AYER — Several downtown Ayer business owners appealed to the Board of Selectmen Tuesday night to not only retain a part-time Planning Department employee who has resigned, but promote her to become the town’s full-time economic development director.

Support came for Grants Administrator/Program Manager Margaret Scarsdale, who tendered her resignation to the Board of Selectmen in a letter dated Aug. 25. Scarsdale cited her goal to find opportunities “facilitating downtown revitalizations” among the reasons for leaving. Her last day is to be Friday, Sept. 18.

Community Development Block Grant funds flowing into Ayer in August, from a grant Scarsdale wrote, provided $530,000 for Ayer’s housing-rehabilitation efforts and would have funded her position and that of CDBG Program Manager Susan Provencher, now the sole Planning staff member at Town Hall.

However no funds are in place for downtown projects, one of Scarsdale’s stated core passions. Scarsdale has been a visible Town Hall employee actively involved in downtown events and community and business outreach.

The head of the Ayer Business Alliance, Chuck King of Fresh Ayer Sports, called Scarsdale “quite the professional. She’s proficient, quite organized… I don’t have enough time to tell you what I think of Margaret,” said King. “As far as I’m concerned, she’s an asset to the town, the business community and the downtown.”

“We’re trying to get people back downtown. She knows downtown Ayer, she knows everyone in Town Hall. We have great respect for the woman,” said King, who drew applause from his fellow businessmen in support of Scarsdale for the higher-profile job. “We’d like to see her appointed to that position.”

The stream of business support continued for Scarsdale. “I’ve worked with Margaret on several occasions,” said Calvin Moore of GV Moore Lumber Co., asking for continued downtown momentum. “Let’s keep it going.” Jean Coutu of Century Carpet said he’d explored the purchase of the vacant Fletcher Building a year ago with Scarsdale’s help on available grants. He, too, lobbied for Scarsdale to stay aboard. “It would be a loss for the (Business) Alliance but also for the town itself.”

For their part, the selectmen asked Town Administrator Shaun Suhoski to finding additional funds to increase funding available to fill the currently vacant economic development director post. The previously full-time position has been vacant since February, after the departure of Chris Ryan. Suhoski, himself a past holder of the post, forwarded a proposal to the selectmen to fill the post on a 32–hour-a-week basis.

Partly in response to the collective outcy by business owners, selectmen opted instead to seek funding above the $6,500 originally contemplated to come from the Industrial Development Financing Authority (IDFA). The IDFA funds will augment the $25,000 available for the post in the town’s current budget and $15,000 available from an Urban Development Action Grant (UDAG) contribution. The jump from 32 to 40 hours would cost approximately $14,000 more, including benefits, Suhoski said. A funding update was ordered for the next selectmen’s meeting.

* A $70,000 “Gap Filler” grant was awarded the town, again drafted by Scarsdale. Suhoski credits Scarsdale in convincing the Department of Housing and Community Development “that a small town has the same needs as a larger city” regarding lead abatement in low- and middle-income residential units.

* Selectmen shelved an idea of retaining an outside energy savings company (ESCO) to perform an energy-efficiency audit in favor of an in-house approach. Scarsdale and Selectman Carolyn McCreary lobbied in vain for an ESCO agreement with Johnson Controls. “I see it as the lynchpin towards becoming a green community,” said McCreary.

But Selectman Jim Fay said selectmen needed a more definitive showing of savings before binding the town to pay tens of thousands off dollars to reimburse Johnson Controls for the mandatory initial energy audit.

Chairman Connie Sullivan advocated for in-house employees attacking the “low hanging fruit,” and institute a broad program of changing lighting fixtures and bulbs to realize a faster payback after a smaller initial investment.