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    Monday, March 04, 2024

    Norwich utilities board agrees to boost funding for city economic development agency

    Norwich — The financial outlook for the Norwich Community Development Corp. has improved greatly this spring after the agency’s two main funding sources plan to boost allocations for the first time in over a decade to support its economic development activities.

    NCDC in January had asked the City of Norwich and Norwich Public Utilities to each increase their annual $150,000 contribution by $125,000 to help meet the increased expenses and growing staffing needs of the agency.

    Neither entity will meet that request, but late Tuesday, the Norwich Board of Public Utilities Commissioners voted unanimously to increase its allocation to NCDC by $75,000, to $225,000, starting with the 2021-22 fiscal year in July. Norwich City Manager John Salomone included an additional $50,000 for NCDC, bringing the city’s total contribution to $200,000.

    The City Council will vote on the preliminary city budget at its 7:30 p.m. meeting Monday.

    “Economic development is the first priority of the NPU board, and with NCDC going through a time of transition in addition to addressing the impacts of the pandemic, we all agree that we should provide additional support for NCDC,” said Robert Staley, chairman of the utilities commission. “As the economy starts to show signs of recovery, it makes sense for us to increase our support to NCDC and the critical work they are doing.”

    Staley also is the treasurer on the NCDC board of directors. He explained Wednesday that NPU has shifted part of its support to NCDC to make it “more transparent.” In the past, NPU had provided free utilities and internet services for NCDC’s Foundry 66 shared workspace facility and headquarters, a value of about $30,000 per year. Now, NCDC will pay those bills, and NPU will make a direct contribution totaling $225,000.

    Prior to Tuesday’s vote, the utilities commission had approved a 2021-22 budget that kept the NCDC funding at $150,000 but allocated another $467,000 to be used to support economic development in general. The increased support for NCDC will be drawn from these funds, NPU spokesman Chris Riley said.

    NPU has not increased its $150,000 allocation to NCDC since the funding started in 1999, and the city has been providing $150,000 per year since 2009 in the mayor-City Council budget.

    NCDC board Chairman Robert Buckley thanked NPU for the allocation increase Wednesday and said it comes at a time when NCDC’s other revenue has declined. Foundry 66 revenue is down due to a decline in use of office space and conference room rentals during the coronavirus pandemic. And with the phase-out of the city’s 10-year downtown revitalization program, NCDC will lose its $50,000 in administrative revenue.

    “They haven’t increased our funding in years,” Buckley said. “Let’s face it, things don’t cost the same today as they did 10 years ago. It was getting difficult for us to handle our expenses.”

    NCDC also is narrowing its search for a new president. The board will have a special executive session meeting at 8 a.m. Friday to discuss the finalist candidates for the position, as well as the agency’s proposal to purchase rural former farmland in Occum to create a second business park. Buckley said no decisions are expected Friday.

    c.bessette@theday.com

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