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Despite the announcement of a statewide plan to gradually lift coronavirus restrictions, the City of Augusta will lay off 32 workers by the end of May to balance revenues shortfalls and increases in pandemic-inspired spending, the Kennebec Journal reported.
Some city employees have already been laid off as part of a plan that will include 15 full-time and 17 permanent part-time employees. Most of them work at city facilities that are largely closed due to the pandemic. They include the Augusta Civic Center, where most public events have been canceled, along with Lithgow Public Library and the child care bureau at Buker Community Center.
Gov. Janet Mills on Tuesday outlined a gradual plan to lift coronavirus-related restrictions. It does not appear to immediately include the reopening of large venues such as the civic center but could embrace the library and community center. Under her plan, restrictions on gatherings of more than 10 people will continue through May, with the threshold increasing to 50 for June, July and August.
With the pandemic causing the cancellation of 44 civic center events from March to July, the facility anticipates being in debt by $400,000 by the end of June. The total could reach $700,000 by September, center director Earl Kingsbury said last week.
The city will use its general fund to cover the shortfall. When the civic center reopens, its leaders will explore limiting the size of crowds until the public is more comfortable with attending large gatherings.
Another death and 39 new coronavirus cases were reported on Thursday. There have been 1,095 confirmed cases across all of Maine’s counties, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s up from 1,056 on Wednesday.
Earlier this month, Portland, Westbrook and South Portland furloughed hundreds of municipal employees — mostly part-time, temporary and seasonal employees, but also library, community service and recreation workers — due to revenue declines, according to the Portland Press Herald.
Augusta City Manager William Bridgeo on Wednesday praised the workers being laid off when he explained the city’s plan in a memo to city councilors, the Kennebec Journal reported.
“We are blessed with a wonderful, dedicated workforce and the steps being taken to be financially responsible are painful ones,” he wrote.
City officials plan two furlough days for nearly all city employees before the fiscal year ends June 30, one on May 18 and another in late June.
Revenue shortfalls are expected to include more than $550,000 in excise taxes paid on vehicles, $200,000 in property taxes and the civic center losses. The increased expenditures created by the pandemic include cost overruns of about $141,000 for public safety and $136,000 in general assistance, some of which might be reimbursed by state or federal funds, according to the Kennebec Journal.