The town expects to receive $519,000 from the federal government through the American Rescue Plan Act. Possible uses for the funds include equipment for first responders and a study to determine the feasibility of building affordable housing on town land.
The federal government restricts the use of funds from the $1.9 trillion stimulus package to five categories, with the intent to alleviate the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The categories are public health; negative economic impacts; services to disproportionately impacted communities; premium pay; and water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.
The town will receive the $519,000 in two payments, with the first expected soon. It will have until 2024 to decide how to use the funds and until 2026 to spend them.
The board of selectmen talked about how to use the funds during a workshop on Thursday, Sept. 2.
Board Chair Kevin Johnson suggested that the town use some of the funds to study the feasibility of affordable housing development on town land. He compared the idea to Hamilton Place, a community of single-family homes developed by the Greater Brunswick Housing Corp. on Harpswell Neck.
Johnson said he “can’t even describe” the pandemic’s impact on housing costs in Harpswell.
He said some of the money could go toward surveys and examining the possibility of shared sewer and water systems for a development. The town could consider “a combination of families and senior housing,” he said.
Selectman Jane Covey suggested that the town spend some of the federal funds on affordable access to high-speed internet service. She wants to help two groups: residents who have the option to sign up for high-speed internet, but cannot afford it; and residents who, because they have long driveways or live on private roads, need assistance to extend cable to their homes.
Benjamin Wallace Jr., fire chief for both the Cundy’s Harbor Volunteer Fire Department and the Orr’s and Bailey Islands Fire Department, asked the selectmen to consider buying a Lucas 3 chest compression system for each of Harpswell’s three independent fire departments. The devices help first responders perform CPR.
“Whenever we have a cardiac arrest, it’s an all-hands-on-deck kind of call,” Wallace said. “It’s just like a structure fire for us. We call everybody out, because it takes a lot of hands to do quality CPR.”
First responders will perform CPR for 20 minutes to an hour. “Sixty minutes in a situation where you need anywhere from eight to 10 people in a confined environment where you have potential COVID germs in the space is a very high risk for us,” Wallace said. The Lucas device would reduce the number of people needed.
OBIFD used private funds to buy one of the devices for $17,291.78, “because we felt that it was extremely important for the safety of our first responders,” Wallace said. The Cundy’s Harbor department doesn’t have money to buy a device.
Wallace suggested that the town use federal funds to reimburse OBIFD for its Lucas device and buy two more: one for the Cundy’s Harbor department and one for Harpswell Neck Fire and Rescue.
Lt. Paul Kittle, also of OBIFD, suggested that the town buy personal protective equipment for the private fire departments.
The town plans to solicit public comment on the use of the funds. Any use of the funds is subject to a vote at town meeting — either the annual town meeting in March or a special town meeting at another time.