WATERVILLE — As revitalization of Waterville’s downtown is ramping up, a longtime downtown advocacy program appears to be winding down.

The Waterville Main Street program, in existence 16 years, might not receive funding from the city this year, what with a difficult municipal and school budget under review and the city not yet having information from the state about how much money it will get.

Charlie Giguere, president of the Waterville Main Street board of directors, said City Manager Michael Roy’s budget proposal to the City Council does not include funding for Main Street, and he and others on the board will not fight for funding before the council as they did last year.

“I’m not seeing us able to make an argument for Waterville Main Street in the face of the budgetary woes — the schools, the number of people showing up to make arguments for school budgets, and the same with the Police Department and public safety needs,” Giguere said. “We could go make a case, but I don’t feel we should.”

Last year, Main Street officials attended council meetings to fight for funding from the city, and ultimately the city decided to give $30,000 to the program — a decrease of $10,000 from the previous year. But last year, the schools were able to use surplus money to help fund the budget, and this year that surplus is gone, according to Giguere.

Main Street, which operates on an annual budget of about $120,000, has created many programs since its inception in 2001, including the Downtown Waterville Farmer’s Market, Common Street Arts and the downtown flower box program, banners and beautification projects. It also hosts the annual holiday Parade of Lights and Kringleville, Santa Claus’ mini-village, and has orchestrated Harvest Fest, facade improvement grant improvement programs and other activities. Main Street, which also established a historical tax district downtown that enables businesses to do historical renovation projects, has secured more than $1 million in grant revenue on behalf of the city, according to Main Street officials.

Giguere said Kringleville and the Parade of Lights will go on this year, but he and others are trying to find organizations to take over its other programs.

“We have enough funds in our account now to subcontract out the Parade of Lights and Kringleville for this year,” he said. “Next year, somebody’s going to have to adopt this program.”

Meanwhile, if the council votes not to fund Main Street, it must downgrade its designation to “network” status; and by the end of 2017, the program no longer would exist. Main Street’s fiscal year is the same as the city’s — July 1 to June 30. As of July 1, Main Street will be on network status if it does not get city funding.

In order to be designated a Main Street Program, the organization needs part of its funding to come from the municipality, usually one-third, and it must have at least a full-time executive director. For this year, it received $30,000 from the city, a $10,000 decrease from the prior year. Colby College agreed last year to match the city’s $30,000 contribution, and merchants also donated funds, as did Thomas College, Inland Hospital and MaineGeneral Health — Main Street’s major partners. Funding also comes from grants, promotions and events.

“Without city funding, we can’t be a Main Street Program,” Giguere said. “When the city stops funding us, we lose our charter as a Main Street Program.”

Roy said Wednesday that funding for Waterville Main Street “hasn’t been decided yet, by any stretch of the imagination.”

“I can’t predict how the council will vote. My budget to the council did not include funding for Waterville Main Street, but the council can add, subtract, do whatever they want. I think it’s premature to say the city won’t fund it. The council hasn’t taken a first vote on the budget.”

That first budget vote is scheduled for Tuesday night’s council meeting, according to Roy.

However, City Councilor Sydney Mayhew, R-Ward 4, said Wednesday that he thinks funding for Waterville Main Street is “in a very precarious situation right now, basically because restraints on the municipal budget this year are just very grave and serious.”

“I have a lot of sympathy for Waterville Main Street, because I do believe in the program; but at the same time, I’m kind of disappointed in their enrollment,” Mayhew said. “Their enrollment hasn’t significantly increased at all as far as signing up businesses.”

Mayhew said the idea was for Main Street to sign up new members to increase dues and wean itself off the city’s funding. While Main Street officials have been reporting updates on its efforts to the council, Mayhew said he does not see results. He said that while he is a big believer in economic development and that has been his mantra, the hard reality is the city is struggling this year with funding for schools, a recycling program and other problems — without yet knowing the amount it will get from the state.

“When you consider all of those different things that are coming into play, Waterville Main Street, unfortunately, falls a little down on the priority scale,” Mayhew said.

Council Chairman Steve Soule, D-Ward 1, said he is only one of seven council members, but he thinks Waterville Main Street “is not a necessity and therefore we need to put it off for this year, at least regarding funding.”

Soule said that, hopefully, other organizations will step up and help keep Main Street’s programs going, but he added there’s no way to know for sure what the council will decide on funding.

“It can be a surprise right up to the moment of voting,” he said.

A LONG HISTORY

The Waterville Main Street Program was created in 2001 as one of four inaugural Main Street communities in the state. The nonprofit organization sought to make the downtown a thriving and energetic destination spot that includes commercial, social, cultural and entertainment activities.

Waterville’s first director was Jeff Zimmerman. Shannon Haines became executive director in 2003 as part of a job share with Joan Phillips-Sandy, who then was assistant director. A couple of years later, Haines became the full-time executive director and stayed in the job until October 2012.

“While I am sorry to see the organization go, I am proud of its many accomplishments over the years, including starting the Downtown Waterville Farmer’s Market and Common Street Arts, facilitating the development of the Silver Street outdoor dining area and the Two Cent Plaza at Head of Falls, overseeing multiple facade improvement grant programs and producing countless community events,” Haines said. “Most importantly, Waterville Main Street created a sense of pride and forward momentum at a time when downtown Waterville was really struggling from a lack of investment. It is incredibly exciting to see the level of investment that is occurring right now, and I am very excited about the future of downtown.”

Haines is now executive director of Waterville Creates! She also is director of the Maine International Film Festival. When she left Waterville Main Street in 2012, Jennifer Olsen became executive director. In December 2015 Olsen stepped down and Main Street’s office manager, June L’Heureux, managed the day-to-day operations at Main Street’s office downtown. In January this year, TOCmedia owner Tracy O’Clair became interim executive director of Waterville Main Street and did a great job, diving into organizing the Parade of Lights and Kringleville and working with the board, according to Giguere.

“Tracy has done a wonderful job. Actually, we have never had so much of a broad base as we have now, so it’s ironic we’re at this point,” he said. “I’m sad because everybody, right from Shannon throughout, has put so much effort into creating this.”

The reality is that Kringleville and the Parade of Lights events may be Main Street’s last, according to Giguere.

“Then our job’s done unless somebody steps up with either funding or volunteers who are going to run the network, because there are no more checks coming — and we’re not accepting more checks,” he said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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