It’s an idea whose time may not yet have come.
That was the consensus of Derry Town Council members to a proposal by Acting Town Administrator Larry Budreau to hire a Community Development Coordinator. While the Council took no formal vote on Budreau’s proposal, the general sense was that other pieces need to be in place first.
Budreau has included the position, at an estimated total of $112,000 including salary, benefits, subscriptions and supplies, in his proposed 2015 budget.
Council Chair Mark Osborne asked for the proposal to be included on the April 15 agenda, reasoning, “At some time that is going to come before us in the budget meetings. We may not have time then to have a substantial discussion. It’s a ‘Hatfield and McCoy’ issue.”
In a written statement, Budreau explained his perceived need for the position. Derry’s rate of commercial/ industrial valuation is lower than other towns of the same size, in some cases “dramatically,” he wrote. While the factors leading to the lack of commercial and industrial development go back years, the assessed valuation results in the highest tax rate in the state, and that’s a topic for now, according to Budreau.
Budreau reminded Councilors of their unanimous vote on their goals, taken Jan. 28, 2014. One of those goals is “creating a supportive environment for downtown redevelopment.”
He also reminded them and the television audience of steps Derry has taken in the past. Derry has not been blind to the need for focused attention on economic development and has tried several things, including: a Derry Economic Development Corporation; temporarily adding Economic Development to Planning Director George Sioras’s job; hiring Business Development Coordinator Elizabeth Thompson, who was not able to finish her term because of illness; and contracting with, respectively, the Arnett Development Group and George Kassas. Those efforts have all been tried during the 9 1/2 years he’s been with the town, Budreau said.
Budreau maintained that the town needs “focused attention” and a staff person dedicated to development. In particular, he wrote, there is a need to market Derry; identify, evaluate and address action that will make the town more attractive; and participate in regional and statewide planning.
“Things don’t get done,” Budreau wrote, “unless someone does them.”
Councilor Thomas Cardon said of the statement, “The first time I read it, I thought, ‘been there, done that.’” But, he added, “I concur with Larry that we should be doing something.
“I am not opposed to putting money in the budget for this position,” Cardon said. “But I think the person should report not to the Town Administrator he or she should be part of the Planning Department.”
Cardon also pressed for more talk among the stakeholders before a position is established and someone hired. “We need to have all of us sit down with the key players in economic development and have a workshop,” he said.
Councilor David Fischer observed, “I believe we should hold off on any expenditure I don’t think it’s fiscally responsible right now. If we do decide to move forward, it should be after we hire a Town Administrator.”
Councilor Michael Fairbanks is in favor of having an action plan, before Exit 4A of Interstate 4 comes in “and we’re left in the dust of Londonderry. We need to make Derry a place where businesses want to come.” But he advocated for a better plan before hiring anyone.
Exit 4A has been proposed for years but is not funded by the state.
Councilor Al Dimmock agreed with Cardon about the workshop. “We need to have a discussion about his or her salary, about what we can afford,” he said. “The money we’ve spent in the past hasn’t brought us anything. And this is something the new Town Administrator should be involved with. I’m not opposed to hiring someone, but I think we should have a meeting first.”
Councilor Phyllis Katsakiores agreed the town should wait until there’s a new Administrator. “Right now we’re not ‘selling’ Derry,” she said. “We have so much to offer.”
Osborne listed his own questions, saying, “My concerns are, looking at the document, have we ‘seen this movie’ before?” And if the town is courting bigger companies and national firms, is it right to do that before the infrastructure is in place?
Budreau reminded the Council that in budgeting the money, he intended to have it as a “placeholder.” “When the Administrator is in place, it’s appropriate for them to make the selection,” he said.
The Council took no formal action on the proposal. Fischer said, “I strongly believe now is not the time.”
But there will be a time, Fairbanks and Katsakiores agreed, with Fairbanks reiterating, “If we don’t do something, we’ll be left in the dust.”