Laying groundwork for the town's future

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BELLOWS FALLS — Town Manager Wendy Harrison and Finance Director Shannon Burbela urged the Rockingham Select Board last week to make the development director's position full time.

The position is currently held by Gary Fox of Bellows Falls, who has held the part-time position for about a year and a half.

Burbela said increasing the position to full time would increase the budget by $30,000, but she said that increase would be off set by the town's ability to bill for Fox's services and her's under various grant programs.

The bottom line, Burbela said, would be a financial "wash," if not an overall financial benefit to the town.

"I'm not saying it will pay for itself," Burbela said.

Fox was not at last Tuesday night's meeting.

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Harrison said she would prepare a cost-benefit analysis to make her case for the full-time position.

Harrison said having a full-time development director is key to laying the groundwork for the town's future, and continuing Fox's efforts applying for various grants to help develop the town's economic base.

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Harrison said the town had received word that it hadn't received a grant it had applied for toward the redevelopment of the so-called TLR building, one of the town's oldest paper mill buildings that is in need of an ambitious rehabilitation. The mill is owned by the town.

But, she said, state officials encouraged the town to reapply for the grant. She noted that one of the successful grant applicants had only won after applying four times.

Harrison said the value of having a full-time development person is long term.

"He's setting the stage. He really needs to be full time," she said. "There's a lot to do."

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Board Chairman Peter Golec questioned why Rockingham needs a full-time director, and he asked why the town couldn't rely more on the Brattleboro Area Development Credit Corp., the regional development group. He said the town of Springfield, for instance, relies on its regional development group rather than having its own development person. The town of Springfield contributes annually to the Springfield Regional Development Corp.'s annual budget.

BDCC was credited with helping Rockingham on the various grants that were used to demolish and clean up Robertson Paper Mill in downtown Bellows Falls, as well as the large expansion at Chroma.Technology Corp., which is in Rockingham.

Harrison said the town had a good working relationship with BDCC, and that she had recently joined the board of SeVEDS, an affiliate of the Brattleboro group.

The discussion about the development director's post came as the board is starting its annual budget review sessions. The board has been meeting with department heads for the past couple of meetings to go over their proposed budgets and requests.

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