By Laurent F. Gilbert Sr.
Mayor of Lewiston
As mayor, I have served with three separate city councils, and I must say that the current council has been the best that I have served with in terms of civility and respect for each other, despite of having different views on issues at times.
Once a vote was taken, regardless of the outcome, we moved on with respect for each other, as a city council should operate. We might well be an example for Congress.
This council has worked well with City Administrator Ed Barrett and Deputy City Administrator Phil Nadeau, as well as department heads in all city departments. The council meetings move along well in conducting business, and public comments were always well respected when they dealt with city business.
Below is a listing of this city council’s accomplishments during its term:
The council participated in assisting local residents recover from the 2009 flooding of the storm water system in the Bardwell and White Streets Sewer claim settlements.
Over the last two years, the council committed over $2 million to repave several miles of city streets.
There were some staff reductions, mostly through attrition and realignment in duties, with no reductions in service, no change in hours, no furlough days and no shutdown days after two consecutive years of declining revenues. We have experienced over $3 million in revenue-sharing reductions from the state and approximately $170,000 cut in the last round of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding from the federal government, as well as no growth in car registration revenues.
The council approved and supported the acceptance of a $900,000 Housing & Urban Development (HUD) grant for investment in the Riverfront Island area; $175,000 of the grant will be used to launch the Riverfront Island Master Plan assessment and committee process to review how 80 acres of prime Riverfront Island real estate in the heart of our downtown will be developed in the future.
The council approved and supported the development of six sites that have remained vacant or undeveloped for several years: Lewiston’s oldest apartment building at 271 Park Street; the former Healy Asylum on Ash Street; the former Lobsterland parcel; the redevelopment of 84 Lisbon Street, which now houses new apartments and the Vault Wine Shop; a proposed casino at the Bates Mill No. 5 site; and the new Paris Farmer’s Union.
The city council also:
• Approved and supported the expansion of bus route service in the two cities, which has generated approximately 15% more ridership in the past year.
• Worked with the Main Street residents to preserve the surrounding neighborhoods while approving and supporting a $1.5 million state project to improve road lanes and build a new intersection at Strawberry and Main Streets, which will be signalized—something the Strawberry Avenue businesses and residents have pursued for 25 years.
• Supported the conversion of the city street lighting system to new energy efficient LED lamps utilizing federal energy grant money.
• Supported the revitalization of Sunnyside Park by matching $25,000 of CDBG funds with the $20,000 in private donations raised by the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association.
• Supported the School Department/City Human Resources (HR) departments pilot project to explore the consolidation of HR services between the two organizations.
• Supported the expenditure of $115,700 CDBG funds to match the $200,000 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant to redevelop the Grand Trunk Railroad building which is now finally underway after almost twenty years of failed attempts to repair and restore the building.
• Supported leveraging $10,000 in CDBG funds for the campaign to preserve the YWCA on East Avenue.
• Approved and supported the $20 million federally and state funded project to improve the Maine Turnpike Exit 80 interchange and on ramps from Lisbon Street.
• Approved and supported the $7.7 million ultra violet light water treatment plant to help preserve our exception to filtration agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), saving the residents of Auburn and Lewiston $40 million in new filtration investment.
• Approved and supported $300,000 for the demolition of condemned and/or blighted properties.
• Approved and supported the creation of the new police/code enforcement officer position to strengthen our code enforcement efforts.
• Established the Downtown Neighborhood Action Committee to assist in implementing their action plan.
• Supported the “The Lofts” mixed-market apartment project at Bates Mill, which will also lessen demand for additional parking space development required in the Platz Associates Bates Mill in at least a decade-old parking agreement.
• The optional selection; the decision to move forward with the construction of the Lincoln Street Parking Garage, which helped preserve our contractual relationship with Platz Associates while also helping to redefine and re-calculate the contractual parking requirements going forward.
• Supported the long overdue conversion of our Novell GroupWise email system to Microsoft to better align our Information Technology (IT) operations with other systems that are most often weighted towards Microsoft software systems, creating efficiencies that simply were not possible in the past.
The council also established the charter review committee, which should lead to long overdue improvements to the city charter.
It refinanced city debt to reduce interest costs to taxpayers.
It funded and supported a new city web site that better reflects our city’s improving and evolving image, improved transparency, improved accessibility, and improved service delivery—all things that have received accolades from people inside and outside our city.
The council adopted a new fund balance policy to better guide our future financial management.
The council approved funding for the replacement of Lewiston Engine No. 5 with a new Class A Fire Pumper.
The council also approved a major Homeland Security Project grant application to replace the City Hall generator with one that will provide 100% backup power and protect our critical IT infrastructure.
As is clearly evident, this city council has been very active in what I would term outstanding service to those who elected us into office. I firmly believe that all eight of us members of the city council have demonstrated how much can be accomplished when we work together. As mentioned earlier, we do provide an example as to how, while at times having divergent opinions, a group can still work together to be effective in service to the electorate we serve.
Lastly and most importantly, we thank you for the opportunity to have been elected to serve all of you members of our community.
See Mayor Gilbert’s personal blog at www.MayorLarryGilbert.com.