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North Stonington — An Economic Development Commission proposal to hire a part-time specialist went over smoothly with the Board of Selectmen Tuesday night, while another piece of the town's planning budgets yielded some tension.
The $41,000 EDC budget proposal — an sharp increase from this year's $6,200 budget — would be comprised largely of the expenses associated with an economic development specialist. EDC Chairman Brett Mastroianni said he has spoken with other towns in the region to come up with an estimate of about $34,500.
The EDC has great ideas, Mastroianni said, but cannot implement them without another staff member.
"We can only do so much as a volunteer board," Mastroianni said. "We need that person to take our ideas and run with them and create that positive business environment for the town."
Selectman Mark Donahue asked which initiatives specifically would be accomplished in the next year with an additional staff member on board, while Selectman Bob Testa asked if the commission had come up with a way to gauge the employee's performance.
Mastroianni said the job performance would be difficult to evaluate, given that it is a new position — one that would involve laying a lot of groundwork in the first year without bringing in a tangible business presence overnight.
"It's an ongoing process. It's a really a difficult thing to come up with that benchmark," he said. "It's one of those things where you gotta feel it out a little bit, and you have to know you're better off six months from now than the day you started."
He added that the board would come up with guidelines for some kind of benchmark. But the position is more about anticipating an upswing in the region's economic climate, he said.
"The time is now to get prepared and get ready," Mastroianni said.
The budget line item that presented more of a sticking point was about a $6,000 raise for Town Planner and Zoning Enforcement Officer Juliet Leeming, who works with the Planning and Zoning, Economic Development and Affordable Housing commissions, and wrote the most recent Plan of Conservation and Development.
Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Louis Steinbrecher said commission members discussed proposing the raise "at length," citing the work Leeming has done both in her paid position and in collaboration with the volunteer committees.
Leeming has held the job for five years and first asked for a raise a year ago. Her salary is about $53,000 now.
But First Selectman Nicholas Mullane cautioned that in order to consider a raise, the new Town Hall employee union contract — which applies to eight other employees — would have to be reopened.
"If we had done this when we requested it a year ago, then it wouldn't be an issue right now," Steinbrecher said, later adding that he is "tired of being penny-wise and pound-foolish."
While not rejecting the raise outright, Mullane closed his comments implying that there may be some hoops to jump through in order to add it to the budget.
"I'm just identifying that the selectmen have an issue that they have to address," Mullane said.
But Steinbrecher — and later, Affordable Housing Commission Co-Chairman Mary Ann Ricker — persisted in calling for a raise for Leeming they said was long overdue.
"I don't want to lose somebody that's been a huge benefit to this town," Steinbrecher said. "If you don't work it out, you may have a bigger issue on your hands."