WATERVILLE — Helping the most vulnerable get jobs, maintaining affordable housing and securing child care were touted as spending priorities for $1.7 million the city expects in COVID-19 relief funds.

Several people shared thoughts with city councilors Tuesday night during a public hearing seeking input on how to spend anticipated American Rescue Plan Act funds.

Elizabeth Leonard, an author, historian and representative of the Poor People’s Campaign, suggested the city follow the goals of the New Deal, set up after the Great Depression, and focus on relief, recovery and reform to help those impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Leonard asked that the city help the vulnerable by providing money to nonprofit agencies such as the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter and Kennebec Valley Community Action Program, and help put people back to work with a jobs program. This is a chance for Waterville to speak up for a livable minimum wage, she said.

She also said the city should consider turning the former Sacred Heart Catholic Church into a place for people to gather.

“I personally would like to see the city buy that property and turn it into a vibrant community center,” she said.


Sustainable public transportation, improved sidewalks and affordable housing also should be a focus, Leonard said.

“We need to transform the way many people live in the city,” she said.

Police Chief Joseph Massey asked that money be directed toward Operation HOPE, a police program that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and takes in people addicted to opioids and finds them treatment facilities. Massey said opioid addiction became more problematic during the pandemic. Having $25,000 to $50,000 would help sustain the substance abuse treatment program — which survives on fundraising efforts, grants and donations — for at least a couple of years, he said. To date, no taxpayer money has been used for the program, he said.

“I know there’s a real need out there and we continue to plug away at fundraising,” he said.

Michele Prince, chief operating officer for KVCAP community services, said the lack of available housing has been a struggle and KVCAP has not been able to help many people who are homeowners and struggling financially. Private child care providers closed during the pandemic and others decreased the number of children they take, according to Prince.

“Child care is another issue — we haven’t had enough child care for the pandemic,” she said.


Businessman Bill Mitchell, who owns several businesses and said he is among the top 25 largest taxpayers in the city, proposed a process for evaluating how to spend the federal money. He suggested creating an advisory committee with 10 members that would include a major nonprofit, a local economic development entity such as the Central Maine Growth Council, a Maine-based foundation to help with grant writing, along with businesspeople and others. The panel, he said, would come up with ideas for spending the money, identify and explain the need, how the money would be invested and describe the economic impact or benefit of the investment.

The effort would likely attract foundations to match the funds, Mitchell said, adding that local people could be trained as businesses look to hire more people.

“That becomes the multiplier effect,” he said.

Katie Spencer White, CEO of the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter, suggested the money be used to help homeowners pay utility bills and avoid foreclosure, and to provide others with access to legal counsel. The homeless shelter also could use help with its hotel-based shelters, which house homeless families with children who cannot yet be vaccinated. The shelter’s case management program also would benefit from the funds, she said.

Maine municipalities and counties are receiving about $502 million in funding. The money was established to address economic fallout from the pandemic and lay the foundation for a strong and equitable recovery, according to the National Association of Counties.

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