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Groton RTM may create economic development corporation

By Deborah Straszheim

Publication: The Day

Published December 12. 2013 4:00AM
Town, city would not control agency

Groton - A member of the Representative Town Meeting on Wednesday proposed creating an economic development corporation - out of the control of the mayors of the town and city as well as the town manager - that would report directly to the RTM.

The proposed agency would cover all four corners of Groton, including the city, and would be similar to independent agencies established in Norwich and New London.

RTM member John Scott said he proposed the agency because he believes the city and town have failed to present a unified economic development front while two of the community's largest employers, Pfizer and Electric Boat, are knocking down buildings.

Scott said the community must work as one entity to promote growth.

"It's embarrassing that we can't seem to do that," he said.

A motion made Wednesday to bypass the committee evaluation process and discuss the proposal immediately, which required a two-thirds majority, failed. The RTM referred the proposal to its community development committee.

The RTM reviews the actions of the Town Council, has the power to propose local ordinances and approves the annual budget.

Town Clerk Betsy Moukawsher said Scott's proposal uses the "power of initiative," a charter provision that allows the RTM to suggest ordinances and resolutions to the Town Council. It requires a majority of the RTM's total membership to pass, or 22 people in favor. The RTM has 41 members.

If the measure is approved by the RTM, the Town Council would have 45 days to act from the time it receives the resolution. If the council then failed to act, the resolution would go to referendum within 90 days.

If the council passed the legislation, it would become law, Moukawsher said.

Power of initiative is rarely used. Moukawsher said she believes it was tried once in 2006 and failed.

The matter of economic development came to a head last month, when the town's planning and zoning personnel made a presentation to the RTM and were grilled about the loss of Pfizer's former research headquarters on Eastern Point Road.

Scott, who owns Bailey Agencies Insurance on Thames Street, said the building he rents space in has 2½ empty floors. He said he also often runs in the morning through the Mystic Oral School property, an economic development opportunity "that just seems to get forgotten about."

"The system itself is broken," he said. "We have an 'us versus them' mentality in terms of the economic development in town. It's very difficult to accomplish anything."

The proposal seeks $100,000 to be transferred to an agency that would be called "Groton Representative Town Meeting Economic Development Corporation" and asks that funding for the corporation be included in the 2014-15 budget.

Scott estimated the agency would need a budget of about $750,000, including $300,000 for a director and two assistants, plus benefits; $100,000 for office expenses including rent, utilities and supplies; $100,000 for research; and $200,000 for marketing.

Some money could come from the Town of Groton Office of Planning and Development Services, according to the proposal. The corporation would be located in a private office not affiliated with any town or city government agency.

The agency would be managed by a board of directors made up only of RTM members, including one from each voting district.

Lian Obrey, chairwoman of the town's Economic Development Commission, said Wednesday she believes the RTM should explore the idea and that it's needed.

"We were designated as a distressed town (by the state), and I don't think we've addressed that," she said "We continue to lose jobs."

She said she also likes the "fairness" of the approach, in that it includes all areas of town.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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