FAIRFIELD — An advisory committee charged with economic and community development in town may look to alter the way it operates going forward, as the committee had found itself more involved with park and trail development instead of economic development.

The Economic and Community Development Advisory Committee, which meets once a month, began taking a look at its future during its July 10 meeting. Town Manager Michelle Flewelling said the committee has seen a few of its members resign recently, and that the committee has been more involved with parks and recreation projects recently and developing a quality of place.

Flewelling said members have expressed frustration over the charge of the committee, and there was such a broad focus for the committee without much being accomplished. Bruce Harrington, who chairs the steering committee, said the committee has tried to accomplish a number of things over the years, but many projects haven’t been seen through. So he said their objective was to talk about what they want to accomplish, and how they can do things better.

Before the meeting, Flewelling said they need to find out if the committee needs restructuring, needs to develop subcommittees or perhaps be changed to more of an ad hoc committee.

John Picchiotti, vice chairman of the Town Council and member of the Maine House of Representatives, said the park and trail work the committee has been a part of was important. Initially, economic development had been a department in town hall, but Flewelling said over the years that department was eliminated due to budget cuts. Picchiotti said after that, the committee helped develop a strategic plan, but it didn’t last.

“The problem I see is we do not have enough business people on the committee,” he said.

Dave Gulak, a member of the committee and owner of Meridians on Main Street, said he was unsure of his role on the committee and said the work was sometimes unclear. He said he wasn’t sure if the committee existed solely as an advisory outlet for the council, or if they should have a more hands-on role in projects. He also said the term economic development was antiquated and ambiguous. He said he liked the idea of getting more people together and coming up with ideas in a grass roots effort.

“I like doing the quality of place stuff,” Gulak said.

There was discussion over who takes over a project. Flewelling said it wouldn’t be realistic to assume town personnel would have the time to put it together. She said staffing numbers are very tight, and there aren’t any employees who have enough time to take on additional projects.

Garvan Donegan, an economic development specialist for the Central Maine Growth Council, a public-private collaborative group based in Waterville, said a useful exercise for committee members would be to look back at the town’s Comprehensive Plan, which outlined a number of desired economic and community development projects, and create lists of priorities. He said something like facade improvements could be an area where the committee could be active by developing a program to present to the Town Council. He said making capital improvements to the downtown area could serve as a recruitment tool to bring more businesses and jobs to the area.

As talk turned to the downtown area, Picchiotti said that while there are some merchants, such as Gulak, there’s not enough foot traffic for businesses to be anything other than destinations: a place a person goes for a specific reason and doesn’t go into without a purpose.

“If you’re a merchant, you’ve got to have walk traffic,” he said.

With just a few members present at the Monday meeting, Flewelling asked if Monday afternoons were the best place and time for such meetings. Some members have jobs where they can’t be available at that time, so Flewelling said they would need to touch base with members who weren’t present.

Harrington said that in addition to that, they needed to find out if they were spending enough time working on the issues. The committee meets just once a month for about an hour each time.

An idea was proposed to seek input on what various stakeholders want out of the meeting, ranging from town councilors to business owners and members of the committee.

“The next step is getting feedback from stakeholders,” Harrington said.

Flewelling said she will bring this to the Town Council’s attention, with the plan to have council feedback for the committee at their meeting next month.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

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