LINCOLNVILLE — The Select Board set Jan. 12, 2023, as the date for a special town meeting in Lincolnville at its Dec. 12 meeting. The special town meeting will address several projects not included in the FY 22-23 budget. The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the Town Office.

Residents will have an opportunity to discuss and approve additional funding for repairs to the plumbing and heating systems in the Town Office, resurfacing the tennis courts at Lincolnville Central School, and repairing floats at Breezemere Park.

Residents will be asked to appropriate $6,500 for repairs to the town office mechanical systems; $2,500 for repair of recreational floats at Breezemere Park, and $2,941 for the tennis court resurfacing. All would be paid for from the Local Fiscal Recovery Funds attached the the American Rescue Plan (ARPA).

 

One project that was not approved for the special town meeting was the purchase of two EV charging stations for Lincolnville Beach. Funds for this project would have come partially from the town and from the state. The town’s portion of the cost was prohibitive for Select Board members Ladleah Dunn, Keryn Laite and Stephen Hand, each of whom voted to remove the article from consideration at the special town meeting.

Board member Josh Gerritsen, who chairs the Lincolnville Broadband Committee, presented a broadband feasibility study authorized by the town in 2021. The study was conducted by Mark Ouellette of Axiom and was completed in August of this year.

“We needed to go through this process to understand what our options were in Lincolnville,” Gerritsen explained to the Select Board. “We want to build a system that is future proof, that we can rely on working for the next 20-40 years.”

The study gives the town three options moving forward. The first is to work with LCIFiber, the town’s current internet provider. Another option was for the town to construct its own system and network. The remaining option was to partner with RedZone to install 5G repeaters throughout the town.

Gerritsen noted that partnering with RedZone could be problematic in the future.

“RedZone didn’t make sense because it was proprietary technology that, perhaps, would be obsolete in five or ten years,” said Gerritsen. “We’d have to start all over.”

Initially, the option of having Lincolnville build its own system seemed promising. The initial estimate for the project was $3 million to reach every resident in town. Once the numbers were run later in the study, the estimate jumped to $6 million.

“I was willing to fight for, and defend, the $3 million dollar number,” Gerritsen said. “Six million is too far.”

The remaining option of Lincolnville working with LCI was the committee’s recommendation.

“Working with LCI really is our best, and only, option.” Gerritsen told the Select Board. Gerritsen added that LCI has now included features, not present in the past, that make the partnership attractive.

“They have a symmetrical service with a starting speed of 100 over 100,” he said. “They no longer require phone service with internet service and you don’t have to sign a three-year contract.”

Gerritsen added that grant funding is available and hoped to partner with LCI to seek that avenue of funding.

Gerritsen also presented Broadband Committee’s digital equity and digital inclusion plan. The committee made several recommendations to promote digital equity within the community.

The first was to raise awareness of the Federal Trade Commission’s connectivity program that assists low-income households with internet access. Currently, 21% of Lincolnville residents have a median household income below $35,000, and 53% of Lincolnville residents are 50 or older.

“We will request $10,000 from the town during the FY 23-24 budget to connect our 100 lowest income households,” Gerritsen said. “We will also ask LCI if they will waive or reduce those fees.”

The federal government recently awarded Maine $250 million for broadband connectivity through the Omnibus Spending Bill. Those funds are managed by the Maine Connectivity Authority and distributed through grants. The committee will be seeking those grant funds but acknowledge that grant requests are given preferential treatment when they include a public/private partnership.

“Half of that money is here right now,” said Broadband Committee member Steven Koltai. “So, there’s no danger of rolling it back. We just want to get our share.”

Koltai acknowledged that some of the work done thus far has been funded through grants and expressed confidence more grant funds could be applied to steps taken in the future.

Another recommendation was to use the town library at a digital “go-to” spot. The library would be a place for free Wi-Fi and classes. The committee also recommended establishing a series of “hot spots” throughout town, particularly as Lincolnville Beach, and area that Gerritsen termed “a black hole” for connectivity.

The presentation was the final act for the broadband committee, which recommended forming a ditigal equity and digital inclusion committee to carry out the steps laid out in the plan. Gerritsen explained that the focus of the broadband committee was to study ways to achieve digital equity and inclusion. The report presented on Dec. 27 achieves that goal. The new committee would be charged with implementing the steps toward those goals.

A draft charge for the new committee will be presented at a later meeting of the Select Board.

In other business, the Select Board approved a contract with CEI Consultants LLC for coaching support for the Lincolnville Heart & Soul Committee. The Heart & Soul coach will work with the Comprehensive Plan Review committee to engage Lincolnville residents in shaping the upcoming comprehensive plan.

The next Select Board meeting will be Jan. 9, 2023, at 6 p.m. in the Town Office.