SKOWHEGAN — Town officials are considering how to use more than $870,000 in federal COVID-19 relief aid, with some recommending improvements to town infrastructure while others are pushing for bonuses, including a $10,000 payout for police officers.

Town Manager Christine Almand said Tuesday during a meeting of selectmen and municipal department heads that the first portion of the federal money arrived last month and the second installment is expected next year. The money must be spent by the end of 2026, according to federal rules.

Chief of Police David Bucknam has proposed the $10,000 bonuses for his officers, made in two $5,000 payments over two years. He said that since the COVID-19 pandemic began, his officers “have been working for the town and worked through all conditions related to (the pandemic).”

Skowhegan Chief of Police David Bucknam, center and Officer Emily Fox salute the American flag during a May dedication ceremony at Veterans Memorial Park. The town is receiving more than $870,000 in federal COVID-19 relief money and Bucknam wants to use a portion of it to provide $10,000 bonuses for his officers. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

Bucknam has requested the bonuses for his officers “to help them get back on their feet and to help them catch up on their bills.”

“Vacations have been denied because we needed the manpower on the streets,” Bucknam said. “We’ve had officers working around the clock because someone was out sick. They’ve volunteered for overtime to cover shifts so that other people could take a break. I watched the team unite as one. They were already united, but to watch them come together even more over the COVID situation really inspired me.”

Bucknam has also suggested dividing up the federal money among department heads and “let them go to work,” rather than having selectmen pick various projects from a list of suggested uses for the money. Bucknam has requested $190,000 for his department.


The money from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 can be used in four different areas: In response to COVID-19 and its negative economic impact, to provide premium pay to eligible workers responding to the public health emergency, to ensure funding for essential government services and for investments in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.

Shawn Howard, the town’s fire chief, told the group it should keep in mind the pandemic is ongoing and efforts to retain employees should also be considered.

Firefighters are responding to “more COVID positive patients today than they were a year ago,” Howard said, and given the worker shortage and competitive pay rates and sign-on bonuses from other businesses, it is difficult to recruit firefighters for his department, where there are 15 open positions on a force that typically staffs about 30.

“We are competing with other businesses that are offering sign-on bonuses (and) $15- to $20-an-hour starting pay, without training,” Howard said. “I am trying to get those same people to come to me.”

More than 200 hours of training and monthly training are required for firefighters, and they must work specific schedules to make sure 24/7 coverage is guaranteed.

“I can’t pay them what McDonald’s is offering. This is an ongoing issue,” Howard said. “As we look at how we’re going to reward them, we also need to have a conversation on how we’re going to keep them.”


Howard has proposed using $410,300 of the federal money to buy an ambulance. He said the majority of ambulance services in town are provided through Redington-Fairview General Hospital. He acknowledged, though, “I’m not sure if this is the best thing we can do with this money at the time.”

No decisions were made at Tuesday’s meeting. Department heads and selectmen plan to reconvene Nov. 23 for another workshop, with selectmen presenting their ideas to the department heads.

Other suggestions for how to use the federal aid have included:

Economic and Community Development: $400,000 for the Run of River Whitewater Recreation park, $100,000 for low-interest business loans to help businesses that have been impacted by COVID-19, a $100,000 grant/loan for homeowners to upgrade furnaces to help those impacted by COVID-19 and $60,000 for broadband to match the county broadband plan.

Pollution Control: An unspecified amount of money to cover “sewer rehabilitation and replacement.”

• Solid Waste and Recycling: $60,000 for a roof on the recycling building, $50,000 for an addition to the recycling building and $40,000 for compactors.

• Parks and Recreation: $150,000 for the Ballfield Compound, $75,000 for the Carl Wright Baseball Field infield renovation, $40,000 for revenue loss, $25,000 for a generator at the Community Center and $20,000 for Community Center elevator repairs.

• Opera House Committee: $100,000 toward renovations for the Opera House.

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