LEWISTON — City officials adopted next year’s $50.1 million municipal budget Tuesday, following lengthy discussions over its impact to the property tax rate and new positions like a Human Resources equity and diversity specialist.

While the City Council turned down the proposed school budget Tuesday, postponing a citywide referendum, the council voted 5-2 to approve the municipal budget.

Among the last-minute items debated Tuesday was the inclusion of a Human Resources position that would be tasked with developing a workforce representative of the demographics of the city, one of the main recommendations stemming from the Equity and Diversity Committee earlier this year.

While some on the council questioned the cost of the position — $90,000 including benefits — many others defended it, arguing it is a needed step toward shifting the tone and culture across city departments.

Most of the debate stemmed from a Finance Committee recommendation that called the position “unwarranted,” leading to strong reactions from several councilors and members of the Equity and Diversity Committee.

The Finance Committee recommendation said “no justification has been presented and it is these types of items that create consternation for taxpayers.”

The statement also included concerns over the proposed tax rate increase for fiscal 2022, which as of Tuesday night stood at $1.40. The city budget accounts for a 39 cent increase, with officials hoping to convince the School Committee to lower its proposed $1.01 increase.

The Finance Committee said adding $1 to the tax rate should be the “maximum starting point” for budget negotiations between city and school officials.

According to Finance Director Heather Hunter, the positions added to next year’s budget were the diversity and equity specialist, as well as two crisis workers that will work with the Police Department. The city also approved delayed hired start dates for previously frozen mechanic and equipment operator positions.

Positions that remain frozen for fiscal 2022 are two patrol officers and an engineering technician.

Some councilors suggested cutting the new Human Resources position to part-time, or proposing a shared position with Auburn to save money. (Administration said the idea “didn’t appear to get traction” with Auburn officials.)

Tonya Bailey-Curry, a member of the equity committee, urged officials to fully fund the position, and said as a member of the Black community, the Finance Committee’s conclusion that the position is unwarranted “speaks heavily to the level of awareness in the city.”

“It’s certainly unfair to say there’s no justification,” she said. “It really speaks to gravity of this situation.”

Councilor Safiya Khalid, the only Black councilor, said “it’s important to have this kind of position in our city.”

“It’s frustrating that we keep hearing it’s unwarranted,” said Councilor Alicia Rea. “There was an entire committee that voted to bring that forward to us.”

Councilor Lee Clement, who chaired the Finance Committee, said the “feeling” on the committee was that the “dollar amount was unwarranted,” not the position.

Ayesha Hall, social emotional learning and equity resource coordinator for Lewiston schools, who also served as co-chair of the city’s equity committee, said her position in the school district “has made tremendous change,” and it’s “important to shifting the culture” in the city.

“It’s not a wish list, it’s imperative,” she said.

In response to questions over whether the salary could be reduced, Hunter said there are concerns over being able to find an adequate candidate because “it’s a specialty position,” and “given the climate, it’s in demand.”

Hunter said the position salary is $64,000, with fringe benefits making up the $90,000 balance.


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