The Maine Legislature is back to work and enacted a biennial budget last month. State Rep. Holly Stover, D-Boothbay, discussed the $8.4 billion biennial budget details on April 6 with the Edgecomb select board. The budget was a party line vote and Stover described it as mostly an extension of the budget passed with bipartisan support in 2019. “It was disappointing it was a majority budget (vote). I don’t think that was anyone’s preference,” she said. “It was a basic budget with no new initiatives with a little more money to cover increased costs.”
Stover serves on the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee. She reported with the full legislature adjourned after the budget approval, her legislative schedule now includes committee work on new bills. The Legislature will reconvene later this spring to consider new legislation. Legislators will also decide how to spend federal stimulus funds from the American Rescue Plan approved by the U.S. Congress. “Money is also coming to municipalities and counties which is good news for everybody,” she said. Selectman Mike Smith reported Edgecomb is expecting $125,000 from the plan.
Selectmen also sought Stover’s help on a couple of continuing problems plaguing Edgecomb residents: Broadband expansion and Route 27. Smith discussed how a Mount Hunger resident has never had internet service. “We’re not talking slow internet speeds. We’re talking someone who never had it. We're hoping the state can provide assistance to small and rural communities in desperate need of broadband,” he said. Stover is a member of the legislature’s Broadband Caucus. “There are members from all over the state working on problems like ones with those who have no internet, like Mount Hunger and Westport Island. I think funding is coming through the American Rescue Plan to make broadband available more and affordable for all Mainers,” she said.
Smith sought state assistance for Route 27 maintenance. He proposed a “more aggressive approach” toward resurfacing the highly traveled road. Smith reported Route 27 experienced heavy traffic even before 200,000 Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens’ guests starting using the road. Smith also believes the state has neglected the road. Smith said Maine Department of Transportation had not performed any significant maintenance on Route 27 since 2011. “Edgecomb is really taking it on the chin and it’s important to accelerate the conversation toward a solution,” Smith said.
There are a couple MDOT projects slated for Edgecomb this year. The department is replacing McKay and River road culverts and will install a traffic safety measure for merging Route 27 traffic onto U.S. 1. Stover promised to contact DOT officials about the selectmen’s concerns which may lead to reconsideration in July.
Lack of workers
Selectman Ted Hugger owns two inns in Midcoast Maine. He is concerned with tourism season rapidly approaching the hospitality industry won’t have enough employees. He believes Maine’s unemployment system is too lax and is the reason for a dearth of hospitality workers in 2021. Hugger told Stover he has spoken with other Midcoast hospitality businesses who all report the same thing. “In the past three months, none of us has had a single person submit a resume or call about a job,” he said. “We’re at the point where we may have to scale back our services due to a lack of staffing,” he said.
Hugger believes the lack of workers is due to Maine’s unemployment requirements. He is concerned the Department of Labor is not checking on whether or not applicants are actively seeking work and he wants the state to re-evaluate requirements. “It doesn’t appear anyone is actively enforcing the requirements and something needs to be done,” he said. Stover responded state law requires applicants to submit three work searches per week, and if they refuse a job offer then that would be a reportable offense. Stover promised to follow up with Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman about the department’s enforcement criteria.
Edgecomb’s next regularly scheduled board meeting is at 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 22 via Zoom conference.