$50,000 grant option nixed: Council declines to join state resilience partnership

ELLSWORTH — In a 4-3 vote Monday, the City Council declined to participate in a state-run program designed to help communities increase their resilience against extreme weather and the impacts of climate change.

Maine’s Community Resilience Partnership, run out of the Governor’s Office of Policy, Innovation and the Future, provides grants for communities seeking to undertake resiliency projects that they may not have had the resources for originally.

City Manager Glenn Moshier informed the council that, after the program was brought to the attention of city staff by engineering firm Woodard and Curran, staff members began work on the various requirements for the application.

“The state feels like these types of projects have been put off or aren’t funded,” Economic Development Director Janna Richards explained after the meeting regarding city staff’s decision to pursue this application. “So, instead of putting it on the individual taxpayer, they are offering the funding and also the resource of actual human beings in that the program provides each municipality with a regional coordinator to help identify and apply for future grants.”

In order to enter into the Partnership, and thereby open up the opportunity to apply for an initial $50,000 grant and access other resources, city staff completed a self-assessment to determine which specific areas grant money may be most helpful in addressing and then held a public meeting to review the decisions made in the self-assessment.

Staff also conducted a public survey to try and reach citizens who may not have been able to attend the meeting. That action was not required by the application process but was something staff members said they felt was important to conduct.

After consulting with the public, as well as the county Office of Emergency Management, it was decided that the number one priority was a vulnerability assessment to determine the impact of flooding on the city’s infrastructure.

“We do have money in the local roads budget to do stormwater evaluation,” Public Works Director Lisa Sekulich told the council. “So, if we were to get this $50,000 from this grant, it would mean $50,000 more that I could use for something else in the local roads budget.”

But Councilor Michelle Kaplan took issue with several of the other priorities listed, such as the implementation of strategies to provide more public transit. And council Chairperson Dale Hamilton was concerned with what he believed to be a lack of detail regarding the requirements of entering into the partnership.

“I don’t see anything in here that says what’s next,” Hamilton said. “Is it just the $50,000 and that’s it? Or are we obligating the city to do certain things? … That’s my only issue. And without an answer to it, I can’t sit here in good faith and vote on something that I don’t have information on.”

“From a legal standpoint, this is what you would be legally obligated to, what is put here in the resolution,” said Richards, referring to the statements provided by the Partnership that committed the city to participating in the program and designated assistant planner Matthew Williams as the primary point of contact.

“All this money is out there, there are cities using this money to make their city better,” said Councilor Casey Hanson in support of the resolution. “If we don’t do this it is just an absolute crime to the taxpayer.”

Ultimately, Hamilton and Kaplan voted against the resolution along with councilors Gene Lyons and Steve O’Halloran. And with the application deadline now passed, the city will have to wait until the following spring to reapply if the program is still in existence.

In other business handled during the meeting, Toni Dyer was approved to serve as the interim deputy finance director and treasurer, a role that she will fulfill alongside her current duties as city clerk until the November election has passed. At that point, a decision will be made on which position she would maintain going forward.

The council also scheduled a workshop to discuss a review of the city charter for Thursday, Sept. 22, as well as two separate workshops to discuss American Rescue Plan Act [ARPA] funding and the overnight mooring and anchoring ordinance to be held concurrently on Thursday, Sept. 29.

Zachary Lanning

Zachary Lanning

News reporter Zach Lanning covers news and features in the Ellsworth area. He comes to Ellsworth by way of New Jersey, which he hopes you don't hold against him. Email him at [email protected].

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