GARDINER — In the year ahead, Gardiner elected officials say they want to focus on the city’s neighborhoods while continuing to work on fire department and ambulance service staffing, maintaining city services while keeping property taxes affordable, and assessing the needs of the city’s public buildings.

Those priorities were set Saturday as the Gardiner City Council met for its annual goal setting session, where they consider the most important issues they want to work on during the year and which are likely to be reflected in budget decisions over the next several months.

“Those are all important priorities, so that we are able to invest in our community for the future and that we make sure we do so in a fiscally responsible manner,” Mayor Patricia Hart said.

Listing these priorities, Hart said, doesn’t take away from the other work that city government does; it identifies the areas where the City Council’s attention needs to be focused, sometimes in one year, sometimes over several years.

During the meeting, held with City Manager Christine Landes and facilitator Craig Freshley, elected officials reviewed the goals they set a year ago and assessed their performance during the year.

“The priorities that we picked we are carrying forward,” Hart said. “This council and previous councils have done a good job on holding the line on taxes. It’s a long-term commitment. To have significant success with that you need to do that year over year.”

Last year’s goals included investing in the city’s wastewater treatment service and managing the impact of the state Department of Transportation’s project to replace the Bridge Street and Maine Avenue bridges.

They also included addressing staffing in the Gardiner Fire Department and Ambulance Service. While city officials were able to add one position to the department, that fell short of a plan to add more positions with the help of grant funding.

“We didn’t solve the problem,” At-large Councilor Tim Cusick said. “When both ambulances are out, there’s no one in the fire station. If we remove this from the list, it would float off into the sunset.”

In focusing on the city’s neighborhoods, councilors said they want to improve communication among residents, city staff and elected officials and do a better job in engaging residents in development projects.

In 2020, a controversial proposal to redevelop the former hospital property on Dresden Avenue into housing highlighted a lack of communication and angered neighbors, but that was only one example.

“We have a lot of work to do in community development,” Hart said. “I think the neighborhoods really feel left out as the result of some things that have gone on. We’re working to get the community to be involved early on in community development projects. That’s something I think we discovered we’re not very strong in that.”

City boards, committees and residents have spent years getting zoning lined up with what the community wanted, she said. Now at the point of implementation, city officials need to make sure it’s carried out.

This year, city officials are also expected to evaluate the needs of public buildings, some of which are aging and require work. Last year, a wall at the fire department was rebuilt after mold was discovered.

This year the work session — like virtually all public meetings — was held using online meeting platform Zoom because of the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the other priorities are housing, food security, maintaining connections with the Gardiner-area school district, making a plan for how city business will be conducted as the pandemic ends and moving tax-acquired properties back on the city’s property tax rolls.

The use of Zoom prompted discussion on how the city conducts its meetings, including providing guidance to members of the public who attend on how they can take part, maintaining professional behavior during the meetings and managing how votes are conducted.

Hart said because all votes are required to be taken by roll call, she would prefer to vote last to not unduly influence how other city councilors vote.

In the next few weeks, Freshly will draft a document detailing the goals for the City Council to vote on during one of its meetings.

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