AUGUSTA — City councilors’ goals for the year largely focus on making Augusta a better and more popular place to live.

That includes exploring ways to encourage the restoration of old and creation of new housing, and finding a developer to bring life to the former Statler mill site along the river. The council also wants to support the creation of an immigration center to help the growing number of immigrants settling in the city, to encourage civility and to work with church groups to find a centrally located spot where social services for poor people could be provided under one roof.

An overall theme runs through many of the goals and subgoals city councilors approved unanimously at a recent meeting that followed a six-hour-long goal setting session Jan. 28. That common theme appears to be making the city a more attractive place to live to the large number of people who work in Augusta, but live elsewhere.

Roughly 28,000 people work in the city, according to the goals statement put together by City Manager William Bridgeo and local consultant Frank O’Hara, with about 23,000, or 86.4 percent, of them living outside of Augusta. In 2002, 79.9 percent of workers in the city lived outside of Augusta, indicating a current trend of fewer people who work in Augusta also living in Augusta. The goals statement says if the same percentage of the city’s workers lived in the city now as did in 2002, it would mean an additional 1,750 workers and their families would live in Augusta.

“More families in Augusta would mean better neighborhoods, more children in the schools, a stronger tax base and a broader group of volunteers,” the goals statement says. “To attract middle class families, Augusta must improve the quality of its housing stock and stimulate the construction of new housing to meet the demand from those who don’t want to live in and fix up older homes.”

Mayor David Rollins said the goals largely reflect councilors’ desires to improve the overall quality of life in the city “to make it look better, feel better and be more vibrant.”

Rollins said improvements to the quality of life in Augusta would not just prompt more people who work in Augusta but live elsewhere to move into the city, it could also help draw new people and new job-creating businesses. He said quality of life and economic development go together, as one can help boost the other and vice versa.

“Plenty of people come here to make their money, then go out to the surrounding areas and live on the outskirts,” Rollins said. “We need to not only draw (some of) them in, but also draw in new people. Employment will be a big part of that. Economic development has got to be something we continue to pursue.”

The council’s major goals for the year, each of which has multiple, more specific subgoals listed within them, are:

• fix old houses, build new houses, attract new residents;

• promote a healthy, diverse, thriving population;

• enhance the look and feel of Augusta;

• continue to support business growth;

• maintain efficient and responsive local government.

One specific subgoal within the larger goal of promoting a healthy, diverse and thriving population is to meet with county and state officials to discuss their placement and discharge procedures for prisoners from the county jail and state prison system and mental health patients from Riverview Psychiatric Center.

The goals statement says the county jail and Riverview discharge their separate “clients” into the Augusta housing market, and the state Department of Corrections gives bus tickets to Augusta to prisoners being discharged from the state prison in Warren.

“City officials need to be reassured that appropriate procedures and funding is in place to support these people,” the goals state. “In addition, the county and state should be asked to financially support the city’s efforts to serve these groups.”

Another subgoal is to support efforts to create an immigration center or welcoming service, to assist the growing immigrant population in integrating into the community.

Rollins said he and others involved in a group looking into where to best provide social services to people in need in the city have been told by Catholic Charities that more immigrants are expected to come to Augusta. An immigration or welcoming center, if established, could help those new residents connect with the people and services they need when they arrive. Rollins said the city could possibly provide some space at favorable rental rates for such a center, but that he doesn’t envision spending city money to create such a center.

“I’m not thinking of putting it on taxpayers’ backs to do this,” he said of the goal of supporting efforts to create an immigration center or welcoming service.

For the third year in a row, fighting drug addiction is a city council goal. This year, the goal specifically cites working to make sure drug addiction treatment is available to residents, including potentially funding drug treatment to ensure it is available when it is needed.

Bridgeo said, since 2015, officers have been added to the police department to investigate drug crimes, the city’s police work more closely with the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, police have conducted more “hot spot” events in which they focus on enforcing laws in specific areas, and city police have cooperated with other area police departments and treatment providers to complete a grant application to fund programs to divert low-risk drug offenders from jail into treatment.

Other subgoals include creating a marketing campaign with the business community to sell the virtues of living, working and playing in Augusta and central Maine; exploring ways to implement the recommendations of the Augusta Age-Friendly Advisory Committee; promoting civility in interpersonal relationships among citizens, especially young people, by modeling appropriate behavior and leading by example; creating a public art commission to promote public art downtown, on gateways into the city, and elsewhere; issue a request for proposals from developers to create new housing and commercial space at the city-owned Kennebec Lockes at Head Tide, the former Statler mill site; support the renovation of the Colonial Theatre; and explore the creation of a bus loop running between the state capitol complex, Lithgow Public Library, downtown, Fort Western and the east side state office complex on the former grounds of Augusta Mental Health Institute.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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