BAR HARBOR — The Hub of Bar Harbor is hoping to hire an executive director next year to coordinate their efforts on behalf of downtown development. Hub economic development committee chair Ruth Eveland presented a request to the Bar Harbor Town Council at their Oct. 20 meeting for funding to support the new position. The council took no action on the request, and Eveland offered to return with more information in December.
“We’re here early on in your budget process, before your budget process has formally begun, to ask that you put a placeholder in for the Hub,” she said. “We are asking for a $30,000 allocation, and the idea is that the Hub would match that 2 to 1 through business donations and community support. It is our plan not to need to increase the town’s allocation. If it needs to grow beyond that, we’ll find other ways of making it grow. But we do need a significant contribution from the town to get this thing up and running.”
Rockland and other communities have been successful using this model, she said.
“I know it’s new money. I know it’s $30,000. I fully appreciate all of that, having been in your shoes.”
The money would come from property taxes.
The town donated $1,500 to the Hub in each of the last two fiscal years. The town also has supported the group’s work with staff time. Planning Director Robert Osborne and Code Enforcement Officer Angela Chamberlain are active on Hub committees.
Councilor Anne Greenlee asked about the group’s reasons for seeking a staff person for the Hub rather than placing an economic development position with the town or the chamber.
Eveland pointed out that two years ago, as the new town planner position was being created, a decision was made to focus on the planning function rather than economic development, special projects or other tasks. “The economic development part of it was not included,” she said.
One difference between the Hub and the Chamber of Commerce is that the Hub is focused on the downtown area, while the Chamber is responsible for the whole town. Eveland distinguished between business development and economic development.
“There are underpinnings that the Hub can work to support, like fiber network and housing,” she said. “The chamber has been involved in the Hub, but the work is differently focused.”
Residents of rural districts, Councilor David Bowden said, already feel they shoulder costs of town activities focused on the downtown that don’t benefit them as directly. “We up-island are paying for a lot of things in town, not that a vibrant town isn’t beneficial to everybody. I think this is a great concept, I would just really like to see some other entity other than tax dollars to fund this,” he said.
Councilor Gary Friedmann said he thinks the town needs an economic development plan. “The Hub is the main thing going right now for that,” he said. He’s concerned, he said, about vacant buildings in town and not many building permits indicating new residential or business development.
“We have not seen the kind of growth in our tax base that Mount Desert has, and if we don’t do something, we’re going to be looking at major tax increases. We’re building in tax increases for the future if we don’t have economic development.”