The Knox County Commissioners announced Tuesday, Nov. 9, they would not spend any additional money from the American Rescue Plan Act, and further expenditures will go through the regular budget process starting no earlier than next year.

Commission Chair Rick Parent and Commissioner Dorothy Meriwether read a letter at the start of the Nov. 9 meeting to announce their intention. This followed sharp criticism from representatives of communities that want the Commission to allocate some of the money for a broadband expansion project.

“This Commission will not itself allocate or expend any of the remaining ARPA funds,” the letter stated. “Rather, proposed allocation and expenditure of these funds will be handled as part of the normal budget process. Specifically, proposed allocation and expenditures will be submitted as part of future budgets or amended budgets to the Budget Committee for its discussion and approval.”

The only exception is the money spent already by Commissioners to approve weekly bonuses to corrections officers, sheriff patrol officers, emergency management employees, and information technology employees. Those bonuses total about $411,000, and run through the end of next month.

Knox County received $7.7 million. The money must be allocated by Dec. 31, 2024, and spent by Dec. 31, 2026.

“As many of the citizens of our County are aware, there has been a great deal of concern and controversy over the use to which these funds will be put, and to the manner in which decisions are being made with respect to how the funds will be allocated and ultimately expended. There has also been a great deal of public discussion regarding these issues. Some of the discussion has taken place here in our meetings, some has taken place in public meetings of our cities and towns, and yet other has occurred in the media. In addition, we have received written communications from citizens and their representatives. And, while we are not privy to private conversations, we have no doubt that there has been a great deal more discussion in those settings,” the letter stated.

“As your Commissioners, we want to say publicly that we have heard you. We have listened to you in our meetings, we have considered the thoughtful input of your elected and other representatives, we have read and heard the conversation through the media, and we have read each and every email and letter addressed to us on this issue. Your thoughts, concerns, and opinions matter to us. As a result, following the last Commissioners’ meeting, we paused our efforts regarding the allocation and expenditure of the ARPA money in order to reflect on your input, on the process of allocating and expending the funds, and to receive advice and guidance. In particular, we have taken the opportunity to consult with the County’s legal counsel regarding our rights, responsibilities, and obligations with respect to the use of the ARPA funds,” the Commissioners stated.

“The large majority of communications that we have received from, and had with, our citizens have been constructive, productive, and respectful. We are grateful to you for the manner in which those conversations have been undertaken. A small minority of the communications have been of a different character. Some of those have suggested that we, as your Commissioners, were engaging in unlawful, unethical, and possibly even criminal actions when considering the allocation and expenditure of these funds. We do understand that there is a great deal of emotion surrounding this issue and that this may account for these accusations. We want to be perfectly frank: At no time have any of us, separately or together, ever so much as considered any sort or form of illegal or unlawful action with respect to any matter which you as our citizens have entrusted to us, and in particular, we have never so much as considered any form of unlawful use or misappropriation of these funds. If our process has been flawed or mistaken in any way, we accept responsibility for that. Any flaws or mistakes, however, resulted from our best intentions on behalf of you, our citizens. We hope that you will accept this assurance at face value,” they concluded.

The commissioners made the announcement after receiving letters from the attorneys representing Camden and Thomaston, saying the Commissioners were not following the proper procedure to approve use of the money, and were in error by not allowing the public to speak at an Oct. 12 meeting.

Rockport has requested $750,000 in money for the regional broadband project.

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.

The Knox County Homeless Coalition is asking for up to $4.1 million for projects to address homelessness. Commissioners had voiced support for its projects.

Rockport Select Board member Denise Munger said after the letter was read she appreciated the statement from Commissioners.