Representatives from Eastern Maine Development Corp. appeared before the Waldo County Commissioners Feb. 16 in an effort to win back funding for the organization. The commissioners said they would leave the door open, but politely declined the funding request.

During the past two of the last three budget cycles, county officials have denied funding to EMDC — a regional economic development nonprofit working in Washington, Hancock, Penobscot, Piscataquis, Knox and Waldo counties — citing negligible returns on past contributions.

Ralph Harvey, chairman of EMDC’s board of directors, acknowledged this to the commissioners, saying several times that EMDC may not have put its best foot forward in Waldo County. After one such statement, Commissioners Amy Fowler and Donald Berry responded almost in unison, “You didn’t.”

EMDC’s Jennifer Brooks, who appeared with Harvey, explained that Waldo County must be part of an economic development district to be included in the comprehensive economic development strategy process, participation in which makes a county or region eligible for funding from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration.

“It kind of sounds blackmail-y, doesn’t it?” said Fowler. Brooks agreed, but could not offer an alternative.

The consternation among county officials dates to 2008 when a representative from EMDC promised the county certain grants that never materialized.

Commissioner William Shorey said the 2010 budget process was tight. The commissioners had cut funding to EMDC, but raised the option of funding the organization to the budget committee in the event that members felt strongly in favor.

“They did feel strongly about it,” Shorey said, “and it was a selectman from Searsport. He made a motion that they not fund [EMDC], and it passed unanimously.”

Shorey, who sat through his first budget sessions as a county commissioner last October and November, said he had always heard EMDC spoken of as though the organization had close ties with his hometown of Searsport. So he was surprised to hear a Searsport selectman motion to deny funding to the organization.

“We can’t redo what’s happened in the past,” Harvey said, “but we’d like to get some assurances that we could get on board in the future.”

The commissioners were unwilling to fund the organization on a promise alone.

Harvey asked if the commissioners would accept a donation to the county if he could get grant funding on the county’s behalf. There was some nervous laughter among the commissioners. “Let us ponder the issue,” Berry said.

Shorey said he recognized organizations have ups and downs, and he would remain willing to listen to representatives from EMDC. The other commissioners agreed.

In other business, the county commissioners:

• Heard from treasurer David Parkman that the county mill rate would be 1.47 (dollars per $1,000 of property value), down from 1.51 last year.

• Heard from Emergency Management Agency Director Dale Rowley that progress on a proposed new EMA building, to be built, along with a new sheriff’s office, on a vacant lot behind the jail, has been slowed by regulatory requirements. The new building was funded by a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency last year. Rowley said he hopes to complete the design phase by late April to early May, put it out to bid and have construction begin by the beginning of July.

• Tabled discussion of selling a 100-acre parcel of county land located on Route 52.