WATERVILLE — The Central Maine Growth Council will be able to hire someone to focus solely on economic development in Waterville since the City Council on Tuesday voted to direct $100,000 a year, for three years, to that purpose.

Councilors also voted to give $10,000 to the Alfond Youth & Community Center’s child care program, and $15,000 to Kennebec Valley Community Action Program’s transportation service.

The virtual meeting Tuesday lasted more than three hours and the council debated at length about funding outside agencies, at times drawing criticism about the process for making such decisions.

Former City Councilor Phil Bofia criticized the council for funding certain organizations without first considering all agencies that might need help and having a formal process for doing so. At the end of the meeting, around 10 p.m., Bofia shouted at Council Chairman Erik Thomas, D-Ward 7, saying that he felt he was being restricted from speaking, though Bofia had been allowed to speak a few times.

“If you want to be a leader in this community, perhaps you should respect people,” Thomas responded.

The city years ago funded several outside agencies that approached the council annually with requests, but when times were tough, funding stopped for most organizations.

Mayor Jay Coelho has been advocating for returning to the practice of helping organizations that have been good community partners, including the Alfond Center. He approached the center recently with that idea and asked Ken Walsh, its president and CEO, to make a presentation to the council May 4. Garvan Donegan, director of planning and economic development at the Growth Council, also was on hand to present at that meeting but the council postponed voting on the funding requests.

Waterville resident Phil Bofia, lower right, is introduced into the Zoom meeting of the Waterville City Council Tuesday night. Zoom screenshot

Coelho and Thomas explained Tuesday that the city has $450,000 in unspent tax increment financing funds that could be used to help organizations. Coelho said he chose the Alfond Center, KVCAP and the Growth Council as a starting point and other agencies would be considered in the future.

“I went to partners that had a proven track record in our community,” Coelho said.

Walsh said the $10,000 the city proposed for the Alfond Center would be used for the $1 million licensed child care program, the largest in the state.

“This would all be directed toward Waterville residents,” he said.

Councilors Thomas Klepach, D-Ward 3, and Rebecca Green, D-Ward 4, said they support the program and its purpose but they were concerned there is not a fair, transparent process in place for considering funding for other organizations also. Klepach said he would go along with funding the Alfond Center but he wanted to see a more formal process developed.

Coelho said that as time goes on, the council will have a process, and he didn’t want some people to feel they were being left out.

Bofia weighed in, saying people in the community were “raising questions” with him and the council should not vote Tuesday to fund the agencies. He suggested that people wondered whether the particular agencies were selected as a “favor” or “kickback” to the mayor, Coelho, who defeated Bofia in the race for mayor this past fall.

“The process for this particular resolution is not fair — it’s not transparent,” Bofia said, saying a committee should be set up to review all agencies that should receive funding.

Coelho bristled at those suggestions, saying Bofia spent a lot of time talking about “conspiracy theories” and making unfounded claims of “nefarious” dealings.

“I find it odd that ‘people’ are always reaching out to you and not the actual councilors that represent them,” Coelho said. “I will say we have a process; we’re getting there. This was to initiate .. those other organizations that have started to reach out. We are not done.”

Coelho said he didn’t think the council should continue to kick the can down the road when it has a viable partner — the Alfond Center — with a proven track record.

The council voted 7-0 to fund the Alfond Center for one year at $10,000 from unallocated TIF funds.

After a long discussion about whether to fund a new, $100,000 position for the Central Maine Growth Council and presentations by both Donegan and Chris Gaunce, chairman of the Council’s Board of Directors, the City Council decided to fund the position for three years at $100,000 each year, with money from the downtown TIF account. As part of the vote, they said a job description for the position would be finalized by the council, with input from City Manager Steve Daly. The council also formalized its financial support for the Growth Council by voting to fund $43,500 for services.

Daly urged councilors to approve funding the new position, saying that doing so would be investing in the city’s future. The Growth Council works, it is doing very well and the funding will help it work even better, according to Daly.

“We need to invest in the energy that Waterville has right now, especially with the downtown area,” he said.

KVCAP officials said the $15,000, to be taken from the city’s unallocated TIF funds, will help purchase one or more buses for KVCAP’s transportation system. The council voted 6-0 to approve the funding, with Councilor Flavia Oliveira, D-Ward 2, abstaining as she is a member of KVCAP’s Board of Directors.

 

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