GARDINER — As Gardiner elected officials continue to mull what to do about an economic development position for the city, they will keep funding for a full-time position in the proposed budget for now.

Earlier this week, the Gardiner City Council talked again about the city’s options for economic development staffing will be and balancing its long-term desire for growth with its short-term need to curtail spending to keep a lid on property taxes.

For now, city officials agreed to keep the position and $52,800 net salary in place, with the idea that the money might be allocated for other uses once budget deliberations and debate start.

City officials find themselves debating what to do because its current economic development arrangement will come to an end at the end of May. That’s when Patrick Wright, who is both the executive director of Gardiner Main Street and the city’s part-time economic development coordinator under a contract between the city and Gardiner Main Street, is leaving both positions.

Gardiner Main Street is a nonprofit organization that’s focused on fostering economic and cultural vitality in downtown Gardiner. In hiring its next executive director. The Gardiner Main Street Board opted not to include the city contract in the requirements.

At the same time, the City Council is continuing its search for a permanent city manager. Anne Davis, director of the Gardiner Public Library has been filling in as interim city manager since March 2017, when then-City Manager Scott Morelli accepted the city manager position in South Portland.

“There’s no doubt that economic development is important to the city,” At-Large City Councilor Timothy Cusick said. “My important thing now is to hire a city manager and see where were go with that hiring.”

Cusick said he’s not certain the economic development position needs to be full-time when city elected officials are considering a proposed budget that’s more than 5 percent higher than the current year’s budget.

“I’m not sure everything in this budget is going to pass,” he said. “I really do not see adding a $50,000-something job to a budget we’re going to have to cut.”

Mayor Thom Harnett said he has taken some time in the last few weeks to visit with businesses in Gardiner, including those that have set up shop in just the last few years.

“I have come to the conclusion that we are on the right path,” Harnett said. “We are doing very important things economic development-wise, and I don’t want to see that end. These things don’t happen by accident. Businesses just don’t show up. It’s not serendipity. It’s a lot of hard work, and it’s something we need to continue.”

Wright said he’s concerned about what may happen with Gardiner businesses and others making investments in the city if city officials don’t send the message that economic development is a priority.

“I feel strongly that you can’t cut your way to prosperity,” Wright said. “You need to grow your way to prosperity.”

Council members have considered contracting out economic development work in the short term, leaving the decision of how to staff both economic development and planning functions to the next permanent city manager.

District 2 City Councilor Pat Hart urged the City Council to think creatively and perhaps contract with an organization like the Kennebec Valley Council of Governments for economic development services.

Davis said she would invite KVCOG to an upcoming council meeting to talk about its proposal for services depending on their availability.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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