ROCKLAND — Sharp words were exchanged Tuesday afternoon during a heated Knox County Commissioners meeting as select board members from three towns decried not being allowed to speak about their request for money for a regional broadband project.

But Commissioners did not back down with Commissioner Dorothy Meriwether saying she would not be bullied into turning over the county’s federal aid for the broadband project.

Instead, commissioners said their priority is to direct its American Recovery Act money to projects to address the affordable housing crisis. Knox County Sheriff Tim Carroll offered a sobering portrait of the worsening homeless situation as winter approaches.

Knox County has received more than $13 million in requests from area towns and organizations, nearly double the $7.7 million the county received from the federal government.

Rockport is asking for $750,000 for broadband expansion and for the first phase of the Pathway Project. The Midcoast Internet Development Corporation consists of Camden, Rockport, Rockland, and Thomaston.

At the start of the Oct. 12 meeting, select board members from Rockport, Camden, and Thomaston were in attendance to speak about the regional broadband project. But commissioners said they were not going to hear comments on the broadband project that has been discussed previously.

“We are under no obligation to allow the public to speak,” Meriwether said.

Meriwether said in all her 25 years of public service she has never been so disheartened by what she said was the bullying of the supporters of the regional broadband project. She said she will not be running for re-election next year but praised the other two commissioners for their courage in standing up against the bullying.

Commissioners informally voted 3-0 not to fund the $750,000 regional broadband request.

Rockport Select Board member Denise Munger, Camden Select Board member Matthew Siegel, and Thomaston Select Board Chair Diane Giese regrouped outside the Knox County Commissioners meeting room.

“I don’t know what is happening,” Siegel said. “We’ve tried respectfully to reach out and engage them in discussion.”

Siegel said he supports programs to aid the homeless, noting he volunteers for Habitat for Humanity. In addition, he said, the broadband expansion would allow more people to receive tele-health including mental health services for those who can’t go to medical facilities in person.

After returning to the meeting, Siegel asked why a corporate entity such as Spectrum (Charter Communications) was being allowed to make a presentation at the Oct. 12 meeting about its efforts to expand service while a community organization was being denied the same courtesy.

Meriwether said the regional broadband supporters have been aggressive and made inappropriate comments since the beginning. She said during one Zoom meeting, a broadband supporter was arguing via the chat function with a person making a presentation for homeless services.

Munger had a prepared statement that she could not read in which she said Spectrum was at the meeting to make a presentation because it views the regional community approach as a threat to its monopoly. She said commissioners could make a difference for economic development, saying broadband is as important an infrastructure project as roads are.

Commissioners made it clear at the meeting that dealing with homelessness was their top priority.

The Knox County Homeless Coalition is asking for up to $4.1 million.

The single largest project within that proposal is to spend $2.7 million for the Knox County Homeless Coalition to purchase 6 Madelyn Lane in Rockport. The property consists of six acres and two former medical office buildings that had housed Pen Bay Family Medicine and Pen Bay Pediatrics.

Other projects included in the homeless coalition proposal are $320,000 for Habitat’s proposed housing development on Talbot Avenue; $180,000 for Habitat’s project on Philbrick Avenue; $500,000 for a program with the Homeless Coalition and the Knox County Sheriff’s Office to help inmates transition from jail or prison to the community. The proposal calls for the money to be used to purchase and renovate a residence, which has not yet been selected, for the re-entry program.

Meriwether and Commissioner Sharyn Pohlman of Rockport said they understand the importance of broadband but when people have no place to live, fast internet is not a priority.

At the Oct. 12 commissioners meeting, Sheriff Tim Carroll offered an update on the eviction situation and homelessness. He said there are 50 people on a waiting list to receive services from the homeless coalition, 10 to 20 people are in effect living on the streets. He said there is one woman who has been living in the woods locally. The woman suffers from mental health problems and a case manager meets with her once a week.

In terms of evictions, the Sheriff’s Office has paperwork for 82 cases in various stages of the eviction process. In addition, people have rented campers to have a place to live during the summer. He said he was informed in Rockland of one situation where a four-unit apartment complex was purchased and the new owner is hiking the rent from $900 a month to $1,800, and none of those residents can afford that steep hike.

“The homeless population will increase and the timing is bad as the weather gets colder,” the sheriff said.

Commissioners asked the sheriff if he could meet with the Homeless Coalition and see if there is something that the county can do with its federal money to meet the immediate crisis.

The sheriff said he would but stressed he was not trying to convince the commissioners on how they should be spending their federal aid.

The commissioners may meet again Oct. 25 to further go over potential uses of the federal aid. The county has hired a consultant, Amanda Methot, from the law firm of Bernstein Shur to make sure each of the projects to be funded are eligible.

The Knox County Commissioners at their Oct. 12 meeting.