BARRE TOWN — Town officials agree to put “Rock Solid” on the ballot for the town’s annual vote in May.
At its regular meeting Tuesday night, the Select Board heard from board members of Barre Area Development Corp. about its “Rock Solid” rebranding effort. The initiative is aimed at attracting new families, businesses and visitors to the city and town.
Board members from BADC were at Tuesday’s meeting to see if the Select Board would include a $40,000 ballot item for its upcoming budget for the effort. The plan is for the marketing initiative to have an annual budget for $200,000 for the next five years, with $40,000 each coming from the town and city. The remaining funds would be raised through private fundraising.
The city decided against putting the $40,000 on the ballot for the annual vote in March, instead telling BADC it would need to collect the signatures needed to put a funding request on the ballot.
BADC President Sarah Field told the Barre Town board there was some confusion about that decision. She said the city wholeheartedly supports the effort, but wanted the corporation to collect the signatures.
“It’s caused a little bit of a problem for us because in collecting signatures, we’ve heard comments ‘Well why should we sign this? The city doesn’t support it.’ So I just want to make it abundantly clear the city does support it,” Field said.
Board member Jack Mitchell asked if it was wise to spend money on a marketing effort when neighboring municipalities such as Montpelier and Berlin are looking to attract the same people.
“Is that realistic, to have all of this money floating around by everybody?” Mitchell asked.
BADC board member Robert Hutchins said that should make things easier. Hutchins said the whole area would be growing simultaneously.
He pointed to Waterbury, saying that town has seen significant growth since it was devastated by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, and Mitchell agreed.
“There’s no reason this area can’t do the same. If we can find that niche and the direction to go through our strategic plan, there’s no reason we can’t be the next Waterbury or better,” Hutchins said.
He said the corporation is trying to do something “outside of the box,” and do something different to really make a difference.
Board member Norma Malone wanted to know if the corporation isn’t able to raise the funds it needs for the effort, will the corporation pull funds from its assets to make up the difference? Hutchins said the corporation is already planning to pull funds from its assets to pay for the effort until July, when the new fiscal year starts. He said the $200,000 per year isn’t “locked in stone,” and could change as the corporation sees what’s working and what isn’t, and will shift accordingly.
Board chairman Tom White said he thought the marketing campaign was a good idea, but he supported the corporation getting signatures to put the $40,000 request on the ballot.
“One of the biggest hurdles on this is going to be education. You’ve mentioned it numerous times. Getting the community behind it. Getting the community aware of it and then ultimately getting their support at the polls, because it will be their money going towards this, along with the private donors, to support it,” White said.
He said this isn’t just a print advertisement or a radio advertisement campaign. He said it’s more complex than that, with plans to get Barre to pop up in online searches and social media. He said the website the corporation created — www.barrerocksolid.com — needs to be constantly updated because the information can become stale relatively quickly.
Board member Bob Nelson said he would support putting the funding request on the ballot without a petition. Nelson said he’d like to see the corporation spend its time on the marketing effort instead of going door-to-door looking for signatures.
Mitchell agreed, saying the town-wide vote would be a good barometer to see how residents feel about the marketing effort. White said the same could be said for collecting signatures.
Malone said she has mixed feelings about the petition process.
“You’re being asked to go out and get at least 600 signatures when we have voter turnout that if we can get it over 300 people in May (for the annual vote) we’re lucky,” she said.
She said instead of getting signatures, it might be a better idea to use that energy to increase voter turnout.
The board voted 4-1 to approve putting the item on the ballot, with White voting against.
To watch the meeting, go to https://bit.ly/BarreTownSelect.