ELLSWORTH — The Hancock County Commissioners intend to distribute hazard pay checks, from American Rescue Plan [ARP] funds, to county public safety officials who worked throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, putting themselves and their families at risk.
This includes employees of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office, the jail and the Regional Communications Center staff, who would each receive $5,000, according to County Administrator Scott Adkins. It also includes payments of $2,500 each to the rest of the county employees.
However, Ellsworth City Manager and Police Chief Glenn Moshier questioned the fairness of this plan at the commissioners’ Aug. 17 meeting.
“I’m really here today representing first responders for all of Hancock County,” Moshier said. “I feel the precedent being set here with commission and hazard duty pay for county first responders is a warranted one and well deserved.”
“It’s a precedent that other communities cannot meet,” the chief said. “I think it’s a disservice to those first responders throughout the county. Most are volunteers and don’t receive any money at all. But day in and day out they responded to calls whether it was medical or fire service.”
“It’s a very good point and one of my reservations in the very beginning was similar to this, but I overcame it,” said Commissioner Paul Paradis. “One reason we went down this road is it’s specifically spelled out in this legislation.”
Chairman Bill Clark, a county sheriff for 34 years and a detective before that, asked Moshier, “Why can’t they? All communities are getting ARP funds.”
Moshier said the dollar figure municipalities expect to receive is “significantly less.” Ellsworth is slated to receive $400,000 this year. “If we paid $5,000 to each of our first responders, that would consume all the $400,000. The dollar figure the county’s getting is significantly higher.”
Hancock County received $5.3 million this summer and anticipates another $5.3 million by June 2022.
Moshier offered suggestions to the board.
“You could have communities apply to have hazard duty pay for their first responders,” said Moshier. “Leave it up to individual communities to apply for that.”
Commissioner John Wombacher replied, “It’s something to consider.”
Or, a community could put forward an amount for its first responders that the county would match.
Clark said he would be willing to discuss the idea.
“I think that’s an excellent way to trickle down some of our funds if communities provide matching amounts,” the chairman said.
In related business, the city manager said he had consulted with County Administrator Scott Adkins and consultant Kitty Barbee about working with the county on a broadband project.
“Broadband expansion, which is a hugely expensive endeavor,” is a priority for Ellsworth, Moshier said. “It’s a wildly expensive thing for us to be considering. $400,000 — that’s just scratching the surface of what we need to do for broadband expansion. It’s much more cost-effective if we work together.”
Clark asked when the state was going to release ARP funds to municipalities.
“She [Governor Janet Mills] filed for a second 30-day extension, so we’re anticipating September,” the city manager said.
Adkins reiterated his support for hazard pay for county employees who are in the first responder divisions.
“I think this is one way the commissioners, without using county tax dollars, can thank the force,” Adkins said. “I think our staff fully deserves this and earned it.”
The board intends to revisit hazard pay at a future meeting.