GARDINER — For 2017, the Gardiner City Council intends to continue work on goals council members already have identified and will add an item to its to-do list — making Gardiner an asylum community for new Mainers, refugees and asylum-seekers who live in southern Maine and now are starting to find work in the Gardiner area.
On Saturday, the council, along with City Manager Scott Morelli, met in a retreat at City Hall to review the council’s accomplishments in 2016 and to look ahead to what they want to accomplish this year.
While this was the second year city officials met in a retreat on a Saturday, they have held goal-setting sessions since Morelli came to work for the city in 2010. Before 2016, the goals were set during council meetings.
“This allows for longer and better discussion,” Mayor Thom Harnett said.
The goal-setting session, led by facilitator Craig Freshley, followed a session led by Lewiston City Clerk Kathleen Montejo, who reviewed good practices in conducting public meetings and held a mini-course on Robert’s Rules of Order, a guide to parliamentary procedure. Both were a primer for the council’s newest members, Timothy Cusick and Maryann White, who were elected to two of the council’s at-large seats in November.
“I was happy when I read our goals, and we had addressed many and achieved most of them,” Harnett said. Progress on some items such as broadband internet access, he added, was slower than he would have liked. Only one item, working out van transportation for seniors who need rides, was not accomplished.
Many of the goals were part of the budget that city councilors passed in June, including keeping taxes low and continuing work infrastructure projects. They are among the priorities that Gardiner’s comprehensive plan has identified.
“Scott does a good job keeping us on task and putting things on the agenda,” Harnett said. “There were some challenges, but the council works well together, generally.”
During 2017, the council expects to work on encouraging economic development, attracting and retaining people, keeping taxes low, partnering with neighboring municipalities and continuing to provide strong city services. Each of those topics has several projects listed under it, and some of that work is likely to involve the city’s volunteer committees.
The priorities present some challenges. While city councilors work to hold the line on property taxes, they have to provide needed services.
The current city budget, which is 2 percent lower than the previous spending plan, is the result of some spending cuts and an expansion of the city’s tax base.
“We have to keep taxes low, but we don’t want to chop them so low that no one wants to live here,” District 1 Councilor Terry Berry said.
As part of building the tax base, Harnett said, it’s important for the council to send a message that Gardiner is a family-friendly community and welcoming to senior citizens as well as to new Mainers, the asylum-seekers who are coming to Maine to work and live.
“Gardiner should be proud of the success and hard work it has done,” Berry said. “I hear it more and more from Augusta and Hallowell that we are doing stuff in Gardiner.”
“I would be proud to be on a council that achieves these things,” White said.
The council is expected to vote on its 2017 goals at its Feb. 15 meeting.
Jessica Lowell — 621-5632