ELLSWORTH — The recent $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package passed by Congress in the American Rescue Plan provides an influx of dollars to every municipality in Maine along with $10.664 million for Hancock County. The distribution to municipalities is based on population counts from the 2010 Census and will be made in two equal payments, one this year and one in 2022.
Ellsworth, the largest municipality in Hancock County, is set to receive $815,530. The second largest, Bucksport, will receive $491,012. On the low end of the scale, Great Pond and Frenchboro will each receive $5,583.
Ellsworth City Manager Glenn Moshier is not overexcited at the prospect of the stimulus payout — yet. This is because the federal government has yet to release specific guidance and details on how municipalities may spend the stimulus.
“We do know that the money cannot be used to lower the tax rate for a municipality, so the direct impact to the taxpayer at this point is also unknown,” he wrote in an email to The American.
The same is true for the other 36 municipalities in Hancock County, although Bucksport Town Manager Susan Lessard was enthusiastic about possible uses for the money.
“Any shot of cash is always welcome, for sure,” she said. “We don’t have the particulars on exactly how it can be expended, but we certainly have many local projects that are in process that I would hope could be utilized to reduce the impact on our property taxpayers.”
“Even if it was allowed, we would not be inclined to ever use this in our operating budget to artificially deflate the mill rate,” she added. “If you build in a hole then you have one the next year.”
And, just as Moshier recently informed the City Council that revenue streams from property and excise taxes remained steady throughout the pandemic year of 2020, Lessard said the same. “Our collection rates have stayed very good, and motor vehicle excise tax has actually gone up.”
“Whatever we do, we’ll use it wisely, so its benefits are long-term for the community,” Lessard said. “We have a long to-do list.”
While the stimulus payment cannot be used to directly offset property taxes, Congress did provide some general guidelines on how the funds can be spent.
Unsurprisingly, any COVID-19-related response may be covered by the funds, including negative economic impacts to households, nonprofits and small businesses. The funds also can be used for economic aid to industries such as tourism and hospitality, revenue losses traced back to the pandemic and infrastructure investments. The American Rescue Plan also provides $129 million for capital projects throughout Maine.
“As of right now, Hancock County government is slated to receive in excess of $10.5 million,” said County Administrator Scott Adkins Tuesday.
“The first half [is] to be distributed ‘in the near future.’ However, along with qualified expenses, we are searching for a timeline of funds to arrive.”