By Steve Fuller
ELLSWORTH— When there’s $200,000 to be divided up and spent for the public’s benefit, the public doesn’t lack for ideas on how the money might be spent.
Some 15 advocates came to the Ellsworth City Hall Jan.15 to pitch their suggestions to Hancock County commissioners, who are tasked with figuring out how to spend the second of 20 annual payments from First Wind.
The yearly payments —the exact amount is actually$200,001 — are known as community benefit funds, and are tied to First Wind’s 19-turbine Bull Hill wind farm.
After going through a hearing and application process last year, commissioners decided to spend a little more than half of the first annual payment on projects around the county ranging from a playground to a park to prescription drug assistance.
The remainder was used to provide property tax relief to veterans around the county.
Speakers at the Jan. 15 hearing sounded similar themes as last year. Child & Family Opportunities sought assistance for its early childhood education programs, while two town officials said commissioners should use the money to reduce county tax assessments.
“In order to benefit all of the public, the fairest thing to do would be to use it for tax relief,” said Hancock Select man Gary Hunt.
Christopher Brown of Bar Harbor said money could be used to assist start up organizations or businesses. Stonington Town Manager Kathleen
Billings-Pezaris said the money could be used to spur economic development.
Kathleen Miller from Hancock County Drug Court asked for support for her program, noting it helps reduce law enforcement and jail costs. Gail Thompson, executive director at The Grand in Ellsworth, encouraged support for nonprofit organizations in general. She said they have a “huge” economic impact on the state.
Scott Austin of the Mariaville Fire Department said his department is looking to build a new fire station that would serve his town and Otis. The $750,000 price tag, however, is daunting.
“We need some help,” said Austin.
Brooklin resident Hendrik Gideonse said commissioners should “think really big” and use some of the money to form a commission to review and revise the county’s charter.
“I think you’re hobbled by the charter we’re operating under,” said Gideonse, noting the current charter dates to the 19th century. The points Gideonse shared with commissioners were based on a commentary piece he wrote that was published in the Jan. 16 edition of The American.
Steve Joy, County Commission chairman, said commissioners would discuss the community benefit funds at their next meeting, set for Tuesday, Feb. 4. He noted one issue commissioners hear a lot about is high-speed Internet, and the lack thereof in certain parts of the county. He also pointed out First Wind plans to build a second wind farm in the county, which could mean more benefit funds in the future.