Knox County Commissioners have received more than $13.1 million in requests from local towns and organizations for a portion of the $7.7 million in federal relief funds the county received.
The commissioners have not yet set a definitive timeline for consideration of the funding proposals, which began rolling in earlier this summer, though the process could be getting underway soon. The deadline for proposals was Aug. 31.
Commissioners are individually reviewing the requests in advance of their Oct. 12 meeting, where they will discuss which they would like to prioritize and potentially determine which towns or organizations they would like to meet with, according to Knox County Administrator Andrew Hart.
Counties across Maine are in the process of determining how to spend the relief funds they received from the federal American Recovery Plan Act, which were intended to help local governments recover from pandemic-related losses and promote economic recovery.
Knox County Commissioners have only taken action on committing about $500,000 of the $7.7 million for retention bonuses for employees at the Knox County Jail, the Knox County Sheriff’s Office and the Knox County Regional Communications Center.
In addition to the $13,118,706 million worth of requests from towns and organizations, county departments have also identified $3.9 million in potential uses for the relief funding. Hart said the list of department requests could change since he is still awaiting some additional information. Commissioners have not yet decided if department requests will be prioritized over those from towns and organizations, according to Hart.
Within the set of department requests is a $1.5 million proposal from the Knox County Emergency Management Agency director to establish a program that would give bonuses to private sector employees who have been considered essential during the pandemic, such as grocery store, day care and healthcare workers.
Among the largest proposals being reviewed by commissioners is a $4.1 million request that would fund a slate of affordable housing projects being pursued by the Knox County Homeless Coalition and multiple partners, including Habitat for Humanity and the Isle Au Haut Community Development Cooperation.
A regional broadband group had initially said it would ask for the bulk of the $7.7 million to fund a community-owned high speed internet network in the Knox County area. But the Midcoast Internet Development Corporation has instead filed a smaller $750,000 request in partnership with the town of Rockport. This $750,000 would act as the seed money for phase one of the project, which would begin to build out the network in Rockport.
The town of Vinalhaven is also asking for funds from the county to make broadband investments. The island community has requested about $1 million so it can expand broadband to 187 homes. Vinalhaven is also seeking funding for workforce housing on the island, sewer infrastructure upgrades and $1 million for a county-wide review of flood maps.
Other large requests include a $1.2 million joint proposal from the town of Thomaston and the Knox Health Clinic for investments in county health services, and a $940,000 request from the town of Isle Au Haut for affordable housing, broadband and infrastructure investments.
In total, commissioners have received about 35 separate funding requests from nearly every town in Knox County and about 10 local organizations.