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This week’s edition!

Only Steps Forward What a vibrant, growing Auburn looks like

By Jonathan P. LaBonté

Mayor of Auburn

A volunteer committee, which I appointed, met during the second half of 2014 to create a new five-year revitalization plan for three of Auburn’s neighborhoods. While all neighborhoods are important to see grow in quality of life and investment, the area around the PAL Center, Downtown Auburn and New Auburn qualify for a targeted federal grant program.

This week a workshop was scheduled with the full committee, known as the Citizens’ Advisory Committee or CAC, to talk about the recommendations they made and were adopted by the city council. While I’m very proud of the work the committee did and what they outlined for recommendations, there were some challenges to the process that were out of their control.

For nearly two decades, the city has paid for multiple “plans” and “studies” for growing the Auburn economy, improving quality of life and breaking the cycle of poverty that has long had a grip on some of our neighborhoods.

Some were “visioning” efforts, where local folks dreamed what they’d love to see. Some were traffic studies or transit studies or trail studies, considering how streets should be laid out, where buses might go or where walking and biking paths might be built. And still others, like the latest five-year plan, is focused almost solely on actions the city could take with federal grant money.

With shelves full of studies, who ultimately gets to decide which recommendations are implemented and where limited property tax money and federal grant funds will go? The process we are embarking on now will hopefully put those decisions before the city council with significant public involvement.

Knowing you can’t have hundreds of priorities—because that in and of itself means you have no priority—the community needs to engage and talk about what a vibrant, growing Auburn looks like and how you measure it.

For example, one recommendation of the latest five-year plan is to prevent the further deterioration of the housing stock in our in-town neighborhoods. While I certainly take issue with having a goal of “things just not getting worse” (what kind of vision is that?!), the measurement for that goal is to rehab a fixed number of apartment units for those below certain income levels.

Why was that the measure of seeing our neighborhoods growing again? What other options are available and perhaps used by peer cities? If we then know how we can measure success, the discussion of city programs or services or investments to move the needle and have accountability can take place.

It can seem like an impossible task to weave together so many different types of issues (transportation, rental housing, parks and trails and gardens, small business growth) and set a short list of priorities and metrics for success. The great news is that it is more than possible.

The Monday night workshop with the all-volunteer committee for our three target neighborhoods was a good first step. The follow-up that will occur from that is where the rubber meets the road.

Can we broaden the discussion to include more people so that a short list of priorities to grow these areas of Auburn has strong community support? Can we rally not just elected officials and staff, but also volunteers, business owners and community groups to work together on implementing that short list of priorities?  Please keep an eye out for more discussions on this—and not just at Auburn Hall.

Knowing that many household budgets are already stretched thin, our ability to invest those federal grant funds to generate the best return to Auburn residents is essential. And that return must be measured by growth in real estate values and attracting more private investment because controlling our tax burden and freeing up resources to invest in our classrooms depends on it.

As always, if you have ideas or questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out. You can catch me at 782-1174 or jlabonte@auburnmaine.gov.

 

One Response to “Only Steps Forward What a vibrant, growing Auburn looks like”

  • Jackie Farrell:

    Just curious…why does it cost 60.00 dollars a year to belong to the auburn library( for a person renting an apt in sabattus, a town without a library). I have never heard of a PUBLIC library charging a fee to borrow books!!!
    Can you shed light on this recent phenomenon?
    Thanks…I appreciate any elucidation of this surprisingly strange and unwelcoming, prohibitive practice.

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