AUBURN — The City Council will consider a proposal to give $1,500 bonuses to police and fire personnel after both unions argued for the COVID-19 hazard pay last month.

On Monday, officials will mull a proposal to spend $175,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds toward the “premium pay” for first responders, adding it to a growing list of projects under consideration. Auburn received $13.5 million from the federal relief bill but has so far only allocated $425,000.

Mayor Jason Levesque established an ad hoc committee to consider funding proposals, but the City Council will have the final say on projects.

Union officials representing the police and fire departments spoke to the City Council during a public comment session in October, requesting hazard pay for working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic since 2020.

Auburn police Detective Nick Gagnon, president of the local union that represents the patrol and detectives unit, told councilors that its most recent request had been ignored, while other municipalities had offered hazard pay using COVID-19 relief funds. Gagnon said the union received resistance from the city even as other municipalities, including Bangor, Portland and Lewiston, had already approved such funding for its first responders.

Some cities have opted for one-time hazard bonuses, while others, like Portland, issued it as an hourly wage increase.

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According to City Manager Phil Crowell, the ad hoc committee is proposing $1,500 bonuses per officer or firefighter, but he said the City Council will “have an opportunity to debate this” Monday. Lewiston’s bonus was the equivalent of four days pay.

If approved, the proposed budget of $175,000 would give bonuses to roughly 116 staff members, and would likely appear for a vote on Dec. 6.

Also in front of officials will be a proposal to spend $1.36 million on the reconstruction of Library Avenue. While those projects could receive the green light soon, a longer list awaits the ad hoc committee, including a workforce development grant project and more high-profile expenditures for an expansion of the Auburn PAL Center and the redevelopment of Festival Plaza.

Levesque said this week that officials are aiming to “balance out” the programs under consideration, from pandemic recovery to more long-term infrastructure needs.

Regarding the hazard pay proposal, he argues municipalities were put into a difficult position due to a lack of action at the state level. He said the issue has come up because there’s been no cohesive plan, leaving the city to “make the decision on who deserves it and who doesn’t.”

After both union officials spoke in October, Levesque responded, “Is there anyone from Public Works, the Auburn Teachers Association, the librarians, anybody else that wants to speak on this topic? Anyone from Hannaford or any other business in Auburn?”

Levesque said a lot of other cities quickly allocated the federal coronavirus relief funding after receiving it.

“We opted to do a little more deliberate process,” he said.

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