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Only Steps Forward: 2017 should offer help for small busineses, more volunteers

By Jonathan P. LaBonté

Mayor of Auburn

As we wind down 2016 and look ahead to 2017, there’s no better time than now to offer some predictions for 2017.

And to start the year off right, I will offer the optimistic predictions for what is to come for our community. While some may be a reach, I’m thinking that a little positive energy might help us to achieve these and more.

Let’s start with new jobs at new small businesses. Created in late 2016, Auburn’s Storefront Traffic Accelerates Revitalization, or STAR, program, will help to create dozens of new jobs in several new neighborhood and downtown businesses. Existing local businesses expanding, as well as others wanting to be part of the growth of Auburn, will spend 2017 investing in locations like Spring Street, Court Street, Main Street, Hampshire Street and Mill Street, generating foot traffic and bringing new life to our historic neighborhoods.

After decades of providing incentives to big developers and government-run business parks, the Auburn City Council in 2017 will adopt incentives for developers of smaller projects. Owners with multi-family apartment buildings will find the city supporting their investment in improving the safety and quality of their units.

Also, after sitting for years on several properties throughout the center of our city, bids will be solicited from those willing to take these city-owned properties, allowing new construction activity that will add to our tax base and the vitality of the neighborhoods.

In 2017, the City of Auburn will experience the first of several successful neighborhood engagement efforts as the Neighborhood Challenge Grant, first created in 2016, awards its first investments in citizen-led projects. The first projects of creative crosswalks, neighborhood information signs and park benches, create a welcoming environment to visitors and new residents. There will be significant buzz about what type of projects may come next, including a proposal by the New Auburn neighborhood for a permanent installation of the bells from St. Louis Church.

Members of the Auburn City Council and city staff will partner to promote ways that citizens can volunteer in support of the community. Those efforts, including some targeted recruitment, positions the city to fill all of the openings on city committees and boards for the first time in years.

The interest in volunteering is so large that the city is moving towards creating an annual volunteer fair, where community organizations and city committees all come together under one roof for networking and to introduce themselves to citizens and exchange thoughts and ideas about improving our city while enjoying refreshments and casual conversation.

With a push for a more transparent and priority-based budget process, the City Council will spend the first half of 2017 hosting listening sessions with city staff at various neighborhood watch, PTO and ward-based meetings. The resident input of what is most important for city services, as well as how much they can truly afford, leads to a streamlined budget that, when paired with the economic growth and sale of city properties, reduces the tax burden in Auburn.

The improved fiscal position, which will continue beyond 2017, helps to strengthen our bottom line in advance of the most important financial decision the city will make for its future: the composition of our new Edward Little High School.

2017 will be a banner year for civic engagement that goes well beyond what I’ve mentioned. The School Committee and its architecture and planning team at Harriman Associates will position the discussion of Edward Little in a way to ensures all residents see the impact it can have on them, whether

they have children or grandchildren in the schools or own a business that needs to attract workers.

And to fulfill one of the most frequent requests that I get as Mayor, maybe this will be the year Auburn lands an Olive Garden.

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