ELLSWORTH — Grants from the county of Hancock to nonprofit organizations affected by COVID-19 could be in local coffers sooner rather than later.
The Hancock County Commissioners at their semi-monthly meeting Tuesday reached a consensus about a proposal from Chairman Bill Clark to allocate $300,000 of federal COVID-19 relief funds in direct grants to nonprofit groups that apply and qualify for them.
Hancock County has received $5.3 million in American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 funds and is slated to receive another $5.3 million in 2022.
“My personal goal is to make sure this $10 million is to help people directly in Hancock County,” said Clark.
Kitty Barbee of Barbee Business Services, who the county hired to facilitate spending the federal money, met with the board Tuesday to discuss ideas.
The board directed Barbee to draft guidelines and an application for the nonprofit grant proposal.
Meanwhile, the commissioners want to hear from their constituents about how the federal relief money should be spent.
The county has set up a dedicated web page to receive comments. Go to https://hancockcountymaine.gov/american-rescue-plan/.
In related business, the board also agreed that providing funding for broadband access in Hancock County was a top priority.
“I’d like us to understand what’s out there in Hancock County for broadband endeavors,” said Clark.
Commissioner Paul Paradis added, “We’re going to be going after folks that are ready to pull the trigger” on projects.
To that end, the commissioners directed County Administrator Scott Adkins to find a broadband consultant to help the county filter through anticipated funding requests for broadband projects.
Commissioner John Wombacher agreed that broadband is a priority considering its importance in education and also with the influx of new residents in the area.
“I’ve got neighbors on either side of me who’ve moved from California in the past six weeks,” said Wombacher, a Bucksport resident.
In related business, workforce housing was discussed as another need, but the board is concerned about how much it could make a difference in that sector as a government entity with limited funds.
Clark said he’s concerned that the county could spend a lot of money building workforce housing that could ultimately house maybe 50 families.
“That’s the thing I have a problem with,” Clark said, “a lot of money spent on a few people.”
“It doesn’t filter to the top for me,” said Paradis. “Not because it isn’t a worthy cause but because of the practicality.”
“And is it [housing] more efficiently addressed with private enterprise?” Paradis questioned.
Wombacher said another priority for him is helping issues such as homelessness and the opiate crisis, which worsened during the pandemic.
“I think we do want to help as many people as we can reasonably,” Wombacher said. “That might be supporting other agencies to reach out to communities that have been affected by the pandemic. I don’t know what that is today.”
Incidentally, the meeting was the first gathering the board held in person since the pandemic began in March 2020. The county intends to continue to broadcast the meetings via online platform Zoom as a way to allow more public participation.
The commissioners will be conferring with Barbee again on Tuesday, Aug. 3, the board’s next meeting.