Bangor has yet to say what it will do with any of the $20.4 million it is receiving from the federal government through the American Rescue Plan Act passed last year, while its county counterpart has acted much faster to announce plans for its $29.5 million award.
A spokesperson said that Bangor had not yet determined a formula for how it would allocate the money, and that city manager Debbie Laurie would discuss potential uses for American Rescue Plan funding with the city council later this month.
The city council will hold meetings starting later this month to solicit public feedback on how the city should spend its American Rescue Plan funding, council chair Rick Fournier said.
Auburn, Biddeford, Lewiston, Portland and South Portland, in addition to Bangor, received federal funding ranging from $9 million to $46 million, according to U.S. Treasury data. Bangor’s lack of action stands out as Maine cities were generally moving more quickly than counties earlier this year to spend their American Rescue Plan money.
Cities have until Dec. 31, 2024, to earmark the money, and must spend all of their funds by Dec. 31, 2026. The money must be spent on public health measures, addressing negative economic impacts caused by COVID, replacing lost public sector revenue, premium pay for workers, and investing in infrastructure like water and sewer fixtures and broadband internet.
Bangor has received $10.2 million so far, and will receive the other half this month under Treasury rules.
The city intends to take a comprehensive approach to reviewing and prioritizing all opportunities for the funds, after a final Treasury rule expanding what American Rescue Plan funds could be used for went into effect April 1, Laurie said.
“This is a historic opportunity that can benefit our community for decades,” she said.
Staff have considered, but not committed to, using some of Bangor’s funds to finance projects like renovating City Hall and the fire department’s public safety training center, according to the city’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2023.
“[I] don’t believe that is wholly accurate when you examine what other [cities] have committed to to date,” Laurie said of the appearance that Bangor was moving more slowly than other municipalities in committing American Rescue Plan funds.
Penobscot County’s three commissioners, in contrast, conducted listening sessions and disseminated a survey earlier this year to determine what should be done with its funding award. The county will receive the other half of its $29.5 million award later this month.
Respondents recommended that the funds be used on housing, mental health and substance use disorder services, broadband internet access, transportation, and emergency response services.
The county has since opened up an application process so outside organizations can apply for funding to address affordable housing, mental health and addiction treatment, broadband access, rural transportation and emergency response services. County commissioners have also said they’re exploring whether to use American Rescue Plan funds to cover renovation costs at the overcrowded Penobscot County Jail.
Penobscot County Cares, a coalition of mental health care and substance use recovery providers and housing advocates, has advocated for Bangor-area governments to use some of their American Rescue Plan funding to build more housing, address turnover among social service agencies ‘ staff and increase funding for substance use and behavioral health care providers.
Other cities and counties have moved more quickly to earmark their federal funds. Portland has assigned $14 million of its $24 million award toward building a new homeless shelter, replacing a community pool, and expanding its affordable housing program and access to child care.
Hancock County said it would spend $530,000 of its $10.9 million award to expand broadband access, and Cumberland County has earmarked $2.2 million to increase worker pay and help employers address the labor shortage crisis, according to a Treasury report.