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Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, March 27, 2014
County grant funds to improve cell phone service in Stonington

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Stonington receives $25,000 to improve cell phone reception

County Commissioner Percy “Joe” Brown Jr. presents a check for $25,000 to Stonington, Maine, Town Manager Kathleen Billings-Pezaris Monday to help with the town’s effort to improve cell phone reception in town. The grant funds come from an agreement with First Wind through its Blue Sky East wind farm in Township 16.

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by Rich Hewitt

The town’s effort to improve cell phone reception in the downtown area got a boost Monday night—a $25,000 boost.

County Commissioner Percy “Joe” Brown Jr. presented a $25,000 check to the town at the start of the regular selectmen’s meeting on March 24. The Community Benefit Grant comes from an agreement between Hancock County and First Wind, which developed the Blue Sky East wind farm in Township 16. Under that agreement, Brown said, the company pays the county about $4 million a year in Tax Increment Financing funds that can be used only in the county’s unorganized townships, but also pays $200,000 each year for the next 20 years to be used for public purposes.

“That money can be spent anywhere in Hancock County for public purposes including, but not limited to, property tax reduction, economic development projects, land and natural resource conservation, tourism promotion and reducing energy costs,” Brown said.

The grant to the town was one of 10 the county commissioners approved this year, he said.

“It was an excellent grant, one of the best I’ve seen,” Brown said.

He said he hoped the grant will help the town bring cell phone reception to the town. Brown, who runs a business on Deer Isle, said he is aware of the lack of cell reception in the downtown area.

“I know the problem. I’m down here three miles from my shop and I can’t get a phone call,” he said.

The town has been working to find ways to improve the cell phone signal in town and particularly in the downtown area which is “a dead zone.”

The grant award came as a surprise to the selectmen and Town Manager Kathleen Billings-Pezaris who wrote the grant. Although the town had sought the funding, the selectmen were not aware that the county commissioners had approved any grants this year.

“This will be a big help,” Billings-Pezaris said. “This will help to get us on top of things.”

The funds will be paired with funds earmarked in the town’s economic development account to improve communications downtown. Billings-Pezaris already is working on a plan to broaden existing WiFi service to create a WiFi district in the area. The financial boost will help with that effort and the push to improve the cell phone reception.

“There’s going to be planning and design work to be done and we may need to put up a tower or a repeater to boost the signal,” she said. “This money can go toward anything like that.”

The town hopes to have the WiFi district in place before the busy summer season.

In 2013, the county distributed about $100,000 in grants and about $97,000 in property tax relief to veterans and to qualified veterans’ widows. That amounted to about $50 per exemption, Brown said.

This year, the commissioners approved 10 grants out of the 16 requests they received. The grant amounts ranged from $3,500 to $25,000 and totaled $126,000. In addition to the Stonington award, the commissioners approved grants for: Maine Pretrial Services, $25,000; Child and Family Opportunities, $15,000; Great Cranberry Futures Group, $15,000; Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry, $15,000; Hancock County Planning Commission (One Hancock), $10,000; Healthy Acadia, $10,000; Franklin Historical Society, $4,000; Farm Tomorrow, $3,500; and The Grand, $3,500.