OAKLAND — The board of directors of the Kennebec Regional Development Authority is proposing new spending priorities aimed at broadening the agency’s role in regional economic development to attract more investment.
The $1 million spending plan for 2015-2016 includes additional funding for marketing and development, but it wouldn’t affect the investments made by the authority’s member communities, executive director Brad Jackson said in an interview at the KRDA offices in Oakland.
A public vote on the budget is scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday at the KRDA board room in Oakland. The budget measure is open to voters in any of the 24 KRDA member communities.
The authority was established in 1999 through an agreement among 24 municipalities in Kennebec and Somerset counties. The authority’s showcase, the 285-acre FirstPark business park, has attracted some businesses, including a T-Mobile call center that opened in 2006, but 18 of its 25 lots are still empty.
Towns and cities that are part of the authority are obligated to help finance its operations, but some have complained that the revenue they receive from FirstPark is less than half of the annual investment they make in the park.
According to Jackson, the $587,000 contributed each year by member communities hasn’t changed since the authority was established. Next year, an estimated $255,000 in FirstPark revenue will be returned to towns and cities, an average return of about 45 cents on each dollar invested, he said.
The 24 member cities and towns 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.
This year’s budget proposes spending changes that reflect an interest in broadening the authority’s role and getting “off the dole” from the municipalities, Jackson said.
“It is a starting point to explore how KRDA might become a self-funded, multi-functional authority,” Jackson said.
Starting last month, Jackson began a series of presentations to member communities, outlining his vision for the future of the agency. He proposes a path that would turn KRDA’s focus from selling FirstPark real estate to attracting investment regionwide while bolstering KRDA’s authority to provide financing and other services. Jackson also wants to identify new sources of revenue to make the authority self-sustaining when members finish paying off the park’s debt in 2021.
The proposed $1.01 million budget is about $58,700 more than the budget approved by voters last year. The increase is balanced by revenue left after repaying a note and $40,000 in savings from refinancing the authority’s debt.
The money would be used to open an operational reserve account that could be used to match grant funding in the event a “phenomenal” opportunity comes up before KRDA’s general assembly can meet to approve the spending, Jackson said.
Other budget changes include increasing marketing expenditures by $30,000 and spending $25,000 for “organizational capacity development.”
Those increases are funded largely by reducing payments to the authority’s infrastructure reserve this year, Jackson said.
Between $50,500 and $77,500 has been put aside in past years to help offset debt service on the approximately $4 million build-out of roads, water and sewer lines expected as FirstPark nears capacity. KRDA has about $323,000 in the account now, according to Jackson.
This year, Jackson is proposing putting only $15,000 toward the reserve. The proposal is a risk, he acknowledged, but he said the payoff from his approach could mean more revenue in the future.
The proposed $90,000 marketing line now will be spent mostly on traveling to meet with companies and discuss opportunities, Jackson said. Last year, he met with 30 companies and succeeded in getting three to examine possibilities at FirstPark. With the additional funding, Jackson would like to double the number of companies he meets with in the next 12 months. The travel funding may be reimbursed through a marketing grant KRDA expects to get, he said.
KRDA Executive Board Chairman Craig Nelson, of Farmingdale, said the board has been weathering the recession and saving so that it can go after investment opportunities more aggressively.
“The focus is still on FirstPark and creating jobs there,” he said.
The “capacity building” account would be used to examine how KRDA might use state statutes to increase its responsibilities, develop ideas to generate new revenue and work on a connection between KRDA and local academic institutions such as Colby, Thomas and Unity colleges, as well as with the private sector to develop FirstPark as a technology campus, he said.
Thursday’s meeting also will feature a presentation from Janet Ady, an executive with Ady Voltedge, a firm that helps select expansion sites for major companies in the U.S.
Peter McGuire — 861-9239
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