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Board discusses economic development
RUMFORD -- Tasks such as pursuing a brand-name hotel, filling up the business park and promoting the town to tourists highlighted a discussion by the Board of Selectmen about economic development on Aug. 2.
Selectman Jeremy Volkernick, who requested that this discussion be a part of the agenda, noted, ""Not only I, but the rest of the board members and the community, we all want to see economic development come to our area, our region."
He also suggested a meeting with business owners to discuss "what we can do to help our local businesses out."
Board Chairman Greg Buccina said the town needs a brand-name hotel to jump-start economic development. "We all know that in the last couple of years that we've been kind of hanging onto hopes of getting a hotel here."
The board invested in a hotel study, which determined the need for additional lodging and suggested how to pursue landing a Best Western or Comfort Inn, for example. A developer was found to provide a hotel, but that deal fell through recently.
"I think we should aggressively pursue getting a hotel here. If we're going to look at turning this area into focusing more on tourism, we need people to come here to stay, and the way to do that is to have a good, functioning hotel," said Buccina.
He said he believes the board should pursue a hotel that will be sustainable for decades.
Jim Rinaldo, Rumford's economic developer, said it's not that simple. "First of all, we have to find a developer that's willing to put $3 million, $4 million, or $5 million into a hotel. It's just a tough, tough thing to sell."
He said that even though the first project fell through, the committee is still pursuing developers. "The biggest thing is...the latest population figure is 5,800 people for the town of Rumford and they look at that and say, 'What do people want to come to Rumford for?'"
Rinaldo said that's why groups are trying to create tourist attractions, like a mountain bike trail system and zip lines. "We want people to come here and participate in some type of activity that has them stay overnight, so that while they are here, they will eat at our restaurants and shop at our stores, unlike what happened at Black Mountain this past winter."
He was referring to the U.S. Cross-Country Skiing Championships in January that Black Mountain hosted for the second year in a row.
Due to Rumford's lack of significant lodging facilities, Rinaldo said most of the people went to Bethel, Wilton and Farmington.
"There was an article in the paper from Farmington and Wilton that they wanted to thank Rumford for all the business we sent them. I think that was a slap in the face," he noted.
As for helping local businesses, Rinaldo said they are "very close" to getting natural gas in Rumford to help with heating needs.
Resident Kevin Saisi said Rumford needs to build on what it has -- eight places in which to stay and many different resources. He suggested they start promoting the area. "We have a lot of people coming here, but not a lot to offer downtown."
Selectman Jolene Lovejoy suggested shopping locally to grow development.
Selectman Brad Adley wants more money invested in attracting businesses.
"Youth, diversity and culture is what we need," said Buccina.
"We are up against everything in this state when it comes to attracting businesses and they have full-time economic developers," said Selectman Jeff Sterling. "Thank God Jim (Rinaldo) is here and Phil (Blampied) for what he does."
Blampied, who chairs the Economic Development Committee, said Rumford needs to aggressively try to fill up its business park, for which the board recently created a new tax-increment financing district.
"The clock is ticking on the TIF district there, tick, tick, tick," he said.
In other business, rather than transfer $1.580,240 in designated fund balances from 22 municipal accounts into the general fund, selectmen decided to leave them where they are.
Town Manager Carlo Puiia told selectmen the monies have been appropriated over the years, but not spent. "Again, these are designated, so they must be used for these specific purposes."
He said Rumford's auditors have recommended that "it would be very wise" to carry the amounts forward. "It keeps us in a healthy financial position and it allows some of them, for example, bituminous surfacing, to remain for a number of years and let that accumulate until we can do a re-top, rather than do it in patches."
The accounts and amounts are:
* Economic Development, $67,863.68.
* Economic Development -- Performing Arts, $1,245.50.
* Municipal Building -- Capital Improvements, $20,000.
* Tax Assessor -- Revaluation, $30,000.
* Sealer of Weights and Measures, $679.50.
* Police Department -- Maintenance and Repairs -- Radios, $1,400.
* Police Dept. -- Byrne Jag Grant, $5,399.66.
* Public Works -- Bituminous Surfacing, $466,564.71.
* Permanent Roads -- $221,196.06.
* State Aid Road Construction -- $260,749.99.
* Public Works -- Sidewalk Repairs, $56,451.34.
* Public Works -- Bridges, $150,861.76.
* Building Demolition, $27,488.18.
* Puiia Business Park, $36,772.90.
* Equipment Maintenance, $49,484.92.
* Municipal Planning -- Industrial, $2,200.
* Municipal Planning -- Comprehensive Plan, $4,163.16.
* Library -- $15,579.82.
* Debt Service -- Pension Bond, $75,000.
* Debt Service -- Pension Bond, $18,167.50.
* Capital Improvements -- Parks, $10,015.21.
* Cable TV Franchise -- $58,964.40.
Selectman Jolene Lovejoy asked Puiia if the cable TV franchise amount was designated for a new sound system for Rumford Falls Auditorium where selectmen's meetings are held.
Puiia said it is.
Answering a question from Selectman Jeff Sterling, Puiia said money from the Economic Development account can be used to make improvements at the Puiia Business Park should someone want to put a business there.
After selectmen sought more clarification from Puiia, they voted unanimously to carry over all of the amounts.