At-large City Council candidate Courtney Gary-Allen speaks during the taping of a candidates’ night event Wednesday at Lithgow Public Library in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — Candidates for Augusta City Council debated how the city should best deal with a growing population of homeless people, crumbling infrastructure and economic development at a recent forum.

Courtney Gary-Allen and Christopher Voynik, who are competing for an at-large Council seat, discussed differing ideas on how the city should help address the rise of homelessness in Augusta.

Gary-Allen, the incumbent, said she’d propose a program through which people who are homeless would work with the city’s public works crews to help maintain parks and other public spaces, with them being paid for their day’s work and the city’s under-staffed public works department getting much-needed help. She said if that’s successful it could expand to match general assistance recipients with vacant city positions, or with businesses with vacant positions.

“I believe this provides an opportunity to provide people with a hand up, to people who are currently unhoused and provide them with a good, hard day’s work and an opportunity to engage at that level,” said Gary-Allen, who runs a consulting business focused on substance use and homelessness policy . “I think in Augusta, and across Maine, businesses really need employees, and people really need jobs.”

Voynik said over the last year the city has seen a massive increase in the unhoused population which has overwhelmed the ability of service programs in Augusta. He alleged the influx was due to other cities sending unhoused people to Augusta. He said the city should focus on helping unhoused people who were already here. He suggested one way to help them would be to provide temporary housing to people who are homeless to allow them to focus on bettering their lives so they can find stable living situations.

At-large City Council candidate Christopher Voynik speaks during the taping of a candidates’ night event Wednesday at Lithgow Public Library in Augusta.  Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“We cannot have people from away taking valuable resources from our unhoused population,” said Voynick, a real estate broker. “Those are people we need to be working with to get them back on their feet. And allow them to focus on themselves. We should start looking into rapid rehousing. It essentially puts people in very temporary housing but allows them to focus on other things, like job applications, drivers licenses, resumes and skills training without needing to worry about where they’ll be sleeping.”


A Ward 1 council seat being vacated by Linda Conti has two candidates vying to fill it, Robert Austin and Marcus Emerson.

Emerson, a retired United States Marines chief warrant officer, was sick the evening of the forum and unable to attend, according to Amanda Olson, former chairperson of the Augusta Board of Education, who moderated the forum.

City Council Ward 1 candidate Robert Austin speaks during the taping of a candidates’ night event Wednesday at Lithgow Public Library in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Austin, who works in operational management for Maine Veterans’ Homes in Augusta, was asked what he would do to attract new businesses to the downtown area.

He said he would advocate for a proactive approach to attracting new businesses and developing downtown.

City Council Ward 4 candidate Eric Lind speaks during the taping of a candidates’ night event Wednesday at Lithgow Public Library in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“This means operating with a culture of customer service in the planning and development offices, as well as in code enforcement and licensing,” Austin said. “The city must be a partner and not a barrier to efforts to contribute to the positive forward progress we’ve seen in recent years. I’d also support finalizing a published and adopted comprehensive plan that would also provide potential developers and entrepreneurs a clear understanding of the city’s vision for the future.”

Incumbent Eric Lind, who is unopposed for his Ward 4 seat, and who is a retired Maine Air National Guard general, said his priority as a councilor would be economic development, which he said is badly needed, to expand the city’s tax base with additional revenues. The money could help cover the cost of infrastructure improvements to city facilities which a recent study indicated are in need of attention, he said.

“We need to focus on economic development, we need to broaden our tax base,” he said. “And that obviously, hopefully, will produce a little more revenue which allows us to move forward.”

Board of Education candidates also spoke and answered questions at the forum at Lithgow Public Library Wednesday, which was sponsored by Augusta First, the library and League of Women Voters of Maine. Questions asked at the forum were provided by students of Cony High School’s advanced placement U.S. government class.

A recording of the forum will be broadcast on CTV-7.

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