BELFAST — City councilors voted to accept donations for the Keep the Faith Fund to benefit McCrum employees at their April 5 meeting. They also waived the demolition permit and shoreland permit fees for the site cleanup.

The city has received a significant amount in donations from the public to help workers who lost their jobs as a result of the devastating fire. Overall, $66,000 has been donated to the city to help the employees. Hannaford donated $25,000, and $41,000 came from public donations, according to City Manager Erin Herbig.

According to Councilor Neal Harkness, roughly 350 families and individuals have donated to the city through the Keep the Faith Fund, which was established for residents out of work or financially affects by the pandemic, but is being used to help McCrum employees.

The city issued all 138 of McCrum’s employees $500 cashier’s checks to fill in the gap between their last paycheck and when unemployment benefits will kick in, according to Mayor Eric Sanders. Herbig said the city’s response to the employees is perfectly aligned with what they need. It has also issued $100 Hannaford gift cards to each employee.

Councilors took turns praising the public response and recognizing those who donated to the fund. Sanders said it “speaks to our city.” Councilor Brenda Bonneville said some donations came from as far away as California.

There is a job and resource fair at the Hutchinson Center April 12 for those seeking employment, which councilors thought could help McCrum employees. It will also offer information for those seeking access to rent relief, heating assistance and other benefits.

Motorcycle club Steel Guardians is having a spaghetti dinner and silent auction starting at 5 p.m.April 15 at Belfast Area High School with proceeds going to benefit McCrum employees. These monies will also go through the Keep the Faith Fund.

Under a different agenda item, Fire Chief Patrick Richards, Waldo County Emergency Management Director Dale Rowley and Herbig detailed their responses to the McCrum fire.

Councilors all thought first responders did a good job fighting the fire and keeping toxic chemicals contained. “I mean, I am just in awe of the response by the Fire Department, by the chief, by the supporting communities that showed up. I think they did an absolutely incredible job, a heroic job and just, I can never express enough gratitude and recognition…” City Councilor Mike Hurley said.

But they also all agreed that communication to the public during the event was lacking. Hurley said he has spoken to many residents who felt like they did not know what to do. Councilor Mary Mortier said she would like to see the 2020 Emergency Operations Plan reviewed and updated.

There was a shelter in place order issued a few hours after the fire started, which was sent to people’s cel phones within a certain radius of the fire, but not everyone received it.

Rowley said some cellphones might not be able to receive the notification, particularly older phones. Bonneville said the EMA Facebook page was not even updated with information about the emergency while the event was unfolding. “The communication, in my mind, was subpar,” she said.

Councilors also agreed to waive permit fees to clean up the site. McCrum will clean up and stabilize the property for future development, leaving just a gravel pad after demolition is done, according to information in the city manager’s report and exhibits for the meeting.

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