Penobscot County commissioners tour the county jail in Bangor in June 2021. Jail renovations are among the priorities county residents have said they want the county to pay for with $29.5 million in federal funds headed its way. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Penobscot County residents want $29.5 million in federal funds headed the county’s way to pay for affordable housing, mental health and substance use disorder treatment, the expansion of broadband internet service and county jail renovations so the 160-year-old Bangor facility can have more treatment services.

Those are the top priorities that emerged from a series of in-person and online meetings held over the past month around the county, Laura Mitchell, who facilitated the meetings, told county commissioners Tuesday.

The federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act that Congress passed nearly a year ago may be used to help communities recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and to put them in a better position to respond to the next health crisis.

County commissioners are not expected to decide how the money will be used until later this year.

About 100 people attended the series of meetings held around the county and online. Another 150 residents filled out an online survey about how the money should be spent.

Other priorities residents suggested included spending some of the one-time windfall on infrastructure improvements to roads and sewer systems, transportation from rural areas to service centers such as Bangor, regional emergency services, and education and training for those seeking to learn a trade.

Congress has appropriated funds for road and broadband improvements through the infrastructure package passed late last year, so those kinds of projects may not need additional funding from Penobscot County’s appropriation, Mitchell said.

Participants in the meetings also recommended that county commissioners prioritize funding projects that would have a lasting impact, but that the county would not need to support in the future.

Some of the rescue money may be used to renovate the Penobscot County Jail but may not be used to construct a proposed 100-bed addition to the aging and chronically overcrowded facility.

Commissioner Peter Baldacci of Bangor said Tuesday that commissioners would meet with municipal officials in Bangor to coordinate efforts where possible. Bangor is slated to receive more than $20 million in American Rescue Plan funds.

Smaller towns in southern Penobscot County would like to be able to use some of the money for sewer and culvert work, Commissioner Andre Cushing of Newport said.

Commissioners have said they would set aside some money for municipalities and organizations so they can seek one-time grants from a portion of the funds.

The rescue funds must be spent by Dec. 31, 2024, or returned.