Commissioners discuss use of ARPA funds for county offices

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FARMINGTON – The Franklin County Commissioners discussed a potential new building development on the County Way property during their meeting on Tuesday.

The commissioners and departments within the county have been researching the potential of creating a larger county office building at the County Way property, utilizing American Rescue Plan Act funds.

Currently, the sheriff’s office has inadequate space in their building at 123 County Way for daily operations and evidence storage. The building structure evidently has some shortcomings as well. Other county offices, such as the Franklin County Emergency Management Agency, could be moved from the county courthouse to the County Way campus for better access to dispatch and the sheriff’s office. Consolidating the county offices could potentially save tax dollars.

ARPA funds can be used to expand an existing building but not to build a completely new structure. A concept has been proposed to build an addition onto the Franklin County Regional Communications Center building, located at 124 County Way.

Currently the county is working with an architect to develop a design and proposal.

Alex Winters, the acting District Attorney, addressed the commissioners Tuesday to share her concerns about moving the DA’s office from the current rented office building near the courthouse to the County Way property, about two miles away. The county is obligated to provide a suitable space for the DA’s office; Winters and Assistant District Attorney James Andrews stated that an office two miles from the courthouse would not be suitable.

One proposal was to put the DA’s office in the basement of the county courthouse, where Franklin County EMA is currently located, and move EMA to County Way. Winters said that they would need to explore that space to see if it would be suitable for their need.

In addition, Andrews said that the State Judicial Branch is renovating or relocating county courthouses throughout the state; before the county makes a decision on moving the DA’s office, he advised that they talk to the state for more information on potential changes in the court system.

Commissioner Terry Brann stated that they would look into those issues.

Two applications for ARPA funds were shared with the county commissioners. Both applications have been presented before but Sue Pratt, ARPA fund coordinator, asked the commissioners to review them again and make a decision.

Commissioner Brann stated he did not want to allocate any further ARPA funds until they had the price tag on the proposed development at County Way. The commissioners had previously agreed to hold the second half of the ARPA funding until that figure was determined; as of Tuesday, they had at least $250,000 remaining in the first half of the funding.

The commissioners heard from Carrabassett Valley Town Manager Dave Cota and other members of the regional workforce housing coalition, which is made up of town managers, select board members, and other stakeholders from Kingfield, Carrabassett Valley, Wyman Township, Coplin Plantation, and Stratton-Eustis.

Commissioner Bob Carlton said that the county’s revenue source is shifting from manufacturing to recreation; the largest taxpayer in the county is now the town of Carrabassett Valley. Recently Carlton and his wife traveled from Kingfield to Eustis to find a place to eat dinner on a weeknight and couldn’t find anything due to short staffing, which is associated with the lack of affordable housing. Houses are listed on the market but the price range is out-of-reach for many in the workforce, forcing them to relocate to other areas.

After some discussion the commissioners voted, two to one, to award $308,000 in ARPA funds to the workforce housing coalition.

The second request was from High Peaks Alliance, for $160,000 towards the Sandy River Bridge. The project is expected to increase traffic on the local trail network and increase revenue in the area. The request was denied for the time being; Commissioner Carlton said that he felt it was less critical than the workforce housing project.

Commissioner Lance Harvell said that they have to open the restaurants before the four-wheelers come through.

In 2006 Tri-County EMS bought three mass casualty trailers with non-perishable medical supplies and located one in Franklin, Androscoggin, and Oxford counties. At some point the ownership of the trailer was transferred to the Franklin County Emergency Management Agency. For a long time the trailer was stored in Carrabassett Valley. During the start of the COVID-19 pandemic the trailer was taken down to Franklin Memorial Hospital in case they needed the supplies. Since then, the trailer has been stored in a parking lot at the hospital. Tim Hardy with FCEMA requested permission to donate the trailer to the Wilton Fire Department for their educational programing. The agency has a different trailer that meets their needs and Hardy is concerned of the trailer being ruined by being stored outdoors through the winters. The trailer will be repurposed to look like a child’s bedroom and can be loaned out through the county for fire safety programming.

The commissioners approved the donation of the trailer.

This meeting was recorded by Mt. Blue TV. The meeting can be viewed online at MtBlueTV.org

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