GARDINER — City elected officials have set economic and community development, improving and maintaining city services while keeping taxes affordable, and fire department and ambulance staffing as their top priorities for 2020.

They also want to spend time on assessing the city’s building needs, improving conditions for the city’s low-income residents, becoming better connected with the Gardiner area school district and planning for the investment in wastewater treatment improvements.

Gardiner City Manager Christine Landes during a City Council goal setting session Saturday at the Gardiner Public Library. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

On Saturday, the City Council and City Manager Christine Landes spent part of the day at the Gardiner Public Library with facilitator Craig Freshley reviewing what they accomplished in 2019 and how they did it, and developing their priorities for the coming year.

The workshop, which has taken place generally every year, also allows the elected officials and city manager to evaluate how City Council meetings are conducted and whether any changes ought to be considered.

“When Craig gave us the prompt for our goals, he said, ‘What do you want to be known for?’ It really struck me,” Mayor Patricia Hart said. “I wrote down respectful, responsive government and City Council. I feel like we really hit that out of the park, not only in our last year’s work, but today and what we set forth going forward.”

For Colin Fry, elected in November to the District 3 City Council seat after Shawn Dolley declined to run for a third term, said the meeting was eye-opening.

“I think what stood out to me today was doing goals,” Fry said. “It’s almost like a funnel where attention is focused. I think it’s really interesting to see the different perspectives and the things that everybody brings.”

For the elected officials, focusing on different aspects of growth in Gardiner was key. Specifically, they want to focus on continued development in the city’s downtown, the continuing bridge replacement project that is expected to be completed this year, property sales and development in the Libby Hill business park and focusing on commercial development along the U.S. Route 201 corridor, which is also Brunswick Avenue.

As they talked about economic development, they also tried to balance that with community development. This year, city officials will be considering support for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Kennebec County, which has announced plans to build a new $10 million facility in Gardiner next to the existing building on Pray Street.

Maintaining the property tax rate has been a priority for city officials in past years and will continue to be one in the coming year. Because it is, it will have an impact on other priorities, including improving the level of city services delivered and better support of city staff.

It will also have an impact on the third priority, improving safety at the Fire Department and Gardiner Ambulance Service. Over the past several years, city councilors have considered proposals to add staff to the city’s full-time fire department. The firefighters, who are also paramedics, staff the city’s ambulance service that serves Gardiner and surrounding towns. When the ambulances are out on call, the fire department is not staffed. That means that Gardiner relies on automatic aid or mutual aid for fire protection.

Gardiner District 1 City Councilor Terry Berry speaks during a goal setting session Saturday at the Gardiner Public Library. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

“I find this the most difficult subject to talk about publicly,” District 1 City Councilor Terry Berry said, particularly when he asks questions and scrutinizes staffing proposals.

“I still think that Gardiner has the mentality of being a big city when we are not,” Berry said. “We’re a relatively small community that tries to function at the cost of a big city. I think that has been ingrained for decades.”

Landes said finding the balance is tricky, because the ambulance service serves 25,000 people across its service area, and that’s the big-city mentality. But the Fire Department serves about 6,000 within city limits.

“How do you find the monetary value for that?” she said.

“If the citizens of Gardiner really knew the numerous times they were unprotected in the Fire Department, there would be outrage in the city,” At-Large-Councilor Tim Cusick said.

A year ago, eight priorities were identified: finding ways to show appreciation for city employees, adding sidewalks and bridges, investing in infrastructure, affordable taxes, city-wide waste disposal, improving public safety, economic development, and community development.

Landes said about 80% of the council’s 2019 goals were started or reached last year.

“We may not always agree on things but we come to the conclusion that what’s best for the city is what we need to do,” she said.

In some cases, like extending trails, lack of outside funding held projects back. Others, like sewer system improvements, are longer-term projects that are still being worked on.

Gardiner District 2 Councilor Amy Rees during a goal setting session Saturday at the Gardiner Public Library. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

District 2 Councilor Amy Rees said not much interest surfaced on citywide trash collection.

Landes said that’s not an issue to be ignored. Gardiner sends its trash to the Hatch Hill landfill in Augusta, but the landfill is expected to close in about a decade.

Progress was made in adding sidewalks, and elected officials were able to keep the property tax rate in check.

In reviewing how City Council meetings are conducted, the elected officials talked  about public participation.

“I think what we can work on is the expectations on public participation to be made clear,” Rees said. “When they are screaming and swearing, they shouldn’t be allowed to talk anymore.”

Among the suggestions was providing guidelines for addressing the City Council to be printed on the back of meeting agendas for review.

Because of some structural changes inside City Hall, the orientation of the City Council chamber has changed.

At-Large-Councilor Jon Ault noted the video screens are no longer oriented so the audience can see information and presentations on them.

The results of the workshop will be compiled and are expected to be provided to the City Council to adopt.


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