BARRE — Barre Area Development Corp. wants its money back.
In the wake of a weekend workshop during which city councilors tentatively agreed to trim $10,000 from the city’s annual appropriation to the local economic development agency, a group of BADC board members and supporters urged them to rethink that decision.
Sarah Field, the local lawyer who serves as president of the BADC board, described the proposed 20 percent reduction in the city’s $51,744 appropriation as a “big surprise” given the “outpouring of support” recently expressed for BADC’s “Rock Solid” marketing initiative.
“We are very disappointed that our budget was cut,” said Field, who has been a regular at council meetings in recent weeks.
It took three tries, but Field and other BADC boosters were finally able to persuade the council to bypass the petition process and unilaterally warn the organization’s separate request for $40,000 funding for the “Rock Solid” initiative last week. On Tuesday, Field was back asking councilors to think twice about a budget reduction her board didn’t see coming and feared could hamper its ability to recruit a new executive director.
“We would like that $10,000 back,” Field said, noting the cut didn’t amount to much in the context of a $13.1 million municipal spending plan that must be finalized next week, but was a significant reduction for an organization with an operating budget of just under $100,000.
“Our $10,000 is not going to make or break the taxpayers,” she said.
Field said it sent the wrong signal to applicants for the executive director’s position now held by Joel Schwartz and could discourage a promising out-of-state applicant who is now under consideration.
“I’m not so sure we can attract a qualified candidate if we don’t have the support of our communities,” she said, of an organization that is jointly funded by Barre and Barre Town.
Optics aside, Field said the stated justification for the proposed reduction – that BADC spends more of its time promoting economic development in the town than it does in the city was both inaccurate and irrelevant.
According to Field, the reverse was actually true last year, though she acknowledged quantifying BADC’s efforts was tricky because it didn’t think of it didn’t view the city and the town as competing constituencies.
“The whole point of this undertaking is that we are one ‘Barre,’” she said. “We’re not just the city and the town, we’re economically linked and there’s collateral benefits for all of our activities.”
Field argued the same can’t be said for many other organizations that request and receive taxpayer funding.
“We’re the one organization that’s actually trying to raise funds and trying to generate income for the city rather than just spend the money we’re given for our own good,” she said.
Councilors also heard briefly from restaurateur Keith Paxman, retired Judge Stephen B. Martin, and Planning Commissioner David Sichel.
Paxman said assistance provided by BADC led to his decision to open the Cornerstone Pub & Kitchen in the Aldrich Block seven years ago.
Martin, who joined the BADC board in 1961, defending the organization’s track record promoting economic development in the city and the town while echoing Field’s assertion it is blind to the boundary separating the two communities.
“We look at the city and town as one,” he said, suggesting in order to remain effective BADC required the “sustained support” of both communities.
Sichel, a Beacon Street resident, urged councilors to consider the annual investment in the context of the greater Barre area.
“The success of the communities together are relying on each other,” he said, adding: “This is an investment, over time, that has the potential to pay back many times.”
Councilors offered no hint they were inclined to restore funding that was cut during Saturday’s workshop, but Mayor Lucas Herring invited Field and other BADC supporters to attend next Tuesday’s meeting when the budget figure must be finalized and the Town Meeting Day warning approved.
You can watch the city council meeting at http://www.cvtv723.org/