AUGUSTA — Kennebec County officials are unveiling a grant program to distribute the county’s $23.7 million share of federal pandemic recovery funds to local governments, water districts and nonprofit agencies across the county.

The American Rescue Plan Act is making money available to municipalities — left out of  earlier federal COVID-19 relief packages — to help them recover from the economic effects of the pandemic.

“All of us have had calls from people telling us about why they think they should have (the money),” Patsy Crockett, chairwoman of the Kennebec County Commissioners, said Thursday. “Some of them, it doesn’t appear to me they would be qualified. But the rules are still coming out, which makes it really hard.”

Generally, the money can be used to support the public health response, addressing negative economic impacts, replacing public sector revenue loss, providing premium pay for essential workers, and water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.

Kennebec County Administrator Robert Devlin said because the state of Maine is making broad investments in broadband development, thanks in part to its American Rescue Plan Act funding, municipalities or organizations seeking county funds may opt to fund other priorities.

The program also outlines what the money can’t be used for: Reducing taxes, funding pension accounts, debt service, legal settlements, rainy day funds, any infrastructure that is not water, sewer or broadband, or general economic development or workforce development that’s not tied to the pandemic.

Maine’s 16 counties are expecting nearly $261 million, with counties with higher populations receiving more funds. Cumberland County tops the list with $57.21 million, followed by York County with $40.27 million, Penobscot County with $29.5 million, Kennebec County with $23.7 million and Androscoggin County with $21 million.

The money is being sent to counties in two payments. The first payment arrived in May; the next one is expected to arrive in May 2022. Under the terms of the program, funds have to be obligated by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026.

Devlin said Kennebec County’s website includes information about the funding, including details on spending categories and guidance on compliance and reporting. There’s also a link to the interim final rules for the program.

“I haven’t seen anything that says ‘final rules’ yet,” Devlin said, noting that the U.S. Treasury continues to send out new information, as does the National Association of Counties.

And because of that, he said, most counties are proceeding slowly.

While the program has gone live via Kennebec County’s webpage, kennebeccounty.org/arpa, no deadlines have been set yet, Devlin said.

County officials plan to hold an informational meeting for municipalities in the second half of September.

Applications, including those from county departments seeking funding, are expected to be reviewed by the county Budget Committee, made up of municipal officials from across the county. Its recommendations, based on the eligibility standards set by the U.S. Treasury, will be sent to the commissioners for a final determination.

Those applications will help with the programs strict reporting requirements, Devlin said.

Crockett said while this funding can’t be used directly to reduce property taxes, any grant money spent on projects is money that won’t have to be raised through a future property tax.

“For us, the big question is what can we spend it on,” Crockett said, “we don’t want to pay it back.”

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