BANGOR, Maine --- Bangor City Councilors sit at their assigned seats ahead of a regular council meeting Monday, July 10, 2023. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

Bangor city councilors will go over all 60 applications and vote whether to grant each one next week after their initial plan to distribute roughly $16 million in remaining federal pandemic relief failed.

The new plan for   how to distribute the funding, which the city received through the American Rescue Plan Act, was developed after a staff-led attempt at polling councilors to see what applications should be moved up in the consideration process drew confusion and discord.

The proposed solution has worried some as well, with one key councilor saying the group should not have lengthy discussions on each request, something that will further delay award distributions that   already got a late start compared with   other cities throughout Maine.

“I’m afraid it won’t be a yes or no vote because people will be asking questions on each one,” Council Chair Rick Fournier said Monday. “I don’t want to be doing comments on all 60 of these. This process has taken way too long and we need to move on.”

The council’s new plan is a step away from the workshops it has held over the last two weeks   to make decisions on the 25 top-ranked requests   as decided by a volunteer review panel overseen by Heart of Maine United Way. Those top applications were further divided by their “area of emphasis,” meaning what issue the proposals seek to combat.

In the last two weeks, the council   agreed to allocate a total of $492,000 in pandemic relief funding to three local organizations,   plus another $150,000 to hire a grant writer and manager for the city.

While councilors had a plan for how to rule on the top 25-ranked applications, they lacked a plan for how to address the 35 remaining requests that received lower scores from the United Way’s review panel.

To remedy this, the city decided to issue councilors an anonymous poll with two questions: “Please select any applications you would not like to advance” and “Please pick five applications you would be interested in considering.”

Only eight of Bangor’s nine councilors responded to the survey. The anonymous nature of the poll made it impossible to know what applications any of the councilors voted for. Furthermore, neither councilors nor city staff knew which councilor didn’t vote.

None of the applications ranked between 25 and 60 received a majority of five or more votes to be moved up in the consideration process. Three applications, however, received at least five votes from councilors indicating they were against advancing the request.

After receiving the results, councilors Joe Leonard and Dina Yacoubagha pushed back against councilors being limited to five votes for applications they wanted to move up in the consideration for funding process while having unlimited choices in those they wanted to set aside.

“I felt I was unable to pick every organization I wanted to because it was limiting,” Yacoubagha said in a Monday workshop. meeting “I feel it was unfair to some organizations who, I believe, deserve partial funding.”

Leonard also pointed out that the required majority of five councilors selecting the same application had a likelihood of 0.045 percent.

“I don’t understand why we held different standards for different applications,” Leonard said. “All applications should be given a fair shot, not just the top 25.”

There was also confusion among councilors and members of the public about what the results of the survey meant. While some thought the survey was informal and not meant to serve as an official vote on any applications, others thought an application was out of the running for funding if it didn’t receive any votes from councilors.

“The survey was supposed to winnow down the sheer number of applications we have to review,” Councilor Gretchen Schaefer said. “Even if something got nine votes, I wouldn’t expect it to get automatic funding.”

While some councilors, including Clare Davitt, suggested the survey be redone with all councilors responding and their choices being public, others recommended the group drop the survey idea altogether and consider all 60 applications.

Ultimately, the council agreed on the latter funding process.

“We’ll come back next week and give an up or down vote, then go from there,” Fournier said.

Kathleen O'Brien is a reporter covering the Bangor area. Born and raised in Portland, she joined the Bangor Daily News in 2022 after working as a Bath-area reporter at The Times Record. She graduated from...