Bangor City Hall Credit: Ashley L. Conti / BDN

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The city of Bangor has received $20.5 million in federal COVID relief funds. Directing this money to areas of great human need, rather than government buildings, can make a fundamental difference to the city and its residents.

Bangor leaders have taken a slow and comprehensive approach, with an emphasis on soliciting input on how the funds should be spent. So far, they have heard a pretty consistent message, which has been spearheaded by a group called Penobscot County Cares. The coalition of mental health and recovery providers and advocates, has mobilized support to direct funding to human service needs, particularly housing, substance use treatment services and mental health services.

“The Bangor City Council is committed to ensuring an open, transparent and comprehensive process as we work to ensure this once-in-a-lifetime funding opportunity enhances the lives of our constituents for years to come,” Council Chair Rick Fournier said last month.

You can join the conversation by attending in-person meetings, workshops at City Hall or virtual events this month. You don’t have to be a Bangor resident, but you should have a close connection to the city.

At the first neighborhood meeting, held Tuesday at the city’s Boys and Girls Club, those who attended generally favored allocating the money to housing, substance use treatment and mental health services. That generally matches how Penobscot County, which received nearly $30 million in American Rescue Plan Funds, plans to spend much of its allotment.

It also contrasts with elected officials’ more general thoughts about spending some of the money on buildings, such as renovations to Bangor’s City Hall and to the Penobscot County Jail.

Penobscot County’s three commissioners conducted listening sessions and disseminated a survey earlier this year to determine what should be done with its funding award. The commissioners also heard recommendations that the funds be used for housing, mental health and substance use disorder services, broadband internet access, transportation, and emergency response services.

They have since opened up an application process so organizations can apply for funding to address these areas. County commissioners have also said they’re exploring whether to use ARPA funds to cover renovation costs at the overcrowded Penobscot County Jail.

The federal funds 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.

Portland has allocated some of its ARPA funding to a new homeless shelter, a community pool replacement, a housing program expansion and the expansion of child care in the city.

Here is the schedule of upcoming opportunities in Bangor to share your thoughts:

Neighborhood meetings will be held from 4:30-6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 7 at the Bangor Public Library and from 6-8 p.m. on Thursday, June 9 at Bangor Parks & Rec on Main Street.

A second in-person town hall style meeting will be held in the City Hall Council Chambers on Wednesday, June 15, from 7-9 p.m.

Virtual meetings have been scheduled for Tuesday., June 7 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and Thursday, June 8, from 7–9 p.m.

You can also take an online survey on the city’s website.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...