BUCKSPORT — The town of Bucksport is providing direct, immediate financial aid to its residents and small businesses whose livelihoods have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Town Council April 2 voted unanimously to offer support to residents who have been laid off in the form of $150 grocery gift cards. The council is also providing $600 grants to Bucksport businesses that have been affected. The stipulation for receiving a grant is the business was either forced to close or had a loss in revenue of at least 25 percent due to the state of emergency.
The program officially opened last Monday.
“So far we have had about 20 applications for business grants and 25 for food gift cards in the first day and a half,” said Town Manager Susan Lessard.
Lessard said the program is being funded through $115,000 from the town’s undesignated fund balance plus a $60,000 donation from Bucksport natives Andrew and Shelby Silvernail.
“The undesignated fund balance is healthy from decades of wise financial management by the councils and manager (Roger Raymond) of that time — and the continued management of it since as a hedge against bad times, to prevent the need for tax anticipation borrowing, and to flatten out the mill rate impact of major projects and purchases,” Lessard said. “The first ‘bad’ time was the mill closure, and $2 million of it was used the first year after the mill closed.”
This expenditure for the citizenry and businesses will not affect the tax rate.
Lessard approached the council about the idea to provide immediate help during the April 2 meeting, which was held online.
“However the vote goes, I want you to know I appreciate the opportunity to at least present these ideas,” Lessard said. “What it is is a way, in my mind, to indicate to the most impacted of our residents and businesses that our town is in support of them.”
“I don’t want to treat this like it’s the end of the world because it isn’t,” Lessard said. “There’s a path forward through it and we need to support that path. I think it’s a way to keep our sense of community intact when we’re isolated.”
The councilors had several questions, largely about the mechanics of how the programs would work, but ultimately agreed to support the program.
“You have the businesses that were here when the mill closed and stayed open when they had every excuse in the world to leave,” said Councilor Paul Bissonnette. “You have the businesses that came after the mill closed when they had every excuse to go elsewhere. I applaud our town manager for this proposal. We need to get this going. We need to do it now.”
Part of Lessard’s concern about getting help to Bucksport residents as soon as possible is the flood of people applying for unemployment benefits overwhelming the Maine Department of Labor. Getting unemployment benefits is going to take time when the agency went from hundreds of people filing a week to 45,000 people filing the next, she said.
Also, as part of Bucksport’s relief program, the town eliminated the fees for the senior meals program for Bucksport residents at the senior citizens’ center during the state of emergency.
Bucksport is also donating $7,500 each to the Bucksport Community Concerns food pantry and to HOME Inc. for their work to provide food and other needs during the pandemic.
Guidelines for the grocery gift card program and the small business grant program are available on the town website at https://www.bucksportmaine.gov/ or by calling the town office at 469-7368.
Both are “pay it forward” programs.
“We ask you to commit to doing something good in return for participating in this program and sending us information or a photo showing what that was so that we can post it on our Facebook page in the hope that it inspires others to do good works in the community,” Lessard said.