AUGUSTA — After gathering input from municipal officials and nonprofit groups, Kennebec County officials are expected to announce their priorities in awarding grants from American Rescue Plan Act funds in early October.

While that guidance is not yet complete, county officials say they want to give priority to larger projects that meet the criteria for spending — essentially costs tied to the emergency response to COVID-19 or its economic impact, water and sewer infrastructure — but they will wait to see what the state’s plans for investing funds identified for broadband infrastructure before making grant decisions on local broadband initiatives.

“The discussions have been around what will serve the larger community,” Robert Devlin, Kennebec County administrator said, “not individual little projects.”

Nearly two dozen officials from cities, towns and nonprofits across Kennebec County met Monday night to weigh in on how the county’s $23.7 million should be spent, with ideas ranging from supporting public transportation to investing in sewer and water infrastructure.

The priorities that emerged centered on mental health and wellness, and access to mental health care in general and addiction treatment.

“I think opioid and other drug addiction residence services, that’s certainly countywide,” Hallowell City Manager Gary Lamb said. “Alcohol and drug dependency — having more beds and more professionals and having inpatient and in-person programs and facilities.”

Renee Page, executive director of Healthy Communities of the Capital Area, said her agency focuses on keeping people healthy and public health prevention.

“I want to piggyback on the notion of addiction treatment,” Page said. “I think focusing on keeping people healthy to avoid situations where they’re going to need treatment and housing (is important). The funds from the state have been stagnant if not dropping, including federal grants for wellness and prevention. Anything we can do to ramp that up would be a priority.”

A range of needs were identified, including basic care.

“Often, the back doors of our ambulance are the front doors to the ER,” Gardiner Fire Chief Rick Sieberg said. “What we’re noticing is not only do we have substance abuse, but it’s more mental health that’s the crisis going on in this area. I was at the ER today, and there were mental health patients lining the hallways. There’s no beds. There’s no place for these people.”

District 2 Commissioner Nancy Rines, who represents communities in southern and western Kennebec County, cautioned that ARPA grant funds are one-time funds.

“We’re here with this federal money to help to get started and get off the ground,” Rines said. “You have to have as part of your plan how you will continue.”

The funds identified for municipalities and counties are only one part of American Rescue Plan Act. Funding is also available for school districts, rural health care programs, small businesses and for investment in broadband.

Kennebec County officials are expected to announce its priorities in the next week or so, even as they wait for the final program rules to be issued. Devlin said official can provide their suggestions until next week by emailing him at [email protected]

Devlin said county officials also plan to hire a program administrator to oversee the grant program and to work with applicants on their requests.

The county’s Budget Committee, made up of municipal officials, is expected to review grant requests and forward its recommendations to county commissioners, who will make funding decisions.

Devlin urged officials to read the law to understand what items or initiatives may be funded and to know what’s required of them to secure grants and meet federal grant reporting standards.

No application deadline has been set, he said. Funding will not be granted on a first-come, first-served basis, and no caps have been set on funding.

Under the law, funds must be obligated by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026.

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