Note to readers: This is a continuation of a conversation that contains responses from the Bangor City Council that they should have made public over a year ago. I have decided to post this on my website because that’s where it belongs: in front of the public in the light of day, not hidden in the dark of an email inbox.
Your response illustrates what I’ve been criticizing all along: there was no plan. Or the only plan was to delay for the sake of delay. What you have written to me is a litany of excuses to justify nothing of substance happening the past 19 months. Conveniently none of this was shared with the general public when they have consistently asked you for a plan since learning about this windfall of rescue money. Furthermore, nothing you have written speaks definitively where the Council is actually headed during this process.
If you want to see what a plan looks like, look at what Anne Krieg and her team has done so far with the comprehensive plan. They have phases. With deadlines. Their process is laid out every step of the way. And when there’s a delay, like with the end of Phase 3, there is accountability and it is corrected. When citizens gave feedback, that feedback was incorporated and celebrated, not dismissed as some Council members have done with the May/June ARPA feedback. That level of attention and communication has been sorely lacking from the City Council and the ARPA process.
While I appreciate your invitation to sit down with the City Manager and yourself to discuss this further, I see no point. If all you have to offer in response to valid criticism is rewritten history and disconnected excuses, we’re wasting both of our time.
In regards to your most recent reply, I have some issues with what you have said. Your statements are in bold and italicized:
“ARPA funds were not finalized by the Federal Government until January of this year.”
The funding itself was already finalized the moment tranches started being sent to recipients.
Are you talking about the Final Rule issued by the Treasury in January 2022 and took effect in April? The treasury issued an interim Final Rule (IFR) on May 17, 2021, and made clarification to recipients with that finalization that any projects funded up to April 1, 2022 would be enforced under the IFR. Further, they gave recipients the green light to update projects to be compliant with the new Final Rule should recipients choose. Waiting for January’s Final Rule was a completely unnecessary reason to be paralyzed over. Nobody expected the City to allocate the entirety of the award so soon, and we still don’t today. But a few projects to help those that were disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic should have been identified. The CBDG 5-Year plan is full of them. Both the 5-year plan and the FY2020 CAPER points out that a lack of funding precludes the City from doing more. Funding appears, and you’re telling me the Council worked harder to find reasons to justify sitting on its hands rather than moving the City forward solving one of its biggest problems. Using the Final Rule’s timing is an excuse after-the-fact, not proper planning.
“Furthermore, council did not want to spend any of the ARPA funds until it hired a City Manager, which occurred in March of this year.”
I don’t understand the significance here. Is the City Council not fully cognizant of the needs of Bangor? Who is truly running the show on ARPA then? Are you telling me that the City Manager is holding all the cards and not the City Council that the people of Bangor elected? When the City Manager goes on vacation, is the City Council frozen from taking any actions until she returns? What’s more is the city spent 6 months searching for someone to fill that position, and then filled it by hiring the interim City Manager, who needed far less time to acclimate to her role than someone fresh stepping into this position. Not a peep to the public about the ARPA process being held up because of it. That makes this another excuse after-the-fact, not proper planning.
“During the Budget process this past spring and when the Budget was passed in June. The Council did allocate ARPA funds for the hiring of a Housing Specialist.”
- No such allocation exists in the budget or its proposal. Perhaps you could show me where it is. (Links to Bangor’s budgets: 2022-2023 and FY 2023 Proposal)
- No ARPA allocations were made. The City of Bangor, when it became compliant again in Q3 2022, lists 0 projects, 0 allocations. Please show me the documentation where ARPA funds were allocated back in June or before.
- How did the City perform the search to find the individual that the City Council was supposedly in talks with? There’s a terrible lack of transparency here.
“In late September, the council requested a meeting with the Commissioners. However, it was jointly decided at that point to wait until after the November election. Due to some of the Commissioners busy schedules that meeting did not occur until November 28th.”
This is some revisionist history here. At the October 12, 2022 Bangor City Council Meeting at the 22:22 minute mark of the video, during Public Comments in response to Scott Pardy you said, “I know we are in the middle of talks, or starting the talks, with the county this week. There will be more to come.”
Meanwhile, when the issue was raised at the county level, not a single Commissioner mentioned this supposed agreement from September to wait 2 months to engage in a discussion. Seems like something the Commissioners might have recalled when they told Bangor organizations that they were “waiting to see what the city does.”
What’s done is done. We can’t turn back the clock. My point has been that the City Council squandered away the last 19 months. I’m trying to hold up a mirror and show you this in order to prevent the next 19 months from being like the last.
Everything you have told me, if they were conscious decisions for delaying moving forward, should have been publicly communicated by the City from the beginning. Council members keep mentioning transparency, but the City Council hasn’t been transparent where it matters most. This needs to be corrected.
I hope the City Council understands that ARPA funds don’t need to be allocated all at once. You can get some projects out right now. That’s what the U.S. Treasury and the people of Bangor have expected to see by now. No area needs more help than affordable housing and homelessness. I know the Council is aware that there are some solid actions it could take right now. If it’s a plan the City Council wants to see, crack open the 5-year CDBG plan for starters. Ask for proposals from organizations in a very public way. Worthy organizations will practically beat down your door to give you the information you need.
We shall see where Council’s head is at during this week’s ARPA meeting. Actions speak louder than words.
Bangor City Council Chairman Rick Fournier’s email from December 8, 2022:
Good Afternoon Michael,
ARPA funds were not finalized by the Federal Government until January of this year. Furthermore, council did not want to spend any of the ARPA funds until it hired a City Manager, which occurred in March of this year.
In May the City rolled out 8 listening sessions. These sessions occurred through May and June, an online survey was also provided for citizens to respond too. Council was presented with a summary of those discussions in July. In July, Council discussed the need to collaborate with the Penobscot County Commissioners on how best to coordinate ARPA funds. Unfortunately, the County administrator departed from the County in mid-August. The new County administrator was hired in mid-September.
In late September, the council requested a meeting with the Commissioners. However, it was jointly decided at that point to wait until after the November election. Due to some of the Commissioners busy schedules that meeting did not occur until November 28th.
During the Budget process this past spring and when the Budget was passed in June. The Council did allocate ARPA funds for the hiring of a Housing Specialist.
While I can’t speak for all the Councilors it is my thought that any interest earned from the ARPA deposit account (a separate account, ARPA only fund) will be part of the whole funds to be allocated.
The City has full intentions of hiring an administrator for the ARPA funds. In fact, we had a verbal agreement with an individual for the position but again unfortunately the individual moved from the area. We are currently in talks with an individual to take this position.
The City Manager and I would be happy to sit down with you to discuss further.
I do appreciate your comments and concerns. The Council will be meeting again next Wednesday to further discuss ARPA.
Bangor City Council