By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – After tying up a few loose ends during last night's regular council meeting – putting a few public hearings on next month's meeting calendar, tabling the proposed fireworks ordinance for discussion at a future workshop, and appointing some new library trustees – discussion turned to economic development.
Consultant Stu Arnett recommended the councilors adopt a few specific goals for the coming year and then form a task force to make sure the goals are met.
Talk turned to TIF development, after Council Chair Brad Benson stressed that making the fledgling Tax Increment Finance district along Route 28 a success is paramount. Although Wal-Mart is preparing to present a site plan to the Planning Board on July 21, providing a solid retail foundation on which to build a thriving business sector, Council Kevin Coyle urged his fellow councilors to take a giant step back from getting too specific before assessing the bigger picture.
Is economic development a vehicle for reducing the tax burden on home owners, boosting Derry's reputation as a retail mecca or attracting larger employers to town.
“What we're missing is our overarching goal in economic development; what do we want to accomplish? If we can't figure that out, we're spinning our wheels. Until we do that, (Stu's) not going to be able to help us,” Coyle said.
Coyle went on to express some frustration over delays in the TIF project, primarily road construction which is pending land acquisitions from abutters – most notably, the Pinkerton Tavern. Although the town is in talks with both the land owner and business owner, there has been no announcement of a resolution.
Originally, the project was set to begin construction before summer's end.
“We put this as our No. 2 priority last year. I'm not pointing fingers at you, Stu, but staff in town hall should be held to task as to why it didn't get done,” said Coyle. “Now we're a year behind schedule again. It's disappointing. I'm disheartened.”
Town Administrator Gary Stenhouse said the current plan, to start construction this year, still stands.
Arnett suggested that a good general goal would be to set a target for increasing the downtown tax base. Benson asked for some figures over the past few years so the goal could be realistic, which Arnett said he would provide.
But after batting around a few more ideas, the council settled on establishing a “big tent” task force, which would bring together all the existing committees and entities currently working toward some facet of economic development. The task force would then be charged with specific goals by the council, working on a predetermined timeline. Councilor Joel Olbricht will take the lead, and the council will as a group select members.
The next summer schedule council meeting will be held Aug. 3.