GARDINER — Elected officials agreed Wednesday to commit to donate $500,000 toward the Boys & Girls Clubs of Kennebec Valley for its new building over a period of several years.

The money would come from the city’s fund balance — money the city already has on hand, similar to a savings account — and from revenue from the Libby Hill Tax Increment Financing district. On the recommendation of District 1 City Councilor Terry Berry, it will paid out only when fundraising reaches $9.5 million.

In October 2019, officials from the Boys & Girls Clubs launched the public phase of its $10 million fundraising campaign to pay for a new, larger facility on Pray Street to house the club, which started about two decades ago. The new facility is expected to allow the club to expand its childcare offerings for children 6 weeks old and older and expand its ability to serve school children in before- and afterschool care and programs as well as the senior citizens who use the facility.

While city councilors have said they support the project, they balked at making a commitment before knowing how the city budget for the upcoming fiscal year would look, and they did not want to agree to the request if doing so would raise property taxes for city residents.

Denise Brown, Gardiner’s finance director, said the city is in good financial shape even after a year of an economy affected by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are going to come in at the end of this year very well,” she said.

The municipalities that are struggling, she said, are those with civic centers or recreation programs that rely on revenues from users. Gardiner has neither of those.

Berry said he’d like to see the COVID-19 municipal relief funds that are expected from the federal government to contribute to the project.

“I understand there’s a fair amount coming, and I would like to see $150,000 come from there,” he said.

But Brown said little information has been shared to date on how that money could be used.

“We have preliminary numbers, but we’re not sure how that money will flow,” she said.

The relief funds may take a while to reach Maine cities and towns. Brown said for those with populations under 50,00o — this includes every community except Portland  — the money will be paid to the state, which will determine how the funds will be distributed.

“It could take a year, and they could ask for extensions” she said. “I’m uncomfortably counting on that money for anything.”

After some debate, councilors agreed to a proposal that commits $50,000 from the city’s fund balance in the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, and $150,000 from the Libby Hill TIF fund in each of the next three fiscal years.

That move preserves the ability of city officials to use fund balance to reduce the impact of city spending on residents if it’s needed or to use it in the event of an emergency.

Mayor Patricia Hart noted that TIF funds generated by the city’s business park can be used for a specific list of projects in the city. While most are infrastructure projects, childcare centers are also on the list.

“By using the Libby Hill TIF money, weren’t not going to impact anything in the general fund, so we won’t raise taxes,” she said.

Ingrid Stanchfield, CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Kennebec County who was on hand Wednesday to answer questions, said a multi-year commitment would not stall the project. Other contributions to the project have come in as pledges, she said, and the club anticipates securing a bridge loan that would be paid off as pledges come in.

Originally, club officials expected to complete fundraising in 2020, with the start of construction in April 2020. But when the pandemic was declared in March 2020, they called a halt to fundraising and put the construction project on a pause.

And while the club was closed to most programs, it continued to offer childcare for essential workers throughout the summer.

Club officials started fundraising again in October with a corporate gift and met a challenge to match a $1 million anonymous donation by Dec. 31.

Once construction on the new building is complete, the existing building will be demolished and replaced by a soccer field.


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