As Waterville City Manager Steve Daly sees it, the city’s decision this year to rejoin the Kennebec Valley Council of Governments was a no-brainer.

The regional planning and economic development agency offers a range of services and benefits, not the least of which is a collective purchasing program for materials, including road salt, that enables member communities to qualify for better prices.

But for Daly, who worked at a regional planning agency for 14 years, there was a more critical reason for rejoining KVCOG than just to save money.

“The main reason is that Waterville is a service center for the entire region, and for us not to be at the table when discussing regional issues and regional solutions is wrong,” Daly said Thursday. “We should be part of that conversation.”

Ole Amundsen is executive director of the Fairfield-based Kennebec Valley Council of Governments. The agency for decades has offered planning, economic development and other services to more than 55 communities, from Waterville to Caratunk. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Ole Amundsen, KVCOG’s executive director, approached Daly last fall about rejoining as a member after the city dropped out some 15 years ago, when finances were tight. Daly approached the City Council with the idea, Amundsen gave a presentation last month and the council voted unanimously to rejoin.

The city is to pay about $18,000 a year in membership fees, but has received a discount as an enticement and will pay $6,821 for half of the city’s fiscal year, which ends June 3.

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Based at 17 Main St. in Fairfield, just over the Waterville line, KVCOG has 55 member municipalities in Kennebec and Somerset counties, and several in Waldo County. With six employees and a 15-member board of directors, it assists communities with transportation, environmental and other planning needs, helps them develop ordinances to deal with the fast-growing marijuana and solar industries and offers other services, such as household hazardous waste disposal.

KVCOG also has a revolving loan program through which it lends between $10,000 and $200,000 to entrepreneurs and businesses just starting up, reopening or making improvements.

“We received $670,000 of funding from the (federal) CARES Act to provide loans to businesses,” Amundsen said Wednesday. “We’ve done some very good loans, to TimberHP in Madison and the Maine Plywood plant in Bingham, which had closed in 2011. Reopening that facility was a high priority.”

Madison and Skowhegan contract with KVCOG for a town planner who attends planning board meetings, saving the towns money and providing regional expertise.

“We’re not a big enough community to have a planner on staff,” Madison Town Manager Tim Curtis said Thursday. “So we contract with KVCOG, and they help us with ordinances, with site reviews, subdivision applications or Planning Board, and they’ve just been very good to work with over the years.”

Curtis is president of the KVCOG board of directors, which is made up of officials from member communities.

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“We do the joint purchasing, especially for the salt, especially for exactly what happened this year, where it was a more reliable provider, and so we have not suffered as other towns have with our salt supplies,” Curtis said.

Skowhegan Town Manager Christine Almand, who serves as KVCOG’s treasurer, said having KVCOG Planner Joel Greenwood contracting with the town — and Chris Huck before him — has worked well and the town does not have to hire a full-time employee with added benefits.

Greenwood, she said, has experience working with multiple communities. He is working on Skowhegan’s comprehensive plan, sits on the town’s Second Bridge Committee and helps the town with household hazardous waste disposal and textile recycling.

“That’s been helping us to save a good amount of money,” Almand said.

Founded in 1967, the organization went through a merger of a planning authority and economic development district, according to Amundsen, who became executive director in January 2021.

The number of member municipalities has stayed fairly stable, with the largest now being Waterville, with a population of 15,828, and the smallest Caratunk, with 81 residents, he said.

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Member fees vary and are determined by population and municipal valuation.

Amundsen, who has a lending background, said KVCOG has issued revolving loans to a variety of businesses, including day care centers, pizza shops and hair salons. KVCOG also does grant writing, not only for the organization itself but for communities.

It serves as a fiscal agent for some, is helping to bring broadband to some towns in Waldo County and works on climate change and housing issues. It has also facilitated a recent housing conference in Waterville.

Additionally, KVCOG helps communities with resiliency planning so they are better prepared for changes, such as pandemics and floods. KVCOG works closely with the Central Maine Growth Council, based in Waterville, according to Amundsen.

“Every member of the Growth Council is also a member of KVCOG,” he said.

KVCOG has convened meetings to discuss topics ranging from river planning and business parks to transportation and housing.

“The region as a whole is where the value lies,” Amundsen said, “and where a lot of the solutions also lie.”

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