Commissioners discuss strategic plan for county, ARPA funds

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FARMINGTON – The unorganized territories featured in the county commissioners meeting on Tuesday. County Administrator Amy Bernard reported back to the commissioners following a meeting with the fire departments in Kingfield, Phillips, Strong, and Salem.

This spring, Salem Fire requested funding from the county’s American Rescue Plan Act funds for a number of items, including COVID-19 relief stipends for firefighters, small salaries for three administrative roles in the department, new turnout gear, a well, and a septic system at the station.

Bernard has requested documentation from the Salem Fire Department, including copies of all the training records for the last two years for all the members on the department roster. In addition, she requested copies of up-to-date insurance documents and proof of payments, copies of the truck registrations and insurance cards that proves the trucks are insured and registered by the Salem Fire Department.

If the department is unable to provide those records by October 17, Bernard said that the county will start conversations with neighboring municipal departments to determine how best to serve Salem Township.

The county maintains roads through the unorganized territories. Mike Pond, from Strong, serves as the county road commissioner. Bernard and Pond clashed over how the roads are managed and brought it to the commissioners for discussion.

In reviewing documents, Bernard found that a high percentage of the road work projects have been awarded to one contractor and expressed concerns about how the process is being handled in the county.

Pond said he has developed a five-year plan for maintaining and repairing the roads and is about halfway through that plan. Pond was previously authorized to spend up to $10,000 on a project without putting it out to bid. While the commissioners did not dispute that the roads are improved, they indicated some confusion about how Pond was able to do the work without putting it out to bid. Pond explained to the commissioners that each road has a number of different projects to complete; gravel is one project, paving is another, and so on. He doesn’t exceed the $10,000 per project on each road, although each road may receive considerably over $10,000 in total.

Commissioner Lance Harvell said that he felt the intent of the $10,000 limit was for emergencies, and that projects should be scheduled, planned, and put out to bid.

Pond said that bidding can be lengthy and inefficient; given the changing prices and expenses, contractors would handle a bid process differently than they would handle an hourly contract for the same service. He felt that his process was the most efficient way to get work done and would save the county money.

As a compromise, the commissioners requested that Pond share his five-year plan for the roads with Bernard.

Representative Tom Skolfield from Weld approached the commissioners with requests from his constituents for a more transparent process in the county government, particularly in relation to the ARPA funds.

Saying the ARPA funds offer the county a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity, Skolfield asked the commissioners to consider developing a strategic plan and a mission statement for the county, to help guide decisions.

He outlined items that a formalized strategic plan should include: a transparent and accountable government; healthy and safe community; sustainable growth and development; thriving economy; culture and recreation; and a need for adequate transportation.

“A strategic plan should be future forwards,” Skolfield said. “It should be proactive rather than reactive. Decisions should be intentional.”

A strategic plan cannot predict emergencies and accommodate for every situation that may arise, but that should not deter the development and implementation of such a plan.

Commissioner Bob Carlton said that a strategic plan is one of the things he would like to see as he campaigns to run again, and thanked Skolfield for bringing it to the board.

Most municipalities have some form of strategic plan, and the county should consider it as well. Jay had been the largest taxpayer in the county, Carlton said, but due to the situation with the mill, that has shifted; Carrabassett Valley is now the largest taxpayer. Things do change, but having a plan and being proactive can help through those changes.

Commissioner Terry Brann said he felt that any good plan has to start with good people, and he felt they had started that with the hire of Tiffany Baker in Human Resources for the county.

Brann said he felt everyone agreed to that they should start the discussion. The commissioners made no motion on the discussion.

The commissioners approved a bid for a complete makeover on the security system at the county jail, totaling $599,201.68, to be funded through the ARPA grant. In addition, they allowed the sheriff’s office and the county administrator to use previously allocated ARPA funds to purchase cruisers; due to the shortages and issues with the supply chain, the department has been unable to use the funds through a bidding process. This will allow the department to secure cruisers from whatever sources are available.

Later in the meeting, John Beaupre, chair of the Housing Committee that includes Kingfield, Carrabassett Valley, Wyman Township, and Eustis, asked the commissioners to reconsider the committee’s request for ARPA funding to address the ongoing housing crisis.

Lloyd Cuttler from Carrbassett Valley also spoke, saying that the crisis in the workforce is related directly to the housing crisis. Local businesses are reducing hours of operation because they can’t find staff; Cuttler said that is because employees can’t find housing to stay in the area. By supporting housing solutions, the county can help bolster the gross income and support the tax base.

Commissioner Brann said that he is not willing to allocate funding for the requests until the county has the final figures for a building project that is being considered.

Including the jail security system, an estimated $2.4 million has been allocated, out of the county’s $5.9 million in ARPA grant money.

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