APPLETON — A Select Board meeting in Appleton became heated as members considered the town spending to help a private fiber optic firm upgrade the town’s last 44 homes lacking good service.

The firm, Tidewater Telecom, received criticism from one board member and another asked aloud if he himself was being called a liar by a board colleague.

In the end, the board at its Nov. 29 meeting declined for the time being to sign a deal with Tidewater. The firm’s proposed Letter of Commitment would ensure a $15,000 town contribution for the internet upgrade. It would be added to the same amount from Tidewater to augment a hoped for $291,000 state grant from the Maine Connectivity Authority.

MCA is distributing federal funds to be used by internet service providers such as Tidewater, to upgrade service and expand connectivity to more residents. Any town contribution would also be from federal money, Appleton’s American Recovery Plan Act money.

Two days after the board meeting, board Chair Lorie Costigan told The Camden Herald the amount of money is not the issue; the issue is making sure Tidewater’s application meets all MCA requirements. She said she believes the whole board supports the upgrade project designed to give 44 families the same internet service available to all other residents via Tidewater. She said the 44 were left out of Tidewater’s nearly town-wide installation of service lines because it was served already by Consolidated Communications.

Tidewater representative Alan Hinsey did not attend the Nov. 29 meeting to answer questions, but he sent the document to be signed, calling for a town financial commitment. He called an hour or so before the meeting to say he was sick, Select Board Vice Chair Peter Beckett reported.

Timing is crucial. Dec. 6 is the deadline for signing onto the project. It is also the date of the next Select Board meeting. If the deadline is missed, the grant opportunity will expire.

It was also the fine points of the agreement that greatly concerned some board members, the most vocal being Costigan and Marci Blakely.

Costigan worried the document did not follow state grant guidelines and that Tidewater, a private company, was not assuming the required financial investment.

The state requires that the ISP invest $700 per subscriber, she said. But in the document, that amount is described as a “match” and is evenly split between Appleton and Tidewater at $15,000 each. The Reach ME grant involved does not require a town match, Costigan said.

“It’s unfortunate that he’s not here,” she said of Hinsey. “I think he might be missing some of the intent for Reach Me, the ISP financial commitment. It says $700 per subscriber — and that’s the ISP, there’s no municipal match for Reach Me and I have confirmed that.”

Reached Dec. 5, Hinsey said it is Tidewater that is requiring a match from each town it’s working with. He confirmed that MCA does not require matches.

Under Tidewater’s proposal, its financial commitment would be only half of what the grant guidelines require of an ISP, she said.

“In the interest of this grant being successful, I would hope [Hinsey] would have a firm understanding of the ISP contribution being strictly the ISP contribution,” Costigan said, adding that, “Right now, they are splitting that with the town…”

For a Tidewater grant application earlier in the year, the Select Board agreed to contribute about $66,000 in ARPA funds if needed. However, Tidewater’s grant application was not successful.

Costigan insisted that for the grant to have a chance at success, requirements must be followed. Also, she wanted everything in writing and argued that Tidewater must be held to measurable and reportable “deliverables” as it connects the 44 homes.

For her part, Blakely agreed with Costigan about getting things in writing as did Charlie Garrigan and Scott Esancy. Blakey went further, inserting her personal history with Tidewater into the discussion and indicating bad experiences with service and conduct.

Blakely said that in her experience Tidewater has not delivered on its promises in the past, saying, “I am speaking as a customer who experienced this in the last year.”

Beckett, who supports Tidewater’s proposal, sought specifics. “What do you mean?” he asked.

“They lied to me,” Blakely replied. “They told me they’d called me at a phone number that they were never given,” adding, “For the 44 people we are acting for, we should know if Tidewater is going to deliver.”

Responding to Blakely’s criticism of the firm, Hinsey said he could not respond because “I don’t know who she talked to and I don’t know what the question was.” He invited her to call him to discuss whatever happened.

Responding to the match amount question, Beckett, who chaired the now disbanded town Broadband Committee, said he too was concerned about the numbers and so he called MCA for clarification. He reiterated several times what he was told and said the MCA person was “emphatic” that the agency does not care where the $700 comes from as long as that is the amount in Tidewater’s grant application, he said.

Brian Allenby, MCA Communications Director, later confirmed Beckett’s understanding to The Camden Herald. He confirmed there is no requirement for town contributions for Reach ME grants.

Stephenie MacLagan, MCA Director of Broadcast Impact, is the state official Beckett consulted with via telephone before the Nov. 29 meeting. A day after the meeting, she sent him the following email, in effect putting it in writing: “There isn’t any requirement of community support or financial commitment, which you can read in the Reach Me Guide or FAQ: However, if there’s a partnership on any project and/or the municipality is making a financial commitment to any project, there should be an agreement between the parties — in this case between the Town & ISP — that ensures common understanding of the responsibilities and expectations. Good luck.”

At the Nov. 29 meeting, Costigan suggested a phone conversation between Beckett and MacLagan was not solid enough for the town to rely on and that such details should be in writing. That was before MacLagan’s Dec. 1 email to Beckett.

Because so many questions remained unanswered, Beckett three times during the long discussion asked Costigan — and others — if the two of them could meet with Hinsey to get answers before the Dec. 6 meeting and grant deadline. Only Blakely stepped forward, offering a 15-minute window to meet with Hinsey on Dec. 1. That apparently did not go any further.

Costigan did not respond to Beckett’s thrice articulated invitation to her. It was not until he asked a fourth time that Costigan offered that her preference was for Hinsey to appear before the whole board so that all could hear the same thing. It is too important a matter for two people to make such decisions, she said.

At one point, when he apparently felt his report of the phone discussion with MacLagan was being dismissed by her, he turned to Costigan and asked pointedly, “Are you calling me liar?”

Costigan replied, “No, want to be able to verify…”

Beckett responded, “I verified it myself and that is exactly what she told me. I asked the question three ways to Sunday to make sure we have the right answer.”

Costigan replied, “the important thing, for me, and I think what Charlie [Garrigan] just asked for, is for it to be in writing.”

Two days after the meeting, The Camden Herald canvased board members individually via their town email accounts and asked if they support the Tidewater proposal and, if not, what amount of town money should go to the project.

Only Charles Garrigan did not respond, although it is unclear if he saw the query.

Costigan has made her views clear in the meeting and afterwards. Here is what the other board members said, with some editing for space reasons:

Beckett: “I support the town contributing half of the $700 per subscriber.”

Blakely: “While I am hopeful and remain optimistic that…a positive outcome can be reached for those Appleton residents currently sorely underserved by the only viable internet service provider for the town of Appleton, Tidewater Telecom, Inc.,” she said she needs more clarification from Tidewater before deciding whether to support its proposal or another resolution.

Esancy: “I’m interested in ensuring the Tidewater application meets the minimum requirements stated by [MCA]. Tidewater didn’t present Tuesday, so I supported the chair’s call for written verification the applicant [Tidewater] will meet the required threshold… The board can determine its financial contribution when the first base is covered. You’ve got five batters swinging to ensure this time it doesn’t fail. I suspect the board will support the amount that drives it home, but we have to ensure Tidewater is at the least playing its position. The state asks the ISP to support $700 minimum per house, so funding isn’t pin the tail on the donkey. The board will discuss amounts when it has a clear line the minimum is being met.”