These hard-working people are anxious to get back to the business of serving our community, not to mention getting our local economy moving again.”

According to Levesque, the recovery team is developing a plan that will establish “short-term, intermediate, and long-term solutions and steps, and is intended to accelerate a citywide, post-emergency return to normalcy.”

Gosselin said Monday that the team had just completed a survey of the needs of local businesses during the pandemic, which will be used to guide the recovery effort.

As of Monday, the CDC reported 92 total cases in Androscoggin County, 46 considered active.

During a workshop Monday, Levesque said several businesses he’s been in contact with are doing well, and have found ways to adapt.

However, City Councilor Stephen Milks said the few he’s talked to are struggling. He also has tenants who are unemployed.

“We’ve got to realize there are a lot of people that are in desperate trouble,” he said Monday, thanking city staff for “thinking outside the box” toward recovery. “Let’s put the fear aside and let’s start living again. Life has a 100% death rate. Something is going to get us. We’ve got to start living, and we’ve got to start coming out of this.”

Auburn has been among the first cities in Maine to begin hosting City Council meetings in-person, as many continue to hold public meetings via video conference.

Councilor Katie Boss has been the lone councilor continuing to attend meetings via Zoom conference. One councilor, Holly Lasagna, wore a mask in the council chamber Monday.

Assistant City Manager Phil Crowell said before Auburn Hall can reopen, the city will hold training for staff whose work is interacting with the public. Auburn Hall will have limited building access, with only the first floor open, he said.

Crowell said during the pandemic, the city has been trying to find ways it can still move forward with its summer recreation camp program. He said they are currently planning for a program that would allow for 50 people at an outdoor location, but that staff believes the program will be important for community youth and families.

As for the recovery team’s efforts to assist restaurants, Crowell said the city wants to “remove all barriers a restaurant might have to open.”

In Auburn, that date looks like June 1 barring no other changes.

Gosselin said at the Norway Savings Bank Arena, there’s been “a large increase” in requests to use the facility. While originally planning to put the ice surface back in in July, he said staff might move it up to June in preparation of being able to use the facility for smaller lessons and other uses.

The City Council is expected to take a first reading on next year’s capital improvement plan next week, followed by a first reading on the fiscal 2020-21 budget June 1.

Crichton said he and Crowell are looking at ways to make up for the cuts in revenue, which could include leaving several positions vacant.

Levesque outlined a plan Monday that would add $800,000 to the city’s capital improvement bond issue next year to increase the city’s “downtown redevelopment fund.”

He said the city would then have $1 million in funding that could be used to “stimulate growth” in the downtown area, likely in the form of grants to businesses looking to redevelop unused or vacant lots.


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