AUGUSTA — A former councilor and newcomer to local politics are facing off for a vacated at-large seat on the City Council.

Courtney Allen and Harold Elliott Jr. are vying to fill the at-large seat vacated by veteran Councilor Darek Grant, who decided not to seek reelection.

Elliott served as a city councilor for Ward 3 from 2017 until 2019 when he resigned from the council because he planned to move out of the city upon his retirement. Elliott said he and his wife did indeed move out of Augusta, to Florida, but they didn’t like it there so they have returned to Augusta.

He’s running again because he enjoyed his first stint, wants to return to being involved in setting the city budget, and to continue getting absentee landlords to take care of their rental properties in Augusta.

Allen said she moved to Augusta as a teenager when her mother was struggling and desperate to find a home and the city took them in when no one else would. She said she wants to give back to the community that has given her so much and follow in the footsteps of her father, who served in the military, by running for local office.

An advocate for people in recovery from drug abuse, Allen said the opioid crisis is an issue she is best-equipped to help tackle in Augusta.

“I would propose that the city of Augusta undergo a comprehensive planning process in collaboration with the state government, nonprofits, treatment providers, people in or seeking recovery, city agencies, and other stakeholders to become a recovery-ready community,” Allen said.

A recovery-ready community, she said, is one built on eight pillars of prevention, treatment, harm reduction, judicial and law enforcement, housing, education, employment and recovery support services.

“There is no simple solution to this complex problem but with everyone at the table, we can make an impact,” Allen said.

Elliott said affordable housing is a huge issue in Augusta, made hard as people from out of state are increasingly finding the area a desirable place to live.

“There is housing that is going up, especially downtown, but it’s not really affordable for working families,” he said. “The city doesn’t have the money to (build new housing) but we need to try to invigorate some developers to build some affordable housing, because there is a need.”

Elliott suggested using tax increment financing agreements to work with developers of affordable housing, such as the Augusta Housing Authority, which recently built workforce housing off Maple Street. That project was built on a parcel of land, once part of a paper mill property, that the city acquired years ago for nonpayment of taxes.

Allen also cited affordable housing as a great need in the city and suggested designating the areas of the Kmart Plaza and Turnpike Mall, which currently have a mix of retail and vacant buildings, as tax increment financing districts with financial incentives to encourage developers to convert some of those vacant spaces into affordable housing.

She said one way the city could help spur economic development is by investing to improve the local school system to attract new families to Augusta, as young families increasingly, since the spread of COVID-19, wish to move to areas of Maine where there are good school systems. She said showcasing Augusta’s diversity in values, culture and heritage could help improve the city for all.

“Projects and neighborhoods that incorporate historic structures, public art, and placemaking can help distinguish us from our neighbors to attract new residents and visitors, and support all the different communities who already live here,” Allen said.

Elliott said the city can help with economic development by being business-friendly and make the city as attractive as possible. He said art could be a big attraction and help make Augusta better, including the ongoing restoration of the Colonial Theater downtown.

“Once the old Colonial Theater gets up and running, it’ll draw a lot of people,” Elliott said. “We need to make areas of the city a little bit more attractive. We need to make landlords responsible for their properties. This is a capital city, we want to make it look presentable, for people to visit.”

Both candidates said their views on where, or whether, the city should build a new police station to replace the current station which officials have said is in poor condition, have changed due to the coronavirus pandemic and the negative impact it has had on the economy.

Before the pandemic, Allen said, she would have said the city needed a new police station. But now that state revenue projections are plummeting she said she’s not sure the city can afford to borrow funds to build a new one, which should be investigated before moving forward.

Elliott said he was previously leaning in favor of a proposal to build a new station on the northern end of Water Street downtown — the most expensive option — but now with money tight due to the pandemic he believes the best spot to build a new station is next to the existing station on land the city already owns, which was projected to be the least costly option.

 

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