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This week’s edition!

Enough is Enough: Downtown Lewiston is coming alive again

By Robert E. Macdonald

Mayor of Lewiston

The face of Lewiston is changing.

When I arrived in Lewiston in the summer of 1977, Lewiston was nearing the end of the mill era. A few years prior to my arrival, the federal government had come in, dangled large amounts of money and promised a new, utopian city.

Mesmerized by all that cash, the City Fathers bit. The promise of a shiny, new city did not materialize. Instead, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) created what could be called a ghetto: houses in disrepair and streets strewn with trash.

This resulted in an escalation of crime throughout the city. Robberies, burglaries, drugs and aggravated assaults rose. This was the result of criminals from out of state and those gaming the system among the local generational welfare population.

Couple this with high unemployment, and it is clear how we ended up with the moniker “The Dirty Lew.” Lisbon Street, once a booming center of retail, restaurants and other types of businesses, started to deteriorate. Many bars and social clubs closed. The city was starting to resemble a ghost town.

Today, Lewiston is in rebirth. Like the Phoenix, we are slowly and steadily rising, rebuilding our city. Lisbon Street is coming alive. Downtown buildings are being transformed into restaurants, retail spaces, condos and market-rate apartments. This will assure a healthy economy in the years to come.

However, we do face some problems. One is in the Lewiston Police Department. Under Police Chief Michael Bussiere, our city has seen a dramatic drop in crime. Although the crime statistics are not yet out, it appears that, thanks to our dedicated men and women in blue, crime is down somewhere between 20 to 25 percent from the prior year.

These results do not occur by accident. Operation Hot Spots and aggressive police work have made Lewiston one of the safest places to live in Maine.

Unfortunately, police officers’ salaries have continued to fall behind many police departments throughout Maine. This has the potential, similar to professional sports, of luring experienced officers to better-paying departments. This could become expensive to taxpayers.

It costs $30,600 to train every new officer Lewiston hires. Each new officer must spend 18 weeks at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy. Upon graduation, the new officer is required to work under the supervision of a Field Training Officer for the next three months before they are allowed to work alone.

If in the first five years a police officer leaves our police department to join another department, the department to which the officer is going must reimburse Lewiston a pro-rated amount of money covering the remainder of the five-year span. The progress our city is making is due in large part to our men and women in blue. We must find a way to ensure that this situation does not come about.

Now before the Legislature is a bill, LD 20, that would send back to the municipalities 50 percent of the revenue generated by the issuance of a traffic summons by the department. These funds could be dedicated to public safety (police and fire) in order to ensure a continuation of professional services. This money would also help offset any losses due to revenue sharing.

At the end of last week’s column, I promised to keep you updated on two welfare bills currently before the Legislature. I am happy to report that LD 398, a bill designed to bring municipalities in line with state and federal welfare laws limiting a person to a lifetime total of five years of benefits, has the support of the Maine Municipal Association.

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