FARMINGTON — Franklin County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to participate in a COVID-19 relief program to help smaller businesses.

Charlie Woodworth, executive director of Greater Franklin Development Council in Farmington, proposed in August to develop a relief program for smaller businesses. It would raise money from larger businesses, with the county matching the amount by using tax-increment financing funds. The maximum grant would be $5,000.

The TIF established in 2008 for the Kibby Wind Energy facility would be used in the unorganized territory for economic development.

Woodworth said the grant could help businesses, including retaining employees.

Commissioners, though interested, hesitated last month because they believed the TIF money could only be used for economic development in the unorganized territory. They requested an opinion from the county’s TIF attorney, Shana Cook Mueller of Bernstein Shur law firm in Portland.

On Tuesday, she confirmed TIF funds can only be used in relation to a business headquartered in the unorganized territory or a business doing economic development work in the territory.

Money raised from other sources could be used to help businesses in organized towns.

Cook Mueller also said that under the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development guideline, TIF funds can only be used for for-profit entities. The only way the funds could possibly be used for a nonprofit is if there is an employee training aspect or some other undertaking related to economic development.

“There is an opportunity to help the community,” Woodworth said.

In another matter, Woodworth updated commissioners on a $1 million federal grant the Greater Franklin Development Council received to support high-speed fiber optic internet service for Carthage, Temple, Weld and Wilton, and Perkins and Washington townships.

The Northern Border Regional Commission announced Aug. 20 that the Greater Franklin Development Council was awarded an economic and infrastructure development grant for its competitive application, according to a media release from the council.

The Franklin County Broadband Initiative began about four years ago as a grassroots collection of citizens pointing out that inadequate broadband was preventing rural Franklin County from growing and succeeding. The towns and townships, the county and Livermore Falls in Androscoggin County gave monetary support for a detailed report.

The grant will reduce the cost to the towns and townships in an effort to help “improve the ability of residents to diversify the economy, work and learn from home, establish home-based businesses, reverse out-migration and attract new residents,” according to the release.

The $1 million grant will cover 10% of the $10 million endeavor, Woodworth said.

The high-speed internet provider would pay 70% of the cost. The towns would have been responsible to pay 30%, but the grant lowers it to 20%. Woodworth said he will pursue funding at the state level to try and reduce the towns’ share to 10%.

The towns are being asked to pay for the attachment to the poles, which is estimated to cost $450 per pole, Woodworth said.


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