WATERVILLE — Controversy over a building permit fee discount the city granted to the Alfond Youth Center for a building expansion has prompted the center to offer to pay the full amount if the city deems the process used for that discount was inappropriate.

At a City Council meeting Wednesday night, Paul Lussier, a developer who builds houses, criticized the city for giving the youth center a $27,000 building permit fee discount for a family wellness center addition to the North Street facility, charging only about $3,000 instead of $30,700.

The youth center had approached the city about two months ago to ask if it would consider a discount. Code enforcement officers brought the request to City Manager Michael Roy and they discussed the request. He asked code enforcement officers if the city had granted such a discount in the past for a nonprofit organization, which it had — to the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter for a shelter addition.

Roy decided to charge the youth center 10 percent of the total building permit fee of $30,700 for the wellness center expansion, as it had done with the homeless shelter. The wellness project includes renovations to the licensed after-school program and children’s kitchen, which serves 100,000 free hot meals annually to mostly Waterville children. More than 80 percent of those children qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. The addition also will include a teaching kitchen, a community indoor track, and nutrition and youth wellness programs for seniors, adults and children.

The Harold Alfond Foundation granted $6.1 million for the project and the youth center is raising another $500,000. The wellness center is targeted for completion next summer.

In a video of Wednesday’s council meeting shot by Chad Smith, station director at Crossroads-TV in Fairfield, Lussier, who is chairman of the city’s Planning Board, said he was not speaking Wednesday on behalf of that board.

He slammed Roy’s decision, without using his name, to allow the Alfond Center the building permit discount, saying taxpayers are entitled to fair and equal treatment and they were let down.

“Is there anyone in city government that’s allowed, by charter, ordinance or policy, to arbitrarily give a building permit discount?” Lussier said. “I don’t think so, and I would urge you to look into the matter and make your findings public, since this violation to our trust was perpetrated on the taxpayers in secret, and please ensure that it doesn’t happen again. As you start working on next year’s budget, see how hard it is to come up with $30,000.”

He said he didn’t know if the youth center would fund the full building permit amount if the city asked for it, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask.

Roy explained the process he used for granting the discount and said he takes responsibility for the decision. He said the youth center feeds many children who have nothing to eat, built a $1.4 million Purnell Wrigley Field for the community and provides measurable benefit to the community in many ways. He said he does not see that kind of activity from the private sector, and those factors played into his decision to offer the discount.

“Their construction is very much in the beginning,” he said. “If the council wanted to vote tonight to collect the fee, we could do it.”

He said there is no question the decision about fees is a council responsibility, and technically the request should have gone before the council.

Julian Payne, a member of the Waterville Board of Education, said the homeless shelter and the youth center are very different, with the homeless shelter having little money. He said that if the council votes not to collect the full $30,000 building permit fee from the youth center, he hopes the city does not ask Colby College to fund a police cruiser this year, as Colby has done in the past.

“I don’t really think it’s fair to give X-amounts $30,000 off to another nonprofit and then start screaming that Colby needs to buy us a police cruiser,” Payne said.

Mayor Nick Isgro said that this year, police will present a budget requesting three new police cruisers that could cost $30,000 each. He also said giving the youth center a building permit fee discount sets a precedent, and he asked how the city will say no to other nonprofits who ask for reductions.

After some councilors agreed transparency is needed when it comes to giving discounts, Roy repeated his acknowledgment that the youth center request should have been put to the council.

“That decision should have come here,” he said. “I’m sorry it didn’t. I thought the past precedent was enough to carry it forward, but for something this big, no, it shouldn’t. It should have come here.”

Contacted Thursday afternoon, Ken Walsh, president and chief executive officer of the Alfond Youth Center, said the cost for construction of the addition escalated over the past year because of increased steel and other prices, and the center asked the city to consider a discount but was not sure if it would be granted.

“Truthfully, if the process was not appropriate, the Alfond Youth Center will pay the full construction permit fee,” Walsh said. “We are thankful that City Manager Mike Roy really considered the discount.”

According to city records, Matt Cullen requested, through the Freedom of Access Act City Hall, emails regarding building permits. Cullen has requested via FOAA city records in the past on a variety of topics.

In other matters Wednesday, the council took a first of two needed votes to rezone the First Congregational Church of Christ property at 7 Eustis Parkway to allow the Children’s Discovery Museum, now in Augusta, to move there with the intention of eventually buying the church property. Councilors also voted to extend the city’s marijuana moratorium 120 days.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

 


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