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Economic development director position goes unfunded in 2010


March 10, 2010
BERLIN — A casualty of the budget cuts proposed for 2010-2011 is the city's economic development director position, contracted through Tri-County CAP.

The position, currently filled by Norman Charest, costs the city $25,000 a year; TCCAP pays the rest of his salary.

The expense provoked criticism during the budget hearing last year, as much for the man filling the position as for the cost. Lorraine Leclerc said the $25,000 could be better spent elsewhere, considering Mr. Charest lives in Florida during the winter.

And during the election last year at least one candidate indicated he was not happy with the arrangement: "The hippie has got to go," Councilor Robert Danderson said in an interview, referring to Mr. Charest.

But no member of the council weighed in on this line item, City Manager Pat MacQueen said, TCCAP simply decided to end the arrangement, so the $25,000 isn't in next year's budget.

"It's the end of an era, of sorts," Mr. Charest said from Florida, where he will be for another month. "Unlike previous years there won't be any attempt by CAP to seek the funding."

This was not an unexpected end to the position he filled, he said, and he does not plan to lobby for an extension.

"I heard, and I knew, and in a way I contributed," he said. "Even if the offer was made I don't think I would consider it. It's been an issue for TCCAP for two or three years. It's been a financial drain right along. TCCAP was subsidizing a city position."

He was unwilling to comment on how he contributed to the elimination of the position.

The city still has a lot to do, he said, but after June 30 he will no longer be in charge of shepherding economic development. He will take his contacts and his experience with him. It is unknown if any entity will step up to fill the economic development void.

"I don't know who's going to do this work," he said. "Some of this will be left to the mayor and council."

The Berlin Industrial Development and Park Authority will have to designate someone to maintain communication with tenants at the industrial park, he said. "It's everything from leaky roofs to leaky pipes."

And the 21/21 Initiative, which the council voted to support last fall, has yet to really turn into anything.

"I'm not particularly proud or happy with what I've done with it," he said. "I expected it to be at a different place. 21/21 needs to develop a life of its own."

The initiative is intended to build a foundation for an outdoor recreation based economy in Berlin. Mr. Charest tried to start a task force to help push the initiative forward, using social media and online communication, but

"that frankly flopped," he said.

He still has hope, however, that the initiative will go somewhere.

"It's not that it has failed," he said, "it hasn't been implemented."

But he only has a few months left on his contract to implement anything, 21/21 or otherwise.

"It could very well be July first I basically disappear off the map," he said, or he may continue the work he started with 21/21. It depends on TCCAP and funding, he said.

Or he may do something with the private sector.

"I've had offers already," he said. "I've turned everything down."

He still cares about developing Berlin's economy, he said, at this critical point in the city's history. He is a lifelong resident, with a passion for the city, and he isn't content with the development happening now.

"The best we can settle for is something like 40 jobs and biomass plants in the center of town," he said. "We have so much more potential than that."

But how he'll be involved in realizing it, or if he will be at all, still remains to be determined.

"Stay tuned," he said.

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