A brutal cold snap has settled over Maine, but warming centers to help Katahdin region residents escape high heating bills haven’t yet gotten much use, officials said.
As of Wednesday, a center that has been open 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at the Stearns Assisted Living Center has been used by one to 13 residents. One open 1-4 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays at East Millinocket’s town office has drawn 10 to 14 residents since Jan. 5, said Frank Clukey, recreation director for East Millinocket, Medway and Millinocket.
Clukey called the attendance, particularly in Millinocket, “very slight. We need to have more people turn out.”
Millinocket Town Manager Eugene Conlogue predicted that Millinocket’s center would shut down if attendance doesn’t increase.
“We want to review the numbers for this week before we do anything,” Conlogue said Wednesday. “Right now we are monitoring it very closely; then we will do a major evaluation of it.”
That review should be ready for the Millinocket Town Council meeting on Jan. 22, he said.
Knowing that unemployment is rising, that 80 percent of Maine households use oil heat and that many area residents are locked in to high oil prices, Katahdin region government officials agreed to support the warming centers last month to help residents get out of their homes long enough to defray energy costs.
East Millinocket officials expanded their center’s hours from just Mondays and Millinocket’s Town Council voted 4-3 last month to set aside $10,000 for the Stearns center that opened Jan. 5. Councilors had misgivings about the center’s utility and vowed to pull the plug quickly if it wasn’t used.
Medway officials have pledged to contribute funding to the warming centers, Clukey said.
Medway Administrative Assistant Kathy Lee said she wasn’t aware of that arrangement.
“Some people think this is a charity and it’s not,” said Jodi Nelson, assistant recreation director. “It’s for socializing. People come here and they have a chance to relax and have fun.”