SKOWHEGAN – County commissioners denied Wednesday an 11th-hour request for $12,500 in funding to leverage a $100,000 economic development grant.
The federal grant would be used by the Somerset Economic Development Corp. to hire a full-time staff, said chief fund-raiser Phil Roy. He said the $12,500 was needed to help match grant requirements by the Dec. 15 filing deadline.
“We fell short on our fund raising,” Roy admitted, adding that all SEDC members have full-time jobs, many as town administrators or selectmen. “We’re here so late in the process because we honestly thought we could have raised the money ourselves.”
Roy told commissioners that the SEDC has $6,000 in bank contributions and has promises of $12,000 over the next two years, but the group needed a $25,000 match to secure the $100,000 grant.
“This grant will bring in businesses and sustain the businesses we currently have,” said Roy. “With a full-time staff, the SEDC could also leverage additional funds for the county through more grants.
“With this grant, we will be on course for economic development in this county,” he continued. “Economic development is coming along, but coming slowly. We need to go full time with the effort.”
Somerset County is the poorest county in the state, with the lowest per-capita wages in Maine. “[The SEDC] is an organization that can actually feed back into the county,” said Roy.
Joe Bowman, chairman of the commissioners, refused to budge. “I feel that we have an expensive year this year” he said. “We just can’t do it. The money isn’t there.”
Bowman said that when the commissioners offered the SEDC $25,000 and office space last year with the condition that the SEDC raise $100,000 on its own, “we have done our commitment.” Bowman said that since the group failed to raise the $100,000, the commissioners would not fund any part of the grant match.
Reached by telephone following the commissioner’s decision, SEDC Chairman Robert Worthley said, “This is a huge setback for economic development in this county.”
Noting that the commissioners have approved other items, such as $72,000 worth of work on a dirt road in the remote reaches of the county that they approved Wednesday, Worthley said, “I guess I don’t understand their thinking.”
He said that the grant proposal will be discussed at the group’s Dec. 15 meeting, and it is likely that it will still be submitted but will qualify for far less funding.
“We’ve got too much to lose by not trying,” said Worthley. “We are looking at other options, but no good ones.”