GARDINER — When interim City Manager Anne Davis introduced the idea of adding a full-time economic development director to the city’s staff last month, she was looking for input from city elected officials.

“I don’t want to go too far into the rabbit hole if council is thinking of an alternate plan for economic development,” Davis said.

City officials are expected to continue their discussion Wednesday, when they will hear budget presentations that include funding requests for planning and economic development. The Gardiner City Council meets at 6 p.m. in the City Council chamber at 6 Church St.

At the March 21 council meeting when the idea was first aired, District 2 Councilor Patricia Hart said she would like to see what skills a new city manager might have.

The council renewed its search to fill the city’s top administrative post earlier this year and has been interviewing candidates to replace Scott Morelli, who accepted a position as city manager of South Portland more than a year ago.

“We’ve been lucky to have people with economic development skills,” Hart said. “With this change, I would like to wait and see what the skills are of a new city manager. Once we see what those skills are, then I’d like to fit in the puzzle around the strong team that we have rather than have two hires simultaneously.”

Hart said the city underwent staff cuts several years ago, including at the Gardiner Public Library and in the city’s front office, to keep a lid on city spending; and she doesn’t consider reversing those cuts lightly, because personnel costs are a large part of what the taxpayers are paying for.

She suggested exploring some stopgap measures, including hiring a consultant, to fill the gap that would be left when Patrick Wright, the city’s economic development coordinator, leaves at the end of May.

Mayor Thom Harnett said he had spoken with Davis about the position, and they agreed that if a city manager is hired relatively soon, the decision about hiring an economic development person should rest with that person.

District 1 Councilor Terry Berry said it’s vital to have someone who could start before Wright leaves to get up to speed on the city’s projects so that none of them are at risk of going dormant.

Wright, who is also the executive director of Gardiner Main Street through the end of May, has been serving as the city’s economic development coordinator through a contract the city has with Gardiner Main Street, but that arrangement will not be continued with the organization’s new executive director.

“Assessing the skills of a city manager is really important,” Wright said. “When I think about all a city manager needs to do and to be ready to respond to economic development opportunities, it sounds really challenging, and I fear we might miss some opportunities or not continue with some of the opportunities that are in front of us.”

Wright said during his time with the city, the approach to economic development has changed. Under the city’s last full-time director — Nate Rudy, who is now the city manager in Hallowell — the focus was on marketing and selling lots at the Libby Hill Business Park. But in the last three years, it has changed to being more of an inside sales job and being ready when an opportunity presents itself.

As one example, Wright noted the Fresenius Health Care project currently underway on Summer Street. A Fresenius site selector for who had grown up in Gardiner called one day to see what opportunities existed. He said his role was pointing the site selector in the direction of Developers Collaborative and the former T.W. Dick Co. parcels on Summer Street.

A chance conversation with Maine Cap N’ Stem about warehouse space led that company to set up shop in Gardiner. And a hitch in plans by Auburn Asphalt to locate facilities in the Libby Hill park required an investment of time to work through regulatory problems on the property.

On Monday, Davis said the position and the full-time salary of $52,800 are in the budget proposal that city lawmakers will hear about Wednesday, along with proposals for the library, technology, planning, and wastewater department budgets.

Copincilors also are expected to consider approving adding a signed amendment to a conservation easement on Cobbosseecontee Stream that would allow a fish passage to be built on city-owned property.

An executive session to discuss a real estate matter has been scheduled.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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