Dexter Town Council members Peter Haskell, left, and David Palmer, center, listen as new member Adam Briggs reads an order during the regular meeting at the council chambers on Dec. 9, 2021. ( Credit: Valerie Royzman | BDN

Dexter town councilors discussed ways to spend $195,706 in American Rescue Plan Act funds the town received this fall during a meeting last week.

Dexter has already allocated $32,000 — paired with a $50,000 grant — to finish the Spectrum Cable project along Zions Hill Road, Town Manager Trampas King said. About 45 homes will benefit.

Across Maine, counties, cities, towns and municipalities are deciding — or have already started spending — how to use nearly $500 million in federal aid. From new bathrooms and carpeting at the Town Hall to trails for walking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, the Dexter Town Council considered what would benefit the town and its residents most at its latest meeting Thursday, Dec. 9. 

They did not vote to allocate the remaining $163,706.

There are limitations to how the funds can be used, King said. Next year, the town will receive another $195,706. 

He presented a spreadsheet with possible projects the town pursue, including town hall renovations estimated at $10,000 exterior and $25,000 indoors; paving along Golf Course Road, estimated to cost $25,000; walking trails, estimated at $5,000; a water and sewer project for P&L Market, estimated to cost $750,000; and hazard pay for employees, estimated to cost $20,000.

Councilors were asked to think about other projects for which there were no estimates, including the Heart of Maine Resource Center, a community center and new playground equipment.

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“What I would like to see is a good chunk of it go toward stuff related to recreation … stuff that’s giving the young people and kids in town things to do when they are out of school or they have to do remote learning,” Councilor David Palmer said. “The more opportunities we give them, the less trouble they’re going to get into.”

Councilors talked about revamping the Town Hall in lieu of a new community center, renovating outdated bathrooms and making spaces larger and more welcoming, for example. The town makes some money leasing spaces in the building, King said.

Councilor Andrew Bermudez suggested other projects might be better than supporting a new community center, which would have ongoing costs and could later increase taxes.  

“We can’t take care of the amount of buildings we have now,” Bermudez said. “So to add an additional building to a depleted workforce … would kind of be foolish. Not that we don’t need it, but I think we would need additional resources to take care of it.”

Levi Ladd, a new councilor, proposed increased signage around town. People passing through Dexter on their way to Moosehead Lake in Greenville don’t realize the town has shops and attractions, he said.

Neighboring Piscataquis County used some of its ARPA funds to give the sheriff’s office employees a bonus, King said, and now some area towns are feeling pressure to do the same for their law enforcement. The town manager has trouble justifying the action unless all town employees would be rewarded, he said.

“I am really mystified about how Piscataquis [County] did it so quickly and without going to the towns and asking them what they thought,” he said.

Piscataquis County Commissioners voted Oct. 5 to “give essential personnel so much per month for the duration of the governor’s declaration of emergency, which ended June 30,” County Manager Michael Williams said Monday. 

The $200 a month from March 2020 to June 2021 went to government workers, law enforcement and anyone else who was considered essential during the pandemic, according to ARPA guidelines, he said. Though he could not provide the number of employees who received the pay, some did not get the full $3,200 depending on when their employment began.

At the Dexter Town Council meeting, members also accepted a $32,000 grant from the Federal Aviation Administration. The grant is to cover costs related to operations, personnel, cleaning, sanitation, janitorial services, combating the spread of pathogens and debt service payments at the Dexter Regional Airport, according to the order councilors voted to approve.

This is the third grant in a series that the town has received since the COVID-19 pandemic began, King said. The first was worth $30,000. The second was $13,000, he said.

The council approved a three-year contract with Central Maine Pyrotechnics for the annual fireworks display in July 2022-24. The town will pay the company $5,000 each year.

Members voted to appoint Andrew Bermudez as chairperson and David Palmer as vice chairperson.