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Salem - The Board of Finance approved a $2,500 budget for the Economic Development Commission Thursday, an increase from last year's $1,500 but far lower than the $10,000 requested.
First Selectman Kevin Lyden, who presented the EDC budget, made a passionate plea for increased spending on economic development but agreed to the $2,500 budget without argument.
Lyden noted that the town has been spending frugally on economic development in recent years, but he said new EDC members are enthusiastic and could make good use of more money. With infrastructure improvements like the completed roundabout and a $2.2 million grant from the Southeast Connecticut Council of Governments for upgrades on Route 85, said Lyden, now is the right time to focus on bringing in new businesses.
Membership in the Economic Development Commission dropped last year and the group cancelled its October, November and December meetings because it was unable to meet quorum.
But in January, the Board of Selectmen appointed three new members and one alternate member to the commission, and with the new members has come a new mission, Lyden said.
Five percent of Salem's tax income comes from businesses, he said, while the state average is 15 percent. One of the EDC's previous goals was to get Salem's income from businesses to the state average, but after looking at the business tax income of other local towns - East Lyme, for instance, is at only at 7.5 percent, according to Lyden - the EDC decided to focus on smaller, more realistic goals.
The commission is now hoping for "incremental business income from businesses that fit our community," Lyden explained.
"We're never going to get a huge Wal-Mart or Tractor Supply," he said. "And people don't want that."
Salem residents would be more accepting of businesses that fit with the town's "rural character," said the first selectman, like a breakfast restaurant, bakery or niche business.
"We have to fund economic development," Lyden said, calling $10,000 "a drop in the bucket."
Members of the Board of Finance listened patiently to Lyden and made it clear that they were supportive of the economic development but wanted to be cautious about funding it. Board of Finance chairman T.J. Butcher noted that the commission received $1,500 in this year's budget and doesn't seem to have spent much of it.
He proposed giving the EDC $2,500 with the possibility of further funding if the EDC comes to the board with a specific project to pursue. The board approved the $2,500 allocation unanimously.
"We don't want to tax people for money they're not going to spend," Butcher explained.