WATERVILLE — Mayor Nick Isgro and some city councilors said Tuesday they want to know more about a proposal to change how the Central Maine Growth Council is administered before approving funding for it.

The plan is to hire a new director of the Growth Council and place the position under the umbrella of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, which would do clerical and administrative duties done by the Growth Council’s former director. Those duties included answering the phone, doing paperwork and raising money.

The idea, according to City Manager Michael Roy, is to allow the new director to spend more time with businesses on economic development.

He was talking Tuesday at a workshop where Isgro, councilors, Growth Council and chamber officials and town managers and council chairmen from Fairfield and Winslow discussed the proposal.

The Growth Council is funded by the three municipalities, as well as by businesses and institutions including hospitals and colleges.

Darryl Sterling resigned last year as executive director of the Growth Council. He earned about $72,000 a year.

City Councilor Dana Bushee, D-Ward 6, said she wants more information about how much a new director will be paid, how much the city would contribute, what other economic development agencies are in the area, how much the city contributes to them, and what the new director of the Growth Council would do, including what he or she would do that the last director did not.

“It’s very unclear to me exactly how this is going to benefit Waterville,” Bushee said. “I like the idea. It sounds great, but we’re in such a crunch right now with money, and it’s time to step back and look at everything before we go forward and throw our trust into these great-sounding ideas.”

Isgro said he hoped Tuesday’s session was the start of a regular conversation to be had between now and budget time to discuss the proposal, including how to fund it.

“I don’t want anyone to walk out of here and say Waterville just committed to X amount of dollars,” he said. “I think we probably can get some estimates, because it’d be good for the communities.”

Council Chairman Fred Stubbert, D-Ward 1, said he wants to see a job description, a copy of the contract with the chamber and other information.

“I agree with the mayor on this,” he said. “We need to know a lot more.”

Roy said that representatives from other economic development organizations such as Kennebec Valley Council of Governments, FirstPark, Waterville Main Street, Waterville Development Corp. and Somerset Economic Development Corp. attend Growth Council meetings so that all parties are aware of what the others are doing. College and hospital officials also attend.

But former City Councilor Erik Thomas said he is not sure that is the best use of time for the members of those organizations.

“Hopefully, this is the beginning of — and consolidation of — all of those organizations into one robust organization, funded the way it should be,” Thomas said.

Former Mayor Karen Heck recently noted the need for various economic development organizations in the area to think about economic development in a different way. She said that while they all work hard, they could do it in a way that is more efficient and develop a strategic plan.

The city contributes $30,000 annually to the Growth Council. Fairfield and Winslow each contribute between $12,000 and $15,000 annually. Oakland was a member but left the Growth Council a few years ago. The Growth Council has a 12-member board of directors and recruits communities and businesses to join.

The city contributes $4,100 to the chamber, $18,000 to KVCOG, $40,000 to Waterville Main Street and $75,000 to FirstPark, Roy said. He said the city gets $40,000 back in revenue from that park.

He and Kimberly Lindlof, the chamber’s president and chief executive officer, said they hoped to hire somebody for the Growth Council position by April 1.

“I’m hoping after tonight that I don’t hear significant opposition from the council and I’ll be able to say to the chamber, ‘Waterville is in,'” Roy said.

He said economic development is a regional game and must be addressed in a regional manner because no one community has the resources to do it. A one-person operation does not cut it, so the benefit of contracting with the chamber for the Growth Council position is that it would no longer be a one-person show, he said.

John Dalton, chairman of the Growth Council board of directors, agreed with Roy that a regional approach must be taken with economic development and it must include not just municipalities, but also businesses and institutions. Dalton, president of Inland Hospital, said he thinks the new plan for the Growth Council is responsible and reasonable.

Stubbert asked Dalton how the new position would be different than the old one. Dalton said Sterling was responsible for developing a strategic plan, coordinating the board of directors, doing administrative work, raising money and other duties, and those administrative duties would fall to the chamber.

Chris Gaunce, a member of the Growth Council board for three years, said he and a chamber official have been visiting businesses to see and understand what they do and ask what their needs are.

“About all the businesses we talk to, regardless of where they are located in our area, talk about workforce development,” Gaunce said.

Gaunce said he and others have been working with Mid-Maine Technical Center at Waterville Senior High School to discuss having formal internships where the high school students get education and experience at local businesses, receive college credits at local colleges that work with businesses and the students ultimately end up working at jobs locally, he said.

“This is something that has never been explored with a lot of the businesses we talk to,” he said.

He said a meeting was held Tuesday with the state Department of Labor to discuss an apprenticeship program.

Both Gaunce and Lindlof said the Growth Council is not focusing on finding a giant company to come into the area to improve economic development.

“We’re looking to do it right here, and we’re looking to do it with students right here, and we’re looking to do it with the industries right here,” Gaunce said.

But Nancy Williams, of Park Street, questioned the idea of focusing on workforce development and not so much on trying to attract businesses.

Meanwhile, Roy said he planned to attend the next City Council meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, with more detailed information on funding for the Growth Council position, as well as with information on other economic development agencies and how much the city contributes to them.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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