OAKLAND — An annual operating budget of more than $1 million was approved quickly Thursday evening during the annual organizational meeting of the Kennebec Regional Development Authority.

Out of the roughly 30 people in attendance, a majority were members of the general assembly, the public body that governs the quasi-municipal agency.

The budget, which includes new spending on marketing and operational capacity building, was approved overwhelmingly with only a handful — and none of the general assembly members — voting against the spending plan.

The meeting was held in a conference room in the T-Mobile call center at FirstPark, the 285-acre business park that has been the central focus of the authority’s job creation and economic development efforts since it was built in 2001.

The authority is made up of 24 member communities that agreed to invest in KRDA’s debt service and operating costs in exchange for a proportional amount of the revenue it generates from taxes and fees.

Since its creation, the authority has concentrated on bringing companies into the vacant lots at FirstPark. So far, the largest employer is T-Mobile, which opened a large call center in 2006.

The budget approved includes an additional $30,000 in marketing expenses, a $40,000 reserve account for special grant opportunities, and $25,000 to explore opportunities for capacity development at KRDA.

Executive Director Brad Jackson, who was hired in 2013, has floated the idea of broadening KRDA’s authority and making it a multi-purpose development agency for the region with the ability to act as a loan broker and intermediary between prospective companies and partners in central Maine.

Jackson also wants to explore developing stronger ties between FirstPark and local academic institutions to entice technology companies.

The budget includes a $90,000 marketing line, most of which will be used to cover travel expenses over the next year. At the budget meeting, Jackson said he wants to double or triple the number of companies he meets with in the next 18 months from the 30 he has visited in the last year and a half.

The spending increases are being covered by extra revenue partially tied to a restructuring of KRDA’s debt and a reduction in the amount the authority is putting into a cash reserve to help cover the cost of an anticipated $4 million utility and road build-out into the rest of the park.

“Where I have asked the board to accept risk in the short term is in the infrastructure account,” he told voters.

The amount that the 24 communities will pay to help run KRDA and FirstPark is $587,000 in 2015-16. That figure hasn’t changed since the authority was established. This year, KRDA is expected to pay out $255,000 in revenue to its member communities, which is about 45 cents for each dollar invested, according to Jackson.

Craig Nelson, president of the authority’s executive board, reminded the assembly that KRDA cut about $100,000 from its budget in 2007, which allowed it to operate without land sales and without asking member towns for more contributions.

The new budget priorities will allow the authority to pursue investment and job-creation opportunities more aggressively, he added.

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.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire


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