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Fort Fairfield approves tax abatement for former ReEnergy plant, swears in police chief

FORT FAIRFIELD, Maine — The Fort Fairfield Town Council approved a tax abatement for the former ReEnergy biomass plant, swore in their new police chief and received updates regarding federal COVID-19 funds and broadband efforts during their most recent meeting held Wednesday, Aug. 18.

Town Manager Andrea Powers explained that the land of the former ReEnergy plant, located at 78 Cheney Road, had been assessed for 2020 real estate taxes of $3,576. The land had been previously transferred back to the town through an agreement with ReEnergy after the plant shuttered in 2018.

All four councilors present approved the tax abatement, with Councilor Scott Smith being absent from the meeting.

The council formally welcomed the town’s new police chief, Matthew Cummings, who was sworn in by Town Clerk Billie Jo Sharpe. Cummings began his new position on Aug. 9, two months after Fort Fairfield’s former chief Shawn Newell resigned.

Cummings comes to the Fort Fairfield Police Department after serving as a patrol supervisor for the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office for seven years. He first came to Fort Fairfield in 2009 as a patrol officer.

FORT FAIRFIELD, Maine — August 18, 2021 — Town clerk Billie Jo Sharpe swears in Fort Fairfield’s new police chief Matthew Cummings during the most recent council meeting. (Melissa Lizotte | The Star Herald)

“Thank you everybody for the support,” Cummings said. “I look forward to rebuilding the police department. Let’s hit the ground running and get to work.”

In other business, the council received updates on American Rescue Plan Act funds and the progress of a town-wide broadband project.

Fort Fairfield is set to receive $346,927 in federal COVID-19 relief funds from the $13 million total that will be awarded to Aroostook County. 

Although the town had expected to receive its first payment in August, that has now been delayed to September. Powers read a recent memo from Maine Municipal Association, which said that the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services has applied for a 30-day extension of the fund distribution date.

According to the MMA memo, DAFS is finalizing contracts with a national organization to create a website for municipalities to monitor fund distributions that is expected to go live by Sept. 3.

Powers also announced that the town has sent requests for proposals to 11 companies who could potentially create a community-wide broadband internet network. 

In 2020, Fort Fairfield began working with Mission Broadband, a national broadband consulting firm, to conduct a community survey on internet connection issues facing residents and business owners.

Once installed, the broadband network will provide internet speeds of one gigabit per second to single-family homes, apartment buildings, businesses and farms throughout town. RFPs for network installation are due Sept. 17.

Powers said that she took part in the first meeting of the newly formed Aroostook Broadband Committee on Wednesday. 

“[The committee] will further discuss how to fund and provide reliable, high-speed internet to as much of The County as possible,” Powers said.

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