Washington County eyes funding options

Posted July 22, 2009, at 12:36 a.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — Members of the Washington County Development Authority are still awaiting word from the state Attorney General’s Office about the legality of a possible funding move.

WCDA Chairman Jim Parker explained Tuesday afternoon that the authority would like to be the pass-through agency for Washington Academy of East Machias’ plan to refinance its debt.

The private school is a nonprofit foundation, Parker said, therefore it appears WCDA can provide the service.

Washington Academy hopes to restructure $4.5 million in existing debt as well as use an additional $250,000 to purchase a house and 35 acres that abut the school.

At a meeting of the WCDA at the Career Center in Machias on Tuesday afternoon, no one representing Washington Academy was in attendance, but Parker said the home would be renovated to serve four WA families and expand the school’s existing arts facility.

“Does this really qualify as economic development?” WCDA member Normand Laberge asked.

Parker said the school houses 100 boarding students and that provides the area with an influx of cash. “There is no question this project would be an economic stimulus. There would be new jobs for construction, renovation, electrical, plumbing.”

Parker said Washington Academy has a total enrollment of 430 students and enrollment is increasing.

“Washington Academy is a business and its expansion is economic development,” WCDA member Harold Prescott said.

In addition, Parker added, WCDA will earn one-quarter of a percentage point on the loan, which will mean an income of about $20,000 annually for the life of the loan.

“We’re allowed to do this for nonprofits, which WA is,” Parker explained. “But we are waiting to hear from the [Attorney General’s] Office whether we have to use another nonprofit as our intermediary.”

Parker said two banks are vying for the loan and are putting together financing packages for Washington Academy to select.

In other business, the board voted to ask Judy East of the Washington County Council of Governments to come to the board’s August meeting and discuss two grants that WCCOG received for brownfield sites.

WCCOG has obtained two grants of $200,000 each, and Parker said the first grant can be used to identify potential brownfield sites, which are polluted areas that can be recovered as usable properties, and the second grant can be used to begin a cleanup process.

WCDA also asked members of Recovery Support Network to come to the August meeting with a plan and a formal request for support.

Marta Conlin of Recovery Support Network said the group is attempting to raise $100,000 to purchase and run a women’s residential treatment facility in Machias. Up to four women with or without children could be housed at the facility with 24-hour support.

“Women tend not to go into residential treatment centers because they have to leave the county and leave their children,” Conlin said.

The board said they needed a more specific request for funding.

The board also voted to sponsor the September alternative energy and telecommunications symposium at the $1,000 level. The event is being hosted by the town of Machias, the Machias Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Maine Department of Economic Development, Axiom Technologies, Northwestern Mutual and WCCOG.

It will be at the Lee Pellon Center on Sept. 25 and 26. There also will be simultaneous workshops at the University of Maine at Machias in conjunction with the event.

“Washington County is going to be the hotbed of alternative energy,” Machias Town Manager Betsy Fitzgerald said. “Some of these things will change the way we live our lives.”

bdnpittsfield@myfairpoint.net

255-0618

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