For about the last three years, the Joint Economic Development Committee has been charged with recommending a strategy for the region, member Tom Woodin said at the Oct. 2 JEDC meeting. Woodin cited Green Tree and its work with Harbor Lights, Camoin Associates and the economic master plan, and the various groups and outside discussions on initiatives for housing, wayfinding, broadband, hiring economic developers, and fixing school issues.
“It's going to become more and more difficult I think for the towns to contribute money to this if we don't have a clear focus on what the JEDC is doing,” Woodin said. “I honestly think Camoin has already produced what we were asked to do, now it's in the hands of the select boards and others to implement those …”
Interest in the JEDC has decreased with the one remaining co-chair, Wendy Wolf, likely the only reason the group is still meeting, Woodin said. He recommended if the JEDC has nothing specific to be meeting about, perhaps it should not meeting at all. "To me, those are all signs of something in its decline. These other groups need to stand on their own at some point and make their own case and ask for their own funding.”
Members agreed the shared concern is keeping Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor working together. Member Jon Dunsford suggested more of an annual coming together between people of both towns to hash out priorities their boards can collaborate on.
Said member Dawn Gilbert, “I think if we fall apart, here, Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor – we won't get that group working together. I don't know if we need this money doing all this stuff, but I think it's good that we have this committee.”
Woodin said the divisiveness between communities is not likely as bad as some say since the towns’ managers, boards and mutual employees work together well. He said the memorandum which helped bring the two towns closer together was very much symbolic because the towns had already been working closely in several aspects.
The next JEDC meeting will hinge on Boothbay’s ability to identify someone willing to approach the helm, Wolf said to member and Boothbay Town Manager Dan Bryer.
“That's just part of the responsibility, I will let you intersect with your members from Boothbay to figure out who that's going to be and I will be very delighted to have them draw up the next agenda and run the meeting which I think would be very helpful.”
For several months, the Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission has been looking at towns' needs from one end of the county to the other, said LCRPC Economic and Community Development Director Mary Ellen Barnes.
“Damariscotta wants to maintain and improve the small town character … support more flexibility for new or renovated housing … Edgecomb – encourage and promote adequate workforce housing. Somerville – encourage and promote adequate workforce housing.”
Barnes said if it sounds like there's a consistency in the wants and needs, it's because it is a shared concern and priority throughout, despite the vast differences between the peninsulas and the inland towns.
As Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor mull seeking a regional housing stock, Barnes said the LCRPC may be interested in launching a county-wide housing assessment, broader in scope, as it also looks at the market's demand.
Wolf asked if the assessment would give the towns the information they need to take steps toward better housing. Barnes said the consultants she spoke with said, if an assessment were done, it could be broken up into regions, but they would still strongly suggest the Boothbay region move forward with a separate four-town housing stock assessment of its own.
As part of the housing committee's efforts on affordable housing, the planning boards of Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor have been asked to review their ordinances. Bryer said his town is midstream in that and hopes to be through by May.
Broadband, also a regional priority in the works, has caught the attention of Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library's Joanna Breen and Desiree Scorcia, said Bryer.
Efforts began with Boothbay Selectman Kristina Ford and a $15,000 grant for broadband research from Maine Community Foundation. Ford, who did not attend the JEDC meeting, previously said there are no matching fund requirements, but additional funds from each town may help secure that grant. JEDC members toyed with the idea of each town offering $5,000 toward funding a broadband committee to begin research.
Woodin said that with only one Boothbay Harbor select board meeting coming before the grant’s Oct. 15 deadline, the JEDC needs to draft a proposal and present it before the board. Though Boothbay Harbor has previously been generous with matching funds, said Woodin, they have always received a presentation that spells out what exactly they have to benefit from a venture.
Said Woodin, "Who's going to make that case? … It's going to be hard between now and Tuesday to get that explained and convinced. It's a concern I have."
Wolf said members also have to consider that if both towns sign off on putting $5,000 toward obtaining the grant, it will be a total of $10,000 out of the JEDC's budget. With $19,000 committed to Boothbay Lights and some towards housing, Wolf said it does not leave much spending room for the staffing support members would like to see the towns pitch in to LCRPC for economic development.
Member Steve Malcom’s motion helped reach a consensus. He moved that the JEDC provisionally provide up to $10,000, that is up to $5,000 from each town, toward broadband study. Member Andy Hamblett seconded the motion. It passed.