WILTON — The Wilton Select Board discussed potential ways to spend funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) during their Tuesday, July 13, meeting.

Town Manager Rhonda Irish presented an idea to “collaborate” with Franklin County to spend the funds in a way that benefits Wilton residents.

My thoughts are if we can work with the county…maybe there are some things we can work together on, on broadband, on a texting program for emergencies….good old fashioned economic development, put more funds into bringing businesses into Franklin County,” Irish explained.

She got the idea after attending a series of meetings with the Maine Municipal Association where it was suggested that there could be benefits to counties and municipalities working together to spend the ARPA funding.

Irish asked the board if they would be open to “getting other municipalities to meet with the county to discuss collaboration with them.” She said that Charlie Woodworth, executive director of Greater Franklin Development Council, would be open to coordinating with various towns and the county. 

Select Board Chair David Leavitt raised concerns about what the town of Wilton would get out of directing money toward county-wide endeavors.

“It needs to benefit the town, not just the county,” Leavitt said.

Selectperson Tiffany Maiuri suggested the money be directed toward funding public safety to recognize the work of the fire and police departments.

Irish said that she was open to that suggestion and “pool(ing) some of the ideas.”

She also said that they have three years to spend the money, so they should not “make rash decisions and spend it really quickly.”

For the time being, Irish got approval from the board to tell Woodworth to look into the option of county/municipality collaboration.

The American Rescue Plan Act is a $1.9 trillion federal relief bill that seeks to address the economic and health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The act reportedly brought $1.7 billion to Maine, which will be spread out across the state’s counties and municipalities.

The Maine Municipal Association said that municipalities, through their municipal legislative bodies, may choose to use relief funds “to respond to the coronavirus health emergency or its negative economic impacts, including by establishing programs to assist households, small businesses, and nonprofits or to assist impacted industries such as tourism, travel and hospitality.”

In other business, the board heard from Dennis Landry, a member of the public, on concerns “about how the money became available for the Blueberry Fest.” Landry said he took issue with multiple parts of the process that have gone into funding the Blueberry Fest.

These issues include using money that funded the canceled Wilton Blueberry Festival for the newly coordinated Blueberry Fest and appropriating an additional $13,000 toward the Blueberry Fest during a Select Board meeting rather than at town meeting (which happened after the budget articles on the warrant were lumped together to avoid the threat of rain during the town meeting). 

Landry acknowledged that “the town really needs the blueberry festival” but is “disappointed about how everything happened” and feels “like (Selectperson Tom Saviello) stole the money for this.”

Saviello was not present at the meeting.

Landry suggested the town “get a report at the end of the season” to keep track of expenses and profits.

Leavitt said the town is directly funding all of the endeavors for the festival and, as a result “the bills are coming directly to the town office and the town manager is processing them.” Leavitt also clarified that Saviello came to the board with an itemized list with pricing for the festival.

I heard your concerns about how the money side of it was handled but on the accounting side of it the town manager is right on top of it,” Leavitt said.

More so, Leavitt said that this year’s funding is “seed money.” He said things will run differently next year without this year’s time constraints, which rose after the original Wilton Blueberry Festival was canceled in May.

Jeff Chaisson, co-owner of Ambition Brewing and a coordinator of the Blueberry Fest, was also present and responded to Landry’s concerns. He said that he and Saviello are still actively fundraising for the festival and “if we can get $20,000 (in donations) to cover the whole thing ourselves, we will.”

Later on in the meeting, Maiuri suggested that they look into the “accounting statement” for the Wilton Blueberry Festival nonprofit, which she said she just learned was “a private nonprofit” and “not a group of people that were coordinating this.”

I would like to understand where that money (the town funded toward the Blueberry Festival nonprofit) went to and get accounting of where last year’s expenses and revenues went to,” Maiuri said.

In other business, Irish presented to the board an updated parks and facility use policy. The updated policy seeks to address some of the issues the recreation department has faced, which Irish said include late-night visitors to the parks, drug usage and smoking on the grounds and people selling items out of their vehicles without authorization from the Select Board.

Maiuri also suggested the policy prohibit the use of motorized water crafts at the swim docks in Kineowatha Park.

Irish said the policy will go back to the Recreation Department for a second reading before it is presented again before the board.

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