WATERVILLE — Mayor Nick Isgro said Wednesday that the city is no longer a member of the Mayors’ Coalition and is not participating in the group’s $2 million proposal to steer addicts away from jail and into treatment.

An article Wednesday in the Morning Sentinel referred to the Mayors’ Coalition as a group that represents 12 Maine cities, including Waterville.

But in a Facebook post Wednesday afternoon, Isgro set the record straight.

“You may read in the Sentinel and the (Portland) Press Herald that the Mayors Coalition is asking for $2 million in bonds to treat heroin addiction. The article states that Waterville is represented by this Coalition but that is an error. Waterville is no longer represented by this lobbying group,” Isgro said in his post.

The city’s membership in the coalition was dropped this spring when the mayor and the City Council were drafting a budget, City Manager Mike Roy said in a phone interview Wednesday.

The Mayors Coalition is a lobbying group, but Waterville is already part of the Service Center Coalition, an interest group for towns and cities that are designated service centers. Considering the overlap between the two groups, the council decided not to renew its $3,500 annual membership.

Roy said city officials “had no problem with the work of the coalition. We were just kind of paying for the same thing twice.”

In a phone interview Wednesday, Isgro said that when he took office, he thought the Mayors’ Coalition would work to discuss local issues.

“I found it was really geared more toward lobbying the state government,” Isgro said.

That lobbying overlapped with work already done on Waterville’s behalf by the Service Center Coalition and the Maine Municipal Association, so he asked the council to take it out of the budget, he said.

“I simply couldn’t justify redundant lobbying on tax dollars,” Isgro said.

He added that lobbying for increased state spending is something he “fundamentally” disagrees with.

“I don’t think constantly asking the state to pass legislation to fund initiatives is the way we can solve our local problems,” Isgro said.

Former Mayor Karen Heck, whom Isgro replaced when he was elected last year, said she thought the coalition was a useful tool to draw attention to issues that were of economic importance to Maine’s cities, but whether to remain with the group was the “mayor’s prerogative.”

The difference between the coalition and other groups was that, as elected officials, coalition members carry more weight when they testify as a group for and against bills in the Legislature, she said.

“You can’t have too many voices arguing for those things,” she said.

If she were still mayor, she probably would have continued membership in the coalition, she said.

According to Rick McCarthy, a staffer to the Mayors’ Coalition from the Eaton Peabody law firm, four cities — South Portland, Gardiner, Auburn and Waterville — have dropped their membership in the group since last year. The group still represents Augusta, Portland, Biddeford, Saco, Bangor, Lewiston, Sanford and Westbrook.

McCarthy said budget considerations were part of the reason some cities left the coalition, but he did not want to characterize their motives.

Although a smaller group, McCarthy said, the coalition is still a useful tool for its members, who have common concerns about jobs, taxes and economic development.

“I think we still have a role to play, and we are trying to do it with this LEAD proposal we put before DHHS,” McCarthy said.

The coalition has proposed creating eight pilot projects in Maine to steer people addicted to drugs such as heroin into treatment programs and away from jail. The group suggested the idea of funding the projects in a proposal the Maine Department of Health and Human Services sent in late August. It is modeled on LEAD, or Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion programs, which have had success in other parts of the country.

The program would cost $2 million in new spending, or about $250,000 per site, according to the proposal.

Isgro said existing programs and policies should be assessed before the addition of new programs, such as the LEAD program, into the mix.

“I do think we need to look at our policies as far as jailing nonviolent offenders, but I don’t think we should be borrowing money to set up a new state bureaucracy,” Isgro said.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire

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