GARDINER — Scott Morelli, who has been Gardiner’s city manager for seven years, announced Wednesday that he is accepting the city manager’s position in South Portland.

His last day with Gardiner will be March 3.

“Words cannot express how grateful I am to have served as Gardiner’s city manager for the past seven years,” Morelli wrote in his resignation letter to Mayor Thom Harnett. “This is a wonderful community and I am honored to have worked with so many dedicated elected officials, employees and community members. Together, we have accomplished so many important things. I will miss working with you all.”

Mayor Thom Harnett said Wednesday that he is happy and thrilled for Morelli.

“This is a great professional opportunity, and the city of South Portland is getting a pretty amazing city manager,” Harnett said. “I like Scott professionally, but he has also become a good friend, and I’ll miss him.”

That puts Gardiner officials in the position of looking for a new city manager as city department heads are starting to craft their budget requests for the next fiscal year.

In January, South Portland city officials announced that Morelli was one of two finalists for the city manager position. He took part in a community meet-and-greet event and met with city department heads before meeting with the City Council for the second interview last week.

This was the second search for a city manger that South Portland has conducted after the resignation of Jim Gailey , who accepted a position in June as assistant manager for Cumberland County. In November, South Portland officials learned they would continue the search for a city manager after Edward Collins abruptly withdrew two days after he was picked for the position.

Morelli will take on the chief administrator’s job in a city that has nearly five times the population of Gardiner and has a municipal budget that’s about six times the size of Gardiner’s.

The South Portland City Council has been roiled by dissent over a number of issues, to the point that the behavior of council members emerged as an issue in the November election of two at-large candidates.

While in Gardiner, Morelli oversaw a streamlining of city staffing following a drop in revenue-sharing from the state, and a process for evaluating the level of service that Gardiner city departments deliver to residents.

Morelli worked to acquire the four blighted T.W. Dick properties on Summer Street to put them under the city’s ownership so they would qualify for state and federal brownfields cleanup funds. At the end of 2016, the structures were cleared from the parcels, and Developer’s Collaborative, of Portland, has options on the properties for future development that will return them to the tax rolls.

He also worked to ensure funding was available in the current fiscal year for Gardiner’s match for state Department of Transportation money that is designated for the Cobbossee Trail project, which is intended to open up a section of the city to a walking trail that will link the Kennebec River Rail Trail with a path that skirts the downtown historic district and extends along Cobbosseecontee Stream toward the New Mills Dam.

Morelli started working for municipal governments in 2001 when he spent a year as the selectmen’s assistant and personnel director for the town of Waterboro.

Following that, he worked as a crisis services coordinator for the Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine. After earning a master’s degree in public administration from Syracuse University, he worked as executive assistant to the town manager in Framingham, Massachusetts, for nearly five years. From there, he was hired in Gardiner.

He is nearing the end of the second year of his three-year contract. Under the terms of his contract, he earns $80,000 a year with an additional payment of $7,000 a year for taking on economic development duties when the city eliminated its director of economic and community development position at the end of 2014.

Morelli, of New Gloucester, has reached a tentative agreement with the city of South Portland, and under that contract he’ll have a starting annual salary of $115,000.

Harnett said he’ll meet with Morelli and city department heads soon to develop a transition plan to carry the city through the search for a new city manager.

“We are losing an incredibly creative talent,” he said.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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