SKOWHEGAN — Gov. Paul LePage has agreed to release voter-approved bonds for a downtown improvement project, but the money may not reach town coffers for another three years.

LePage signed a memo to State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin committing $375,300 in bonds to the town of Skowhegan to be issued by June 20, 2015.

The governor earlier this summer ordered a freeze on $40 million in bonds, including money earmarked for Skowhegan, saying the state already was deep in debt.

Skowhegan Town Manager John Doucette Jr. said town selectmen will deal with the delay in getting the funding, but the commitment by the governor is important.

“I think it’s great — we were going to meet with him next week, but I’m glad to see that somebody went forward and talked to him,” Doucette said Monday. “At least we know he’s committing those funds to us in the future.”

Doucette said the town has a signed contract with an engineering firm and has spent $23,000 on project plans, some of which already has been reimbursed.

“The project is on hold right now — now we have to come up with how we’re going to fund it until we can get reimbursed from the grant,” Doucette said. “The Board of Selectmen will look at that.”

The bond pays for the grant awarded by the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development. The funds the town previously spent on the Somerset Grist Mill revitalization project acted as the matching money for the grant.

Doucette in June said that the governor was not taking the authority voters gave to spending the bond money, but was determining when to spend it.

In a letter to the 11 municipalities that were waiting for the money, LePage said the state is already paying $100 million a year to finance debt payments from earlier bonds. Approving new borrowing would be fiscally irresponsible, he said.

The bonds were approved by Maine voters in 2010 as part of the Communities for Maine’s Future grant program. The town of Skowhegan was awarded the grant to improve the municipal parking area with pedestrian walkways, lighting, trees, benches, granite curbs and directional signs.

Doucette said Skowhegan Planning Board Chairman Donald Skillings and state Sen. Rodney Whittemore, R-Skowhegan, met with LePage last week and secured the commitment to future funding. The agreement with the governor is similar to one LePage made with Livermore Falls and Norway, according to a release from Maine Senate Republicans.

Skillings on Monday said he and Whittemore told the governor the town of Skowhegan could handle the funding in the short-term if it could be guaranteed the bonds would be issued.

He said he felt a private meeting, in person, with the governor, was the best approach to a solution.

The freezing of the Skowhegan project funding sparked a public dispute in July between LePage and state Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan.

McCabe questioned why LePage had agreed to a promissory note for the town of Livermore Falls, but not Skowhegan, according to a published report.

Contacted Monday, McCabe said the governor’s commitment to the bonds was not a guarantee that Skowhegan would ever see the money.

“I don’t think it’s a time to celebrate — I don’t think it really solves anything,” McCabe said. “It’s too bad that the funding isn’t going to come now — the bills are already in. Now he’s saying he’s going to pay the bills three years after the fact. He may not even be around then — it’s after his term is up.”

Skillings is running against McCabe for the House District 85 seat in November. McCabe is seeking a third term.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

 

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