AUGUSTA — The city will explore setting a local minimum wage in hopes it will help poor residents buy food, oil and other necessities while also spurring the local economy.

Ward 4 Councilor Anna Blodgett, sponsor of the local minimum-wage proposal, said she’d like to see the city set a minimum wage of $8.25 an hour with exceptions for small local businesses with four or fewer employees and for businesses where employees receive tips, such as restaurants.

“I brought it forward for the working people that are underpaid,” Blodgett said. “It would mean an additional $30 a week to a minimum-wage employee working 40 hours a week. That $30 a week, $120 a month, can mean someone paying their taxes, putting food on their table, oil in their tanks. It’s not a huge amount, but it’s a huge amount for someone in need. And these people will put this money right back into the community. These are not wealthy people. They spend it on necessities right away.”

She said the additional money could be enough to get some people off welfare or MaineCare rolls.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. The Maine minimum wage is $7.50 per hour.

Other councilors expressed interest in the idea but said they’d want to hear from business owners and others about how it would affect them.

“It’s an interesting debate to have and definitely something all of us are concerned about,” said Jeffrey Bilodeau, at-large councilor. “But I want to hear from members of the business community expressing what some of their concerns might be. I don’t know where I stand on it. I definitely would like to have more information.”

Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti said she supports the proposal 100 percent and is ready to vote on it as soon as possible. She said society has deteriorated as more people think only of themselves and not others. She said she’s spoken with a business owner in the community who supports the proposal.

Ward 2 Councilor Darek Grant said before the city enacts a local minimum wage, it should see if other local municipalities would join it.

“I’d be more comfortable if we had Hallowell, Gardiner, Vassalboro, all in this with us,” he said. “If we do this alone, are we then less attractive as a business community? Will we start to lose businesses to other communities.”

Blodgett said she thinks the federal and state minimum wages should be increased, but if they aren’t, more and more municipalities instituting their own higher minimum wages could help build momentum for a national minimum-wage increase.

City councilors in Portland are considering a proposal to institute a local minimum wage there of $8.75 an hour. In Bangor, officials are considering a proposal to set a local minimum wage of $8.25 an hour in 2016 and up to $9.75 an hour by 2018.

Several bills about the minimum wage have been proposed this session in the Legislature, including one that would raise the state minimum wage to $9.50 by 2018.

However, City Manager William Bridgeo noted one bill under consideration by the Legislature, pushed by Gov. Paul LePage, would pre-empt Maine municipalities’ ability to adopt their own minimum wages locally.

City Manager William Bridgeo said the city staff could study the issue and probably report back at the first or second council meeting in June.

Blodgett said she thinks roughly 80 percent of businesses in Augusta already pay more than the minimum wage and even more than the $8.25 per hour in her proposal.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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