May 20 2019

Town Meeting Approves Creation of Economic Development Director Position

By: Rich Hosford

The town of Burlington will soon have a new employee that will act as the face of government to the business community.

Town Meeting approved funds for an Economic Development Director during the second night of the Annual May Town Meeting last Wednesday. The article was put in the warrant by the Board of Selectmen at the request of Town Administrator Paul Sagarino.

According to backup material for the Town Meeting Warrant and in a video featuring Sagarino that was played during the meeting, the town’s Comprehensive Master Plan states that in order to remain a vibrant commercial hub it will need to prioritize economic development initiatives. The material says that an Economic Development Director would help meet these goals.

The roles and responsibilities of the position are not “set in stone” to allow the position to grow and adapt, according to the backup material. The person will “serve as the main point of contact for businesses, developers, property owners, and real estate professional in town.” They will also help businesses navigate their way through the town’s various processes and board necessary for approval.

Sagarino said this will make businesses be more inclined to come to town because currently there is no such help for applicants and the process can be daunting.

“We’re looking for a face of the community that when a business wants to come to town they’ll act as a quarterback and coordinate the different departments,” he said. “What we hope to provide is someone that will help them determine quickly whether or not they’d be a good fit for Burlington and navigate some of the landmines that may be out there in advance.

Sagarino also thinks having someone to tell a potential business that they will not likely get a zoning change or special permit right off the bat would be helpful to both the town and the businesses.

“Even giving a company a quick ‘no’ would be very good for our reputation rather than having somebody go through a six month process and get to the end of the road to find out it’s something the community is not interested in,” he explained.

During Town Meeting Ways & Means Chair Roger Riggs said the committee voted 7-3 to support the article. When asked he said those who dissented pointed to Burlington’s longtime growth without anyone in that position and so questioned whether it was worth the expense of hiring a full time position with benefits.

Town Meeting member Rick Parker, who is also president of the Burlington Area Chamber of Commerce, argued that having someone in this position would be a required defensive measure against area communities who are looking to attract Burlington businesses into their tax bases.

“I think the question to ask is what’s the cost of doing nothing,” he said. “All the other towns look at us and they want our commercial tax base … It’s easier to reach into another community and take away their businesses than to attract new ones to the region … We take our growth for granted and by the time it starts slipping away it is way too late. The cost of doing nothing is far too drastic.”

 

Another person who spoke in favor of the position was Planning Director Kristin Kassner who was asked by a Town Meeting member to share her thoughts since the duties of the Economic Development Director would potentially overlap with her work.

 

She said looking at the workload often before her department and the Planning Board, which often has meetings that run to after midnight, she believes someone who could help smooth the process for new applicants and give them guidance would be good for all parties involved.

 

“We must bring someone in to navigate through the different boards,” she said. “They will help us get to where we need to be to sustain our tax base. I see this as a critical role moving forward. We need to have someone to work with our existing property owners and new companies coming in.”

 

She added that she thought someone in this position could help the smaller businesses with a lot of growth potential to first locate and then stay in town, a goal of town leaders.

 

“We want to be the place where if you are a company of three people and want to become 15 people you can come here and then if you want to grow to 100 people you can stay here.”

 

Town Meeting passed the warrant article with a clear majority. The warrant included $85,000 for salary but Sagarino said the range for salary at that step for a town employee is between $80,000 to $104,000 and will depend on relative background and experience. If more than $85,000 is negotiated that will likely be reflected in the FY2021 operating budget. However, he said he doesn’t think that will be an issue this year because it is unlikely they’ll hire someone before the start of the fiscal year and so the person will start with a “partial year.”


 

 
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