CDBG hopefuls state their cases for funding

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

There’s more money than first thought in this year‘s set-aside of Community Development Block Grant Funds in Bridgton. Instead of the $180,000 originally estimated by Anne Krieg, director of planning, economic and community development, the town will have a total of $194,531 in federal HUD funding.

That leaves an extra $14,071 to play with, which, when combined with $9,156 in unallocated prior year funds, adds up to an extra $23,277 that will be available for public services and/or town infrastructure improvements in the downtown.

As one of two set-aside communities for the HUD funds administered by the Cumberland County Community Development (CDBG) program, Bridgton receives a guaranteed amount each year, instead of having to submit competitive grant applications like other towns. That gives Bridgton a certain amount of flexibility in deciding how the money will be spent, although certain deadlines must be met.

A public hearing was held at Tuesday’s Selectmen meeting on preliminary recommendations made by the Community Development Committee. The board must make a final decision before April 1, and, after that decision is reviewed and approved at the county level, the funds will be available as of July 1.

A spreadsheet of 2016 requests passed out by Krieg showed there was a total of $43,540 in public service requests, with only $25,000 recommended for funding; and a total of $235,156 in public facilities/infrastructure/housing requests, with only $120,000 recommended for funding. Non-debatable administration/planning costs of $35,000 are also included in the CDBG budget.

Tuesday’s public hearing offered an opportunity for CDBG applicants to state their case as to why their project was worthy, and the availability of unanticipated extra funds made the competition all the more keen. The board deferred any decisions until their next meeting, in part due to Krieg’s request to hold off until bids come back for the Woods Pond bathroom project. She was concerned that bids would be higher than the $65,000 already set aside for the project, because of the need to bring in power. She said the project was more extensive than the Highland Lake Beach bathrooms built last year.

  • Bridgton Books — Owner Justin Ward said his request for $9,500 in matching funds would allow him to replace his storefront windows, which offer no UV protection from his books or other paper goods and are very energy inefficient. “Ironically, we have the most window space in the downtown, but we can’t use it,” he said. Henry Banks, a local builder, is recommending smaller windows. “I think it’s a better look,” Ward said. He and his wife Pam bought the Main Street building around 17-18 years ago, after Downeast Pharmacy closed its doors. Ward had also planned for new full awnings, but now believes he can get by with cosmetic awnings if the windows are replaced. “We feel we’re right in the center of town and we just want to keep up” with other improvements being made downtown, including the planned makeover this summer of the former Main Street Variety next door into a tavern. Ward described the bookstore as a gathering place. Resident George Bradt if Bridgton Books closed, “This town would be a terrible wreck.” He said it was one of the reasons he and his wife originally moved to Bridgton. “It’s a very important corner, and everyone notices the corners,” Bradt said. The CDC has taken a position against using CDBG funds to fix retail buildings, believing the money ought to be limited to programs serving low income or the elderly.
  • Lake Region Explorer — The Regional Transportation Systems commuter bus that began Bridgton to Portland trips last August has requested $5,000 to pay for 10-ride passes in order to encourage ridership and extend the reach of the program to more people. A RTP representative said average ridership has been between 60 and 80 trips a month from Bridgton, primarily in the morning runs. The CDC recommended against any funding, reasoning that town voters already spent $10,000 to subsidize the bus service in its first year. The representative said the bus has already added stops, and while ridership is growing, “the biggest hurdle” seems to be convincing residents to use it. The free passes would provide an incentive, he said.
  • Backpack Program — Liz Shane, school administrator of Stevens Elementary School’s Backpack Program, spoke on behalf of the $5,600 requested for the program, now in its second year. The CDC is recommending the program be funded in full, which would pay 100% of program costs. She said the program serves 30 students a week by providing a backpack filled with easy-to-prepare food on Fridays. Shane said volunteers are working on in-kind donations. She said that if not for this program, the students would go hungry on the weekends, because their parents cannot afford enough food to feed them. Father Craig Hacker of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church backed up that latter statement, saying he did a detailed study of poverty in Bridgton. In the lower Main Street residential area, he said, he identified 117 children whose families make $24,000 or less a year. “There’s no money left in the budget to feed your children,” he said. “The data is striking, so I would give her everything she asked for.”
  • Family Crisis Services — The agency applied for $2,500, but the CDC recommended zero funding this year. Selectman Chairman Bernie King disagreed with the committee, saying Family Crisis Services fills a critical need helping victims of domestic violence. Krieg said the reason Family Crisis was seeking CDBG help was because they lost their United Way funding.
  • Fuel Assistance Program — Because fuel prices have dropped so significantly, the CDC recommends a grant of $2,500, or half the $5,000 requested by the administrating agency, the Bridgton Community Center. Several selectmen disagree with the CDC’s thinking, however, believing fuel prices could rise again. More residents turn to this program than to the town’s General Assistance fund for help with heating costs, in large part because its eligibility requirements are more relaxed.
  • Community Kettle Suppers — Selectmen also disagreed with the CDC’s opinion that the Community Kettle suppers, a weekly free supper, could do without the $2,000 the Community Center is requesting. Support from local organizations for the suppers has been strong, both in terms of dollars and volunteers taking charge of cooking and serving, but that doesn’t eliminate the need for town support, selectmen said. Selectmen Paul Hoyt said that the suppers are an especially appropriate place to spend CDBG funds, and that the $2,000 could come out of the unanticipated extra CDBG funding.

Selectmen will further refine the list of projects at its meeting on Tuesday, March 8.

Please follow and like us: