GARDINER — While city officials move ahead to find someone for the economic development role in Gardiner, it’s not clear yet how it will be filled beyond this year.

On Wednesday, the Gardiner City Council voted 5-1, with two members absent, to authorize City Manager Christine Landes to advertise and fill the economic development position, which was funded for part of the year when councilors approved the budget in June.

For the last several years, the role has been filled by the former executive director of Gardiner Main Street, with whom the city contracted for those services on a part-time basis. In many ways, the duties of the two positions complemented each other and overlapped.

When Patrick Wright announced earlier this year that he would be leaving both positions, Gardiner Main Street opted not to continue the arrangement.

“The issue in front of us today is about funding the position that’s already budgeted for the rest of this fiscal year,” Mayor Thom Harnett said Wednesday.

“The longer-range issue will have to be discussed when you take up the next fiscal year’s budget. We’ve hired a city manager after a lengthy search, which has probably exacerbated the problem that we have in front of us,” he added. “What we are being asked and what she has proposed is for us to fund this as we agreed to. I, for one, want her to make her best professional decision as manager for the remainder of the fiscal year, knowing full well this will come back to you in the next fiscal year.”

Weighing in on the side of a having a staff position are business people who work in Gardiner.

Dennis Wheelock, a real estate broker with Magnusson Balfour, who is currently marketing properties for the city at the Libby Hill Business Park, said it’s vital to have someone in that position.

“You’ve already funded it,” he said. “I would urge you to fill it.”

Peter Prescott, the chief executive officer of E.J. Prescott, said he feels strongly that Gardiner should consider a full-time economic development director.

One of the largest privately owned U.S. distributors of waterworks products, E.J. Prescott was founded in Gardiner and has its headquarters in the Libby Hill Business Park.

“I feel very strongly about an economic development director,” Prescott said. “I am only going by watching what has been happening in the last few years. In my mind, we’ve really come a long way.

“When you are running a business and trying to get employees, every little bit counts of the services the city would have and the things they would do,” he added. “For years, in my mind, we didn’t go too far; and then all of a sudden, we started getting involved in doing things and getting a lot of volunteers.”

They were joined by Anne Davis as vice president of the Gardiner Board of Trade, and Sue Crawford, former chairwoman of the city’s Economic Development Committee.

Crawford said while she was on the committee, she saw continued growth and activity.

“My concern is that we’re losing opportunities,” she said.

Not all councilors agree that the position — which also includes planning functions — ought to be full-time.

In the next fiscal year, At-large Councilor Timothy Cusick said, a shortfall is expected in the city’s budget.

There’s no doubt the city needs someone in that capacity, he said, but he’s not in favor of adding a full-time employee, particularly since the city fared so well for several years with part-time contractor, who was able to bring a lot of business to Gardiner.

“Looking at the potential shortfall of next year’s budget, I’m not sure I’m comfortable funding $65,000,” Cusick said. “We have to sharpen our pencils to make this next budget cycle work.”

For a partial year, the City Council funded about $45,500. The salary for a full year is about $65,000.

Balancing that, At-large City Councilor Jon Ault said he was concerned that a part-time position could lead to burnout for the person doing the job.

District 2 City Council Patricia Hart said she wants the city to explore creative solutions for doing the work outlined.

“I see how critical economic development is,” Hart said. “I did not vote for an employee when we voted for the budget. If this goes forward, it will be a different situation, because this will be a person and not a position.”

Landes, who started as city manager in August, said the position was funded as an employee with benefits. The position description also includes planning and other duties.

In drafting the proposed motion, Landes has included a provision that the position would continue beyond the current fiscal year, but Harnett said the City Council cannot bind a future council with a vote like that.

At the vote on a motion to fill the position for the balance of this year, Hart was the only councilor to vote against the proposal. At-large Councilor Maryann White and District 3 Councilor Shawn Dolley did not attend the meeting.

At the close of the meeting, Hart said she was disappointed that she had to vote against something and send the wrong signal to those watching the meeting on the internet.

“We were creative before, and wow, what results we got,” she said. “When we had full-time employees doing this, that wasn’t the magic.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ


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