Bangor city councilors have a tentative budget for how much of its $20.9 million in pandemic relief funding it plans to spend on certain things, including building the city’s housing stock, aiding its homeless population and improving public health.
While the city will use the rough budget when allocating the $20.9 million in federal funds it received through the American Rescue Plan Act in 2021 to specific organizations and efforts, it likely won’t be ready to give more money away for several more weeks.
City Manager Debbie Laurie drafted the tentative budget based on conversations the council has had about where they’d like to see the money go. While councilors may make adjustments depending on need, Laurie said the draft budget is designed to be a conversation starter and a guide for exactly where that available money could and should go.
“I tried to assign funding to major buckets and not get into the weeds,” Laurie said. “It felt like we needed a little bit of a kick-start.”
The biggest cut of the funding outlined in the budget is $8.1 million the city tentatively set aside for aiding “disproportionately impacted communities.” Within that category, Laurie outlined $5 million in relief funds would be spent on expanding low-income and workforce housing, and the rest would aid the city’s growing homeless population and fund child care.
“We hear it from the public and we see that it’s a need, so I think it’s appropriate for us to spend a minimum of $5 million on housing,” Councilor Dan Tremble said.
The budget also sets aside $3 million to be spent on public health initiatives, including mental health and substance use disorder prevention, treatment and recovery uses.
Another $2.6 million could go toward expanding affordable broadband internet and $1.7 million may be allocated to assist local nonprofits and small businesses, according to the budget.
Laurie also created a “catch-all” category for miscellaneous expenses like installing more electric vehicle chargers and public restrooms in the city, which could use the remaining $5.4 million, according to the budget.
While councilors gave Laurie’s tentative budget a thumbs-up, Laurie stressed that amounts could be shifted, and some councilors said they’d like to see more spent on assisting the city’s unhoused population.
Councilor Clare Davitt said designating pots of money to be used for various initiatives will advance creating an application process for organizations interested in receiving some of the city’s funding. It’s uncertain when the city may have a firm ask for money in front of them for approval.
Later this month and next, city staff are expected to provide information on community- and school-based substance use disorder and mental health strategies, detox beds and Efficiency Maine partnerships, Laurie said.
Bangor has until Dec. 31, 2024, to allocate relief funds, and the money needs to be spent by Dec. 31, 2026, according to Laurie.
The city has already designated $1.7 million of the $20.9 million to four community organizations. Last month, the city awarded $241,000 to Bangor Public Library to hire a social worker to connect homeless patrons with services they need.
Bangor also decided to give cuts of the pot to Fresh Start Sober Living to make its recovery homes more energy efficient, Maine Discovery Museum to update its heating and cooling system, and Penquis for its 115-unit Milford Street project near Mary Snow School in Bangor.