A nonprofit planning organization that, after decades of service to Washington County, abruptly closed during the pandemic may come back to life.
The Washington County Council of Governments ceased operations about two years ago after the coronavirus and poor administrative leadership forced it to shut down. The council had for years helped the more than 40 cities and towns in Washington County with long-term planning, getting funds for projects and critical environmental assessments.
Now the council’s board is reaching back out to the communities to see if there is interest in reviving the organization.
The past administration “failed to live up to expectations,” said Betsy Fitzgerald, the board’s president. The board has been trying to figure out how to re-establish the services the council provided, she said.
The Sunrise County Economic Council, another nonprofit in Washington County that focuses on sparking economic development, has taken up some of the slack with grant writing and is also behind the effort, Fitzgerald said.
So far a handful of communities have said they are interested, including Calais, Jonesport, Milbridge, Cutler and Alexander.
The council was extremely helpful when it came to getting grant funding for the area, said Mike Ellis, the city manager of Calais, including handling hundreds of thousands of dollars in Environmental Protection Agency grants for cleanups at hazardous waste sites.
“There was a lot of benefit in the grant writing realm,” Ellis said.
Like at the Hancock County Planning Commission, a similar nonprofit organization that helps the governments in the neighboring county, the council currently has no employees. According to tax forms from years prior, its income was slim just before the pandemic hit and the exodus of employees who left during the pandemic was the death knell.
But some towns are excited to see it return.
The Jonesport select board voted in favor of the council’s revival. Selectman Billy Miliken said it could be especially helpful to some of the smaller communities like his who may not have the expertise or staffing to vie for state and federal money.
“The county has suffered from the lack of a conduit for those funds,” he said. “In particular, municipalities that don’t have town managers and a lot of employees. [The council] really helped fill that void.”