November 30, 2021

Public hearing set for Tuesday> Main Street grant tops discussion list

BINGHAM — Residents with questions about a proposed police cruiser purchase, local high school accreditation and improvement of the downtown business area can find answers next week at a public hearing.

The hearing will be held at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 4, at the town office.

Officials must hold the hearing as part of the town’s application for a $400,000 state grant to revitalize Main Street, First Selectman Jeffrey Jacques said this week.

“David Jones will present a draft of the application, and Peter Lyford of KVCOG [Kennebec Valley Council of Governments] will be there to answer questions,” Jacques said of the Tuesday night meeting.

Jones is chairman of the Bingham Community Grant Committee, the group responsible for writing a Community Development Block Grant application to the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development for the second consecutive year.

The committee, which represents 35 local business owners, has pledged contributions of more than $80,000 for the required 20 percent match of state funds, Jones said.

The town applied for a community development grant in 1999 after Bingham voters at a Jan. 5 special town meeting had declared their downtown a “slum-and-blight” area. The declaration, which became part of the application, was necessary to qualify the town for the state funding.

The first application failed, however, and was ranked fourth among nine communities competing for two state-funded projects.

“The declaration remains in effect until the conditions have been eliminated,” Lyford said this week.

A community development specialist for KVCOG, the Fairfield-based regional planning commission, Lyford has continued to help the committee with the application to make sure it meets the government’s criteria. KVCOG recently completed a comprehensive downtown plan of Bingham.

With Lyford at the Tuesday hearing will be DECD official Orman Whitcomb to answer specific questions.

If approved, the new grant would spiff up Main Street buildings to help attract new businesses and families, fund a new cruiser and radar gun for the Somerset County Sheriff’s Department to use locally, and get behind an effort to accredit Upper Kennebec Valley Junior-Senior High School.

“Because one of the buildings that was going to be torn down last year for a parking lot [at Murray and Main streets] was bought and is not available now, changes have come about in the application for this year,” Jones said.

“In lieu of the parking lot, we’re working on a cooperative effort with the sheriff’s department for a police patrol in town to curb excessive speeding by truckers going through the town,” Jones said. “We would use the grant to purchase a cruiser, radar gun and annex, and the officer would work in the sheriff’s department.

“We also want to work with SAD 13 to get the high school accredited,” Jones said. “We’re hoping the board of education will do a 50-50 match. If it costs $2,500 to get the high school accredited, we’ll contribute $1,250, whatever it takes.”

Jones said an accredited school department is needed to show incoming business owners and their families that the school district meets national and regional standards.

“To attract families, we’ve got to have a strong educational system,” Jones said, adding that SAD 13 Superintendent Gary W. Moore has promised to put the accreditation issue on the agenda for the board’s Jan. 11 meeting.

Lyford said the new grant request needs to reflect changes in the town in the past year. Many business owners proceeded last summer to improve their properties despite the state’s rejection of the 1999 grant application.

“These grants are highly competitive,” Lyford said. “And, while the state will fund three projects this year instead of the two last year, that’s still a 3-to-1 ratio if nine communities apply.

“The fact that the group has continued to improve the community is a good sign,” Lyford said. “The state will look at improvements within a year as viable.”

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