Business façade requests nixed from CDBG project list

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Community Development Block Grant money won’t be used this year to improve the looks of downtown businesses, Bridgton Selectmen decided Tuesday.

Wanting to reserve as much funding as possible for Depot Street and Town Hall municipal projects, the board only narrowly awarded $22,000 to the nonprofit Rufus Porter Museum for its ongoing makeover of the Gallinari-Webb House at 121 Main Street. An initial vote to deny funding for Rufus Porter failed on a 2–3 vote (Bob McHatton, Ken Murphy, Doug Taft opposed), and was followed by Murphy’s motion favoring funding, which passed 3–2 (Paul Hoyt, Bernie King opposed).

Denied for funding were $3,800 for Beth’s Kitchen Café, owned by Beth Doonan; a total of $10,400 for buildings owned by Chuck Renneker at 16 and 18A Depot Street; and $12,800 for the building at 6 Harrison Road owned by Julie Mannix and Michael Denison. The vote was 3–2 (McHatton, Murphy opposed).

The action followed a formal public hearing on the CDBG project list and ran counter to the “bricks and mortar” recommendations of the local CDBG Oversight Committee. The vote adds a total of $27,000 to the $70,000 already allocated for municipal projects. Director of Planning, Economic and Community Development Anne Krieg said the list will now be forwarded for review at the county level, then to federal Housing and Urban Development officials for release of funds by July 1.

Krieg said the town’s map of its downtown “slum and blight” district will need to be re-evaluated next year. She said $30,000 in prior year CDBG funds are already being used in designing a new streetscape for Depot Street, which will come before the board for final approval before being put out to bid for construction this summer.

Selectman Paul Hoyt was adamant that as much as possible of the CDBG money be reserved for municipal projects so that taxpayers would not be asked to bear the costs. Selectman King agreed, and also recommended eliminating a $10,000 request to fund a pilot “Navigator” Program within the Bridgton Community Center that would help low-income and elderly residents access eligible social services.

Considerable discussion followed about the Navigator Program. Hoyt said he didn’t think $10,000 was needed to get it up and running, and Taft suggested partial funding.

Community Center Director Carmen Lone said she’d need more than $4,000 to hire a part-time person. Center Board member Mike Tarantino said more is needed than simply pointing out available resources.

“It isn’t just a question of finding out where to go — someone has to interpret for these people,” he said. “Is it needed? No question. My phone is off the hook.” He said Lone spends many hours trying to help people get the help they need, and as executive director, “It’s something she shouldn’t be doing.”

A woman, speaking on behalf of the Navigator Program, said it would operate much the same as the program she was involved with to help former employees of the Bridgton Knitting Mills move on with their lives after the mill closed down.

“Many people were either fearful or too proud” to reach out for help, the woman said. “Even if you tell them, they don’t know how to approach it” and need continual assistance throughout the process.

When McHatton recommended giving the Navigator Program $5,000, and giving the other $5,000 to the Fuel Assistance Program, Lone was against it, saying it’s far easier to ask for fuel assistance donations than to ask for money to fund a “more ambiguous” Navigator Program. Lone said the fuel fund served 80 people this year, up by nearly half than the 48 served the year before. “I’m proud to say the people of Bridgton came forward.”

A motion to not fund the Navigator Program failed on a 2–2 tie, with Murphy recusing himself because of his Community Center board membership. Hoyt followed that up with a motion to cut the request to $5,000, and that passed on a 4–0 vote. An additional $5,000 was approved, 3–1 (Hoyt) for the Fuel Assistance Program.

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