PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — City Manager Tom Stevens is the first to admit that it has been a tough year for towns and cities across the state. His community is not exempt, but an influx of grant money this year has helped the city do more with less.
Stevens said recently that he gained the support of the City Council earlier this year to “step up” the city’s pursuit of grant funding.
In a tough economy, Stevens said, it has been a success.
So far, the city has taken in more than $5.2 million in grant funding, which Stevens said could not have been secured without the support of countless entities, including municipal employees, the state’s congressional delegation, federal and state agencies, members of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs and others.
One of the most significant grants came in April from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which awarded $2.5 million to Northern Maine Regional Airport in Presque Isle to help extend the airport’s taxiway. In July, the airport was awarded $1.3 million to build 35,000 linear feet of fencing around the facility. The funding will help secure the airport and keep trespassers and wildlife off the runway.
For several years, the city has focused on revitalizing its downtown. Events have been conducted and efforts have been made to bring more shops and shoppers into the area. The city’s Downtown Revitalization Committee has worked to brighten downtown buildings, add artwork to the area, and make other improvements to pedestrian and business areas. Some of that work was done after the city received $395,000 in Community Development Block Grant money from the state Department of Economic and Community Development.
While repairing roads is often the responsibility of the municipality, the city worked with the Aroostook Band of Micmacs this year to garner a grant from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to improve Edgemont Drive for $300,000.
Grant funding also has helped put more police patrols on the streets, coordinate an after school program for youths, make city buildings more energy-efficient, fund an environmental cleanup at the site of a proposed community center and pay for emergency training exercises.
Stevens pointed out that although the city has received a significant amount of grant money, municipal leaders were cautious about what they applied for. The manager said the city did not want to accept grants that would create future, ongoing costs for the city.
“We try to avoid these funds unless the city will incur these costs regardless of the grant funds,” he stated.
While the city cannot use any of that grant money to provide daily services such as police and fire coverage, the funding still has allowed it to provide needed services or avoid having to make a future capital expense by using nonproperty-tax dollars.
The city has a number of grant applications pending, according to Stevens.