Orange seeks development director to boost economic growth

  • The Orange Selectboard has decided to pursue hiring a community development director to bring grant money to town and focus on economic development. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 8/12/2019 10:50:11 PM

ORANGE — For years, Orange has faced near-stagnant economic growth. Since 2012, costs have increased by about $605,000 per year on average, while revenues have only increased by about $231,252 per year in the same time frame.

“You face an existential threat,” Selectman Bill Wrigley told voters at the June 17 Annual Town Meeting.

Since that meeting, a tax override intended to close a half-million-dollar budgetary gap was shot down by voters — 295 in favor, 676 opposed — nullifying the town’s $21 million operating budget. A back-up budget including cuts is coming this fall, and Finance Committee Chairman Keith LaRiviere said he anticipates starting next year’s budgeting cycle “in a hole.”

However, town officials are not idling when it comes to finding ways to increase economic growth in town. At last week’s Selectboard meeting, the decision was made to pursue hiring a community development director, someone to bring grant money to town and focus on economic development, particularly in the downtown area — someone whose time is devoted to increasing the town’s revenues.

“We have almost no chance if we don’t get a community development director in place to attempt to pursue what is the most structural impediment you’re facing here,” Wrigley began, “which is revenue shortfall, an undiversified and unexpanded tax base that can’t generate new growth revenue of $100,000.”

There was some discussion among residents at Annual Town Meeting about hiring a full-time community development director. According to Selectboard Chairman Ryan Mailloux, the town administrator position and treasurer position were combined, with Gabriele Voelker taking on both roles and receiving an additional $20,000 per year for her salary.

The savings from combining positions and not hiring a full-time treasurer can go toward hiring a full-time community development director, Mailloux said. Ultimately, voters approved a $70,000 yearly salary for a community development director to be hired.

“We’ll see increased revenues and taxes over the next few years, which will help us be in a better position,” Mailloux said of the community development director position.

On Wednesday, the Selectboard voted to allow Voelker to form a working group to vet candidates for community development director. Final candidates will be presented to the Selectboard — which handles hiring — much like the recent process in hiring a police chief.

Voelker expressed a sense of urgency to the Selectboard, and said the job would be posted with the Massachusetts Municipal Association to find a qualified candidate for $65,000 to $70,000 per year — with $70,000 being the cap because of the Town Meeting vote.

“We need boots on the ground and we need someone aggressively going after things to develop us,” Voelker said. “We need development desperately.”

Along with grant writing and pursuing downtown development opportunities, the community development director will be expected to attend Economic Development and Industrial Corporation meetings and work closely with the group to attract commercial and industrial ventures to town to create jobs and increase revenues.

Mailloux said, in light of the override failure, it is especially important to hire a community development director. Lacking the position would only contribute to economic stagnation, he said.

“I think this is vital to the community’s success,” Mailloux said. “Every citizen who I’ve spoken with in regards to the override, their concern is, ‘Why are we here?’”

Reach David McLellan at dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.




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