Funds for chamber job in town budget

MOUNT DESERT — The town will give the Mount Desert Chamber of Commerce $40,000 to hire someone for a marketing and publicity position if the Board of Selectmen decides Monday to keep that expenditure in next year’s municipal budget. Voters also would get a chance to weigh in at the May 3 town meeting.

The part-time, year-round position is intended to support the community’s economic development efforts.

Municipal funding for the chamber job would be in addition to the $52,000 in the proposed town budget for economic development, which includes up to $30,000 for consultant Jackie Hewitt, $20,000 for broadband Internet planning services and $2,000 for travel. The town’s summer residents association provides additional funding for Hewitt’s position.

Chamber President Lisa Parsons said the duties of the person in the proposed new position would include producing brochures, maps and other marketing materials for the town and the chamber, and working with the town’s events committee to plan, coordinate and publicize events designed to bring people to Northeast Harbor.

Parsons said Hewitt has been handling much of that, but chamber and town officials think the chamber should be doing it.

“Our small, volunteer group cannot take that on,” Parsons said of the town’s events committee, of which she also is a member. “But we really feel it’s important and want to see it continue. We definitely need a paid position.”

She said that having a paid staff member to enhance marketing and member services would add value to chamber membership and further the goal of attracting new members.

Selectman Martha Dudman said she thinks it is “logical” for the town to give the chamber “a helping hand” in creating the new position, but she doesn’t envision the town funding the position indefinitely.

Town and chamber officials have suggested that if Hewitt is relieved of events and publicity responsibilities, she can focus more on economic development issues such as expanding broadband Internet access and other initiatives aimed at attracting year-round businesses and year-round residents.

The Board of Selectmen voted 3-1 Monday to place the proposed expenditure of $52,000 for economic development on the town meeting warrant. Tom Richardson voted against it.

“I don’t think we’ve seen any evidence about what benefits we’ve gotten from this so-called economic development process,” he said.

“There’s no real evidence of any benefit to the town or the businesses of this town. We still have vacant lots uptown. We don’t have affordable housing.”

Selectman Matt Hart said it likely will be some time before economic development efforts start showing results.

“There are so many variables that are beyond anyone’s control, where something as simple as the weather can have a huge effect in a tourism-driven economy,” he said. “Unfortunately, I think we have to wait to see any sort of long-term trends. I don’t think you can draw any conclusions for at least 10 years.”

Following the selectmen’s meeting, Dudman said, “Despite what some people feel, I think we’ve made some good progress in the last few years.”

The town first retained Hewitt as economic development consultant in 2013. In the 2013-2014 fiscal year, she was paid $42,465 plus $2,951 in mileage reimbursement, with the Summer Residents Association (SRA) picking up half of the total cost of $45,416.

The total was $49,752 in 2014-2015, and again, the SRA paid half.

Over the first seven months of the current fiscal year, the town and SRA have paid Hewitt a total of $38,539.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.