Consultant Patrick Ibarra works Saturday with members of the Augusta City Council as they set goals for the coming year during a session at the Augusta Civic Center. Keith Edwards/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — An unanswered question overshadowed Saturday’s annual goal-setting session of the Augusta City Council, at which city councilors prioritized economic development, repairs to city facilities and streets and more housing at all levels.

The unanswered question: Who is going to do the work?

Staffing concerns, what some councilors said are overworked municipal employees being asked to do more and a private sector with not enough people to fill the workforce remain obstacles to getting things done in Augusta and across the country, officials said.

The lack of workers makes it harder to address the need for the city to add housing, attract and retain businesses, help people who are homeless and repair crumbling roads and other city infrastructure, including the 50-year-old Augusta Civic Center, where Saturday’s session was held.

“We’re all aware, whether we live in Augusta or Los Angeles, all across the country, there is a shortage of people to work,” Ward 3 Councilor Mike Michaud said. “There’s 12 million jobs in the United States that are not filled right now, that’s not going to go away.

“We can’t ask our folks to do much more than they’re doing today, without asking too much of them and them suffering burnout. The biggest challenge that any one of us sees is the lack of staff.”


Consultant Patrick Ibarra of Mejorando Group, who ran Saturday’s goal-setting session, said the lack of an adequate workforce can affect municipalities in other ways, including that many receive few or no bids for construction projects because construction companies are struggling to hire enough workers to perform the work they already have.

A consensus of councilors seemed to agree Augusta should start by adding to its Economic and Community Development Office because the city needs more economic development.

The city might also need more code enforcement staff members because a revised proposal for a new rental housing inspection program is set to go to councilors for discussion next week.

Keith Luke, the city’s economic development director, said one reason councilors’ priorities coming out of previous goal-setting sessions, such as redevelopment of the riverside, have not happened is there has not been enough city staff members to get to all the work.

Ward 3 Councilor Michael Michaud speaks during the Augusta City Council goal-setting session Jan. 21, 2023, at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

Ibarra said municipal workers spend about 80% of their time doing day-to-day duties, so it is hard for them to take on new projects, even as the priorities of city leaders grow.

“We need more people,” Luke said. “The reason many of these things aren’t getting done is we don’t have the people to do them.”


Officials said Augusta might want to look into artificial intelligence, or AI, as a way to provide services if hiring remains difficult.

Councilors appeared to agree that addressing some of the city’s aging infrastructure should be a top goal for the year, especially at the Augusta Civic Center, which they said is showing its 50 years.

Officials said the facility at 76 Community Drive needs many updates to remain the vital economic driver it has been for decades by drawing people to Augusta for conventions, meetings and other events.

“We need to fix it. It’s the economic cornerstone of the city,” Ward 4 Councilor Eric Lind said of the city-owned Civic Center.

He said with the facility serving as an emergency disaster shelter and being used by state government and others for public needs, the city should explore every avenue to find revenue to help pay for needed renovations to the auditorium and meeting complex.

Consultant Patrick Ibarra works Saturday with members of the Augusta City Council as they set goals for the coming year during a session at the Augusta Civic Center. Keith Edward/Kennebec Journal

“What’s unique about the Civic Center is the opportunity for a mix of revenue to come in,” Lind said, “because of the versatility of it, because of the users of this building.”

City Manager Susan Robertson said Augusta has American Rescue Plan Act funds — received through Kennebec County — set aside for repairs to the Civic Center roof, and she will include other needed improvements to the facility in a future capital improvement plan for potential funding.

Ibarra said he would provide a summary of Saturday’s goal-setting session for councilors to use as the year goes on.

Other goals favored by at least some city councilors included increasing street maintenance; continuing to work with partners on providing more housing at all levels; approving the new comprehensive plan; forming a plan to address other facility needs; and continuing to build relationships with other groups.

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