The Capital Improvement Plan for Lewiston for fiscal year 2022 includes money for environmental cleanup work at Bates Mill No. 5 on Main Street, the saw-toothed building at center, and initial funding to expand the Lincoln Street parking garage next to the mill. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal 2017 file photo

LEWISTON — The City Council approved next year’s $23 million Capital Improvement Plan on Tuesday, the same night it received a series of recommendations from the Finance Committee and Planning Board regarding how to prioritize the spending.

The annual plan is considered a tool for city officials to prioritize capital purchases and infrastructure projects, but funding for each item is not ultimately approved until the spring budget process.

Some of the projects included in the fiscal 2022 plan are familiar, like a citywide revaluation, environmental cleanup work at Bates Mill No. 5, and initial funding for an expansion of the Lincoln Street parking garage, which is tied to the entire Bates Mill redevelopment.

The projects have all previously been proposed as part of the plan, but eventually scrapped during budget talks. This year as the council approved the plan, it received recommendations from the Finance Committee and Planning Board, including one urging the council to “immediately” fund the citywide revaluation that has been debated for years.

Rather than split funding for the project over the next five years, the Planning Board proposed moving ahead now.

A revaluation, typically implemented every 10 years, is done to assess the proper value of all real estate and personal property. Lewiston has not done a full revaluation since 1988. A 2006 revaluation was mostly completed but never implemented.

In response to questions from the Planning Board, City Assessor William Healey said the revaluation would take roughly two years to complete, and would likely begin in fiscal 2024 if partially funded over the next few years as proposed.

He said new values would take effect when all properties have been reviewed and revalued, most likely in year five of the process.

He told the board that if funding was available immediately, the city could go out to bid as soon as possible, and start the project once the selected firm can begin, likely within a year.

Lewiston homes, on average, are assessed and taxed at 82% of their full market value, while commercial and industrial properties in Lewiston are assessed and taxed at 91% of their value. A revaluation would equalize those values, shifting the tax burden slightly away from businesses and toward residential property owners.

Despite the length of time since a revaluation has been done, the city meets state standards for assessments.

The most immediate part of next year’s Capital Improvement Plan calls for $9.9 million in city bonding, and another $13.8 million in bonds for projects by the School Department, and water, sewer and stormwater departments.

Also included are projects related to the canal system and Simard-Payne Memorial Park, part of an effort to beautify the area as more nearby redevelopment takes shape.

As of the start of the year, Lewiston has $206 million in outstanding debt.

Together, the city and school plans equal some $15 million in projects, but officials will likely be tasked with whittling the costs down to about $7.4 million, or 80% of the average amount of debt retired by the city over the last three years.

The Planning Board recommendation also urges to council to reduce the scope of projects tied to the Bates Mill No. 5 redevelopment. It calls on the council to reduce the city’s share of funding for environmental cleanup at the former mill by three-quarters, to $110,000.

The city was awarded a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which must be spent by September 2022, and the CIP calls for matching funding.

The funding is meant to help pay for getting rid of lead paint, asbestos and PCBs, a group of man-made chemicals that were widely used in electrical equipment. However, the Planning Board said, “not knowing whether lead and PCBs will need to be encapsulated, the reduced funding should be used to prioritize immediate cleanup concerns, such as asbestos removal.”

City officials have said that regardless of whether the mill is redeveloped or demolished, the environmental issues in the mill need to be mitigated.

The board also urged the council not to approve $952,000 for initial costs for an expansion of the Lincoln Street parking garage, which is tied to the overall Bates Mill redevelopment.

According to Lincoln Jeffers, director of economic and community development, the city is more than a year out of compliance on its parking agreement with developer Tom Platz, which states that the city must start the design of a decked parking garage within 30 days of Platz providing notice that it is starting redevelopment of a section of the Bates Mill complex. Notice was provided in October 2019 when 108,000 square feet of mill space was redeveloped, which now hosts Grand Rounds and Northeast Bank.

The garage expansion is estimated to cost more than $10 million, which would require a voter referendum to proceed.

Jeffers told officials that with the onset of COVID-19, “many Bates Mill tenants directed staff to work from home, significantly reducing demand on the garages for the time being. However, it is likely workers will return to the office, and demand will increase again.”

The Planning Board said the city should renegotiate its parking agreement with Platz, and believes “a referendum on the matter will likely not pass, and that city dollars would be better spent on pedestrian infrastructure to benefit community growth. The board felt there is no current demand for additional parking garages but welcomes the day when there is.”

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