OAKLAND — The nearly $1 million budget for FirstPark passed easily Thursday night, with only one city representative and one member of the public voting against it.
The 24 cities and towns in the Kennebec Regional Development Authority, the business park’s governing body, will pay $587,000 to FirstPark’s budget and receive less than half of that back in revenue. Municipalities are expected to receive $256,075 in the next fiscal year, up around $2,000 from the current budget.
The representative for the city of Gardiner, Nate Rudy, objected to the business park’s budget for the second year in a row at the annual budget meeting held at the T-Mobile call center Thursday.
He said even though the amount the communities contribute has remained flat over the last several years, the budget doesn’t acknowledge the financial challenges faced by town and cities.
“Make the reasonable cuts you can in the budget to show some solidarity with us in the local level,” Rudy said. “Share the burden with us so we can work together.”
Rudy suggested the business park’s executive director, Brad Jackson, could share an office with another economic development organization in the region to save costs.
He also criticized the budget for continuing to add to the infrastructure reserve account, $50,500 for next year. Other cities and towns, like Gardiner, have dipped into their rainy day funds to provide tax relief for its residents, Rudy said.
The overall revenue in the approved budget totals $957,200, and the expenses total $956,001.
Construction began in 2001 at the 285-acre site, and it still has 18 of 25 lots available. The majority of the 800 employees at the park work at the T-Mobile call center, which opened about a decade ago.
That’s well short of the park’s initial goal of 3,000 jobs in 20 years.
The one resident who attended the public vote on the budget, William Weeks, said he was speaking on behalf of the other taxpayers in Farmingdale by saying he doesn’t support FirstPark.
Weeks said the town has lost more than $150,000 by investing in the park, money that could have been spent on needs such as Fire Department equipment and roads.
Rudy said the roughly $30,0000 Gardiner pays each year is the same that it pays for more successful local economic and community development investments, such as its support for Gardiner Main Street.
The city is expecting to face a budget shortfall of at least $600,000 in the next fiscal year.
The 24 member communities are Anson, Benton, Canaan, China, Clinton, Cornville, Fairfield, Farmingdale, Gardiner, Hartland, Manchester, Norridgewock, Oakland, Palmyra, Pittsfield, Readfield, Rome, St. Albans, Sidney, Smithfield, Solon, Starks, Waterville and Winslow.
Jackson, who took over the park’s executive director position about a year ago, said in a phone interview earlier in the week that his strategy is to target firms looking to expand in the next 18 months to two years.
A local developer bought one lot last year, he said, and a pharmaceutical company from New York toured the park last spring. That company could make a decision about expanding in the next year, Jackson said.
“Are we on target? No. Am I going to get us aggressively on target? No,” he said Wednesday, “but I think we’ll see slow success beginning 18 months to two years from now.”