May 24—AUBURN — City officials will host a regional summit June 2 in hopes of rallying local officials to pool federal relief funds for larger regional projects.
According to Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque, the city has invited officials from Lewiston, Androscoggin County government, the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments and more to take part in a "brainstorming" session at Auburn Hall.
Each government entity has either received millions in funding, or is eligible to receive funds from the American Rescue Plan. Since the legislation was signed into law in March, Levesque has advocated for taking a regional approach.
"We need to be extremely thoughtful on how this money is spent in order to produce long-term increases in taxable value," he said this week. "I'm really interested in how we can leverage this money with existing sources of funds to make a significantly larger impact, not just for Auburn, but for the region."
Auburn will receive $14.2 million, while Lewiston is set to receive $22.8 million. Androscoggin County government will receive a separate $21 million.
Levesque said Central Maine Community College, the University of Southern Maine's Lewiston-Auburn campus and the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce are also on board to take part.
It's unclear, however, what if anything could come from the summit.
Municipalities have just received the first tranche of funding, with the second round slated to come next May. In Lewiston and Auburn, elected officials aren't scheduled to review potential projects for their respective cities until mid-June. Staff in both cities are putting together lists for the city councils to review.
Levesque declined to share potential project ideas Friday, stating it's the basis of the meeting.
"We need to crowdsource some ideas from our peers," he said. "It's a lot of money, and it could affect the entire region."
Asked Friday, Lewiston Mayor Mark Cayer said he's "all for collaborating with other communities when it's beneficial."
He said he was just informed of the summit earlier Friday during a call with Levesque.
"I look forward to sitting down and discussing it," he said, adding that communicating about what everyone else is doing can be beneficial, so that efforts aren't duplicated.
The Twin Cities account for $37 million of the estimated $118 million that will go directly to Maine's five largest cities.
Cayer also declined to share any project ideas, but said city staff has been compiling a list. He said Lewiston officials "have a pretty good idea of what our needs are."
After the relief funds were first announced, municipalities waited several weeks to receive federal guidance on how the funding can be used. According to Levesque, cities have now seen that guidance.
The Maine Municipal Association on May 10 launched an online dashboard to help inform local leaders on "regulations, details and updates" regarding the American Rescue Plan.
According to the MMA, the White House and U.S. Treasury Department held two briefings last week to instruct municipal and county governments on accessing the funds.
A Treasury Department memo says the funds provide "substantial flexibility for each jurisdiction to meet local needs — including support for households, small businesses, impacted industries, essential workers, and the communities hardest-hit by the crisis."
It also says the funds can also be used by recipients to "invest in building, maintaining, or upgrading their water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure."
During a recent City Council discussion in Lewiston over rising water rates, city staff said one project under consideration is adding a second water main from Lake Auburn to the city, which has a large price tag.
Staff said the addition could help stabilize water costs for the city.