Piscataquis commissioners reflect on several options for using ARPA funds

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DOVER-FOXCROFT – Piscataquis County Commissioners considered the use of $ 3.2 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds at a meeting on Tuesday.

DOVER-FOXCROFT – Piscataquis County Commissioners considered the use of $ 3.2 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds at a meeting on Tuesday.

The county has so far received about half of its allocation, with the other half due to arrive next year.

Counties in Maine are considering how to spend ARPA funds to better help their citizens and improve their communities. Commissioners considered using some of the money for generators in several cities, broadband expansion and radio communications upgrades for county emergency responders.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the group stressed the importance of broadband and radio communications projects, but with limited funds, they will prioritize security and emergency services.

Some of the ARPA funds have already been allocated, County Director Mike Williams said on Wednesday, including: hire an ARPA consultant; $ 15,000 per year, or $ 75,000 for five years, replace 38 computers; and $ 15,000 to buy a email program with improved cybersecurity, which would require updates every few years.

In October, the commissioners also voted to give county employees a salary bonus valued at $ 200 per month from March 2020 through June 2021, which Williams estimated to be approximately $ 182,000 in total, plus a $ 38,200 special payroll warrant that the commissioners approved on Tuesday.

Jaeme Duggan, director of the Piscataquis County Emergency Management Agency, wrote to the commissioners on December 15 to request generators for Legion Hall in Brownville Junction, the Brownville Fire Department, the Town of Guilford and the Town of Monson.

Duggan provided cost estimates for each of the locations, which totaled $ 32,807.95. Legion Hall in Brownville Junction is also an American Red Cross Certified Refuge.

The generators are needed to provide residents with safe shelter in the event of an emergency, Duggan said at the meeting. Over the years, the EMA has purchased several generators with homeland security grants. Due to COVID-19 restrictions limiting the number of people in a shelter and separation requirements, there is now a need for more generators, she said.

“Some of them [generators] have just reached the end of their life and no longer work, ”she said. “We are simply out of funding for homeland security, because of COVID as well. There is an urgent need that we cannot fill this year.

The EMA would continue to use homeland security grants for future needs, Duggan said.

President James White has asked if the onus should fall on cities now that homeland security funds have run out.

Duggan said these towns would generally not have their own shelters. For example, residents of Brownville typically travel to Milo and residents of Monson to Greenville. These cities cannot accept outside residents now, due to COVID-19 restrictions, she noted.

“So now we are just refusing our neighbors,” White said. “I wonder if this is happening in Kentucky now. Are they refusing their neighbors because you don’t fall into my shelter? It’s disgusting.”

The commissioners filed the request until January. They asked Duggan to contact the cities to see if they could donate one of their ARPA funds for generators.

Brian Lippold, President of Casco Bay Advisers, presented his consulting firm’s report broadband study, which assessed the broadband infrastructure across Piscataquis County and identified the gaps and how to fill them. The study estimated that it would cost between $ 22 million and $ 27 million to extend coverage to unserved areas.

The Piscataquis County Economic Development Board continued the $ 60,000 report, which began three or four months ago and was paid for with a $ 30,000 grant from the ConnectMaine Authority, coupled with $ 30,000 of the municipality’s ARPA.

If the county decides to go ahead with the project and seek state grants, it would first need to identify local funding and service providers, Lippold said.

“The thing I can’t help but think about as you give your speech is that technology is changing rapidly,” White said. “For $ 2,700,000, we could install Starlink in all 5,400 homes. It does everything fiber does.

Lippold said Starlink works well, but understands that the program can serve a finite number of subscribers in a geographic area.

“I think the key here is not to do a study that’s on a shelf somewhere,” said PCEDC executive director John Shea, suggesting communities work together on a request for proposal for suppliers. services and seek funding from the state and federal government. Governments.

Shea said he would like to keep Lippold on board to guide the county through the broadband process. He plans to apply for a matching grant of $ 20,000 from the ConnectMaine Authority. PCEDC can provide $ 5,000, and Shea asked the commissioners to fund an additional $ 5,000 to get the $ 10,000 match. The commissioners will deal with the request at their next meeting in January.

“There is a lot of competition for ARPA funds. … Many of our radios [for emergency responders] have long exceeded their life expectancy, and a percentage of them no longer have the ability to find spare parts. Communication is a necessity, ”White said.

“It comes back to us. Can we help you hook up your internet system so you can talk to your doctor? Or do we help firefighters get radios so they can respond when you have a heart attack? “

White and Commissioner Andrew Torbett agreed that safety must be a priority.

Routing the fiber to the towers would help the radio project, Duggan said. Communications Design Consulting Group presented its findings to commissioners in November, which suggested a $ 5 million upgrade to the county’s public safety radio system.

“If there is a way, as Jaeme said, that these can fit together, I think we should assess it,” Torbett said.

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