AUGUSTA — City officials are seeking a federal grant to try a new approach, modeled after a program used by the Waterville Police Department, to help Augusta residents with substance use disorder enter treatment and to reduce the growing number of drug overdose deaths.

The proposed program would be based out of the Augusta Fire Department, and have a beginning budget of about $250,000 for an 18-month pilot project.

City councilors voted last week to authorize the city to apply for the grant through the office of U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District. The deadline to apply is Monday.

At-Large City Councilor Courtney Allen, a leader of the city’s Ad-Hoc Substance Use Task Force Advisory Committee, said the program would hire a project coordinator to help people seeking help with drug addiction.

“Some of the money would be used for treatment resources and supplies for folks as they go into treatment,” said Allen, who is policy director for the Maine Recovery Advocacy Project.

The proposed program would be modeled after Operation HOPE (Heroin Opiate Prevention Effort), a program of the Waterville Police Department that Waterville Chief Joseph Massey described recently to Augusta city councilors.

Massey told councilors the Waterville program has been successful and improved many lives. Due to the nature of the program, however, Massey said a number of participants have relapsed or left treatment.

Waterville’s program, based out of the Police Department, is available around the clock and seven days a week to anyone seeking help from an intake worker.

Waterville’s program is funded by private donations, grants and fundraisers, including concerts and a golf tournament. Other than Massey’s involvement and the time of another Waterville officer who oversees the program, no property tax dollars go to the program.

Massey spearheaded the launch of Operation HOPE in 2017. The program has helped put more than 200 Mainers into substance use disorder treatment programs.

The Waterville program and another in Scarborough are modeled after a program in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

While Augusta officials were still working last week on how much to seek in federal funding, Allen said $250,000 seemed about right.

At-Large Councilor Raegan LaRochelle, also a leader of the city’s substance use task force, said the money would fund an 18-month pilot project, from this July to December 2022.

“It may be a long shot,” LaRochelle said, “but it’s something we’d certainly like to try.”

Augusta City Manager William Bridgeo said the city is not planning to supplement federal funding with local dollars, other than in-kind matches in the form of office space and oversight and management of the program.

The funding would come through the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Bridgeo said if Augusta were to receive federal funding, city staff members would come back to the council with greater specifics about the program.

The effort comes as Maine recorded its worst year for drug overdoses in 2020, with 502 deaths.

Every congressional office may submit up to 10 Community Project Funding grants for consideration, which must be linked to existing federal programs. Not all requests are expected to be granted or granted in full.

Bridgeo said he anticipated many other municipalities and nonprofit groups would seek funding through the Community Project Funding grants, previously known as congressional earmarks that allow lawmakers to designate money for projects in their districts. The requests would be part of the appropriations process and included in the federal budget.

Three groups in Gardiner — Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Kennebec Valley and Cobbossee Trail Committee — are also seeking federal grant funding through the program, although they are applying for a combined $1 million through the office of U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, D-2nd District.

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