SKOWHEGAN — Town officials are asking department heads to refine their wish list for how they want to use federal COVID-19 relief aid.

The Board of Selectmen and department heads met for a workshop Tuesday night to discuss how to spend more than $870,000 that the town will receive over two years as part of the federal American Rescue Plan Act.

Selectmen had lengthy discussions about bonuses and the purchase of a generator for the Skowhegan Community Center, but no decisions were made by the end of the meeting.

Selectmen support providing a new generator for the community center but ask that the pricing for a new unit be presented at the next workshop.

“I think that ought to be one of our top priorities, they should have one and they oughta have a nice one, not just one to get you by,” Selectman Harold Bigelow said.

At an initial workshop last month, police Chief David Bucknam suggested using some of the COVID-19 relief money to provide a $10,000 bonus to each of his officers, paid in two installments over two years. The town’s fire chief said at the time that he supported the idea of providing bonuses to those who have worked through the pandemic but suggested also investing in retaining employees.

Selectman Paul York began Tuesday’s discussion suggesting that bonuses be given across the board, not just to one department. But Bigelow pushed back on this, citing the “lack of respect” for police officers.

“In the last two years especially, they want to defund the police,” Bigelow said. “The media has no respect for law enforcement, if you control the media you control the people.”

Bigelow said the town’s police officers and firefighters are more deserving of bonuses than other municipal workers, comparing the work of officers to those “sitting in an office, wearing a mask with plastic in front of you, 6 feet apart.”

Other selectmen disagreed with Bigelow, arguing that because the money is meant to provide COVID-19 relief, more people were impacted than just the police and fire departments.

“In my mind, we should spend it on those who worked during the pandemic, not by the hazard (they experience at their job) because we were all affected by it,” selectmen Chairman Todd Smith said.

The same group met in October and discussed the following funding plans for departments:

• Police Department: $190,000 to provide the $10,000 bonus for each officer.

• 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 Somerset 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 a Carl Wright Baseball Field infield renovation, $40,000 for revenue loss, $25,000 for the generator at the community center, and $20,000 for the community center elevator repairs.

• Opera house committee: $100,000 toward renovations for the opera house.

So far the town has received its first installment of the federal money, with the final payment expected in 2022. Federal rules require that the money be spent by the end of 2026.

ARPA funds 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.

Selectmen scheduled a third workshop to discuss the federal money for Jan. 25 at 4:30 p.m.


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