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Selectmen take dim view of economic development report

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PEPPERELL — The Planning Board’s proposal for an Economic Development Council faced the Board of Selectmen at a meeting Monday night.

“My concern, though we all support growth, if more folks that get involved they muck it up,” said Selectmen Joseph Sergi. Sergi said consultant David Maher had done a great job on the report and Selectmen Stephen Themelis, who attended the last Planning Board meeting, voiced his opinion in favor of the committee.

At the end of the discussion, the board tabled the decision until a meeting in August.

Maher, who is Ayer’s director of Community and Economic Development, was hired by the town to create the proposal. Over the last six months he created guidelines for establishing a committee on economic outlook, sustainability and development.

“The Planning Board is unable to do some this, but I hesitate to create another committee,” said Chairman Michael Green, who is a Pepperell business owner. He cited the Pepperell Business Association, an existing consortium of local businesses, as an entity that serves this purpose.

The board proposed there may be a simpler way and questioned the vague authority and purpose such a committee would serve as outlined in the report.

Selectmen Stephen Themelis voiced his opinion in favor the committee. He said it is “not an enforcement group.”

Green cited the report, which used the word enforce. Maher insisted most of what was in his report was suggestions, and the makeup and mission statement were the most important pieces.

“If you water down departments, what you get is departments that are watered down,” Maher said.

Planning Board Chairman Richard McHugh Jr. called it an economic “springboard.”

“Incentive from the Planning Board’s point of view is to get more energy going,” said McHugh.

Planning Board Administrator Sue Snyder said she was stretched for time and the extra help would be beneficial.

“Grants are available to benefit the town, having some help in researching (them) would be great,” she said.

Laurie Masiello, of Masy Systems in Lomar Park, spoke about her experience in Pepperell, saying there are no facts on startups compiled, and such a committee could do this.

“People who want to go through process have to drive it themselves, selectmen and Planning Board haven’t generated marketing,” she said.

“Those tools are already here,” Sergi said.

Town Administrator John Moak agreed Pepperell has some tools, but the committee will create a connection which has been lost between businesses and Town Hall.

The proposed committee, which is referred to as the “Pepperell Better Business, Better Town Committee,” would be comprised of seven members. As suggested in the report, members would be drawn from areas of finance, real estate, large industrial or commercial, small industrial or commercial and retail.

It established a four-point mission statement for the committee, which will aim to support local businesses, seek new business for job growth and services, develop a long range plan balancing economic growth and overall quality of life and establishing of incentive and marketing programs to highlight current Pepperell businesses.

“I don’t want government to get in the way,” said Green. The town needs to honest with itself about what it is — a bedroom community on the border of New Hampshire with possible difficulty attracting business, he added.

“Pepperell’s fundamental flaw, with all these committees and all these boards, is (that there’s) no synergy among them,” said Sergi. “Why propose another if they do not work together?”

Maher’s position will dissolve at the end of June, but he said he would be happy to extend his services for the future.