ROME — Town officials are formally showing their concern with the direction and cost of the Kennebec Regional Development Authority and the FirstPark business park and are asking other communities to join them to ask the organization to show long-term costs and benefits of the arrangement.

In an Aug. 15 letter to KRDA Executive Board President Howard Mette, the Rome selectmen asked the authority to provide scenarios for future revenues and expenses, the present value of the authority and the Oakland business park, and an analysis of how a municipality can leave the organization.

At a time when the town is tightening its own belt, it may need to reconsider whether continuing to invest in FirstPark is a good idea, selectmen said.

“Our sentiment is that we have no strong direction in terms of where the organization wants to go and how we get there,” said Selectman Richard LaBelle in a phone interview Monday.

The town’s selectmen hope they aren’t alone in their request to the KRDA board, seeking support in a separate letter sent to 10 communities.

The separate letter was sent to Sidney, Solon, Gardiner, China, Canaan, Fairfield, Hartland, Smithfield, Starks and St. Albans. The communities were chosen based on how much money they had lost in FirstPark, their proximity to the Oakland site and municipal participation in the general assembly, LaBelle said.


In the letter to KRDA and FirstPark, the selectmen specifically ask for spreadsheets projecting future net revenues and expenses in five scenarios, from pessimistic — assuming no more FirstPark lots are sold or developed — to a scenario where the entire park is sold to a developer in two years.

They also ask for a calculation of the net present value of the authority and an “explicit written analysis” from the FirstPark attorney as to how towns and cities can exit the FirstPark agreement.

The selectmen asked Mette to provide the authority’s analysis by Nov. 15.

“Our taxpayers look forward to these results, so we can make responsible decisions regarding our hard-earned tax dollars,” they wrote.

Mette, reached Monday, said that the KRDA executive board would “certainly” be answering the letter. He declined to say whether the organization was in a position to provide the Rome selectmen with the information they requested.

“I’m not in a position to comment on that right now,” Mette, of Winslow, said. “It would be unfair to everybody.”


He said he received the letter and materials on Thursday and hadn’t had time to go through them all, but expected the board would discuss the letter at its next meeting.

In the letter to the towns, the Rome board wrote, “Our townspeople have continued to express overwhelming disapproval with the financial burden that this relationship has place (sic) on our taxpayers. Given the limited financial information and projections that have been made available to our town, our Board of Selectmen will be calling for greater accountability in this business relationship.”

St. Albans, in eastern Somerset County about 35 miles away from Oakland, hasn’t seen a payoff from its investment in FirstPark, said Town Manager Rhonda Stark.

“The distance has always been a concern,” Stark said. “There are industrial parks closer to St. Albans than Oakland.”

Although the town has been pleased with the approach taken by KRDA director Brad Jackson, who was hired in 2014, Rome’s request to the board raised the same questions St. Albans officials have had for years, Stark said. She responded immediately to the letter, and selectmen are expected to discuss a response at a meeting later this month.

“Everything they’re asking for is pertinent information and relates to questions St. Albans has had all along,” Stark said.


Andrew Cook, a Rome resident who was appointed to the KRDA general assembly in March, drafted the letter for selectmen. In his short experience on the assembly and on its marketing committee, he has been concerned with an apparent lack of direction in the organization, which depends on annual payments from more than 20 member communities.

Rome and other towns need to see the realistic long-term costs and benefits of remaining in the organization, Cook said.

“There are little towns who are continuously committed to and paying money without any clear idea when the bleeding will stop or how,” Cook said in an interview Monday.

The Kennebec Regional Development Authority was created in 1998, and a group of 24 towns and cities in Kennebec and Somerset counties signed on to invest in FirstPark, the 285-acre business park in Oakland. The resulting agreement obligated the towns to help operate the park and pay down debt on the initial development.

The park was expected to provide returns on the communities’ investment and create thousands of new jobs. Instead, communities have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars on the venture and aside from a T-Mobile calling center that opened in 2006 that now employs roughly 600, development at the park has been stagnant and 18 out of the 25 lots are undeveloped.

In 2014, Rome paid $28,268 towards the KRDA budget and received less than half, $11,109, back in revenues, said Selectman Richard LaBelle.


After years of seeing similar returns, interest in KRDA and FirstPark has dropped off to the point that the town rarely had a representative attend the general assembly for at least five years, LaBelle said.

“I think that our town has grown apathetic to FirstPark,” LaBelle said Monday.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

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