Blue Hill voters approved $16,680 in pandemic-related bonus for firefighters and town hall staff. Credit: File photo

BLUE HILL, Maine – Residents voted at Monday’s special town meeting to give an additional $16,680 to be split between the Blue Hill Fire Department and town hall staff for their work during the heart of the pandemic.

Voters appropriated $6,000 in extra compensation for the fire department and $10,680 for town hall staff for their services between March 2020 and June 2021. The money will be supplied through American Rescue Plan Act funds received both by the town and Hancock County. The county is expected to pitch in $3,000 toward the $16,680 in total compensation.

The amount of compensation will be based on how much the staff worked during the timeframe set in the warrant article. About 30 volunteer firefighters and five town hall staffers would receive the bonuses. 

Nearby Ellsworth recently allocated $28,000 for first responders through ARPA funds. The city is also drawing on funds from the county for its pandemic related bonuses.

Fire department staff in Blue Hill are paid per call, but were not compensated for the additional time spent cleaning and disinfecting equipment early in the pandemic. This additional money would be a big “thank you” to staff for that unpaid work, Blue Hill Fire Chief Matthew Dennison told residents at the town meeting.

“Our guys worked extremely hard,” he said. “Not one person ever complained about anything.”

On the town hall side, town administrator Shawna Ambrose said her staff went “above and beyond” what was expected of them and continued to run town business over email, phone and on the steps of town hall while the building was closed to the public. The Select Board also noted that staff successfully held three elections.  

“It hasn’t been an easy time,” board member James Dow said.

The town is expecting to receive $280,000 in total through the American Rescue Plan Act. The balance of the funds may be used for improvements to the town’s wastewater treatment plant.

Although the meeting was originally also supposed to include a vote on funding to create a new comprehensive plan, the Select Board removed that from the warrant.

In late November, the board yanked the article, which sought $27,750 to pay the Hancock County Planning Commission to help put together an updated comprehensive plan. Comprehensive plans are created to serve as long-term blueprints for communities by setting policy guidance on varying topics such as land use, natural resource management and development. Though not required by state law, the plans are often prerequisites for grant funding and provide legal protection if a municipality wishes to impose stricter shoreland zoning, create impact fee ordinances or implement building caps.

Blue Hill’s last approved comprehensive plan is from the late 1990s, said Select Board member Scott Miller. The board decided to delay the funding article to allow for more time to discuss the idea. Miller also wished to see the article go before a wider audience than the approximately 20 voters at Monday’s meeting.

“We decided the best thing to do was wait until the annual town meeting,” he said.