National monument will cover part of the cost for new Katahdin-region economic director

6 years ago

Maine’s national monument will cover a quarter of Penobscot County’s $115,000 annual cost to hire someone to focus on growing the Katahdin region economy for the next seven years.

A portion of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument’s $350,569 annual payment in lieu of taxes to Penobscot County will fund an economic development director to work for East Millinocket, Medway, Millinocket, Mount Chase, Patten and Stacyville, said Jessica Masse, a member of the all-volunteer Katahdin Revitalization economic development group.

The economic director’s position is significant to the region, which has never recovered from the closure of the Millinocket, East Millinocket and Lincoln paper mills over the past decade. When they closed in 2008, 2014 and 2015 respectively, the mills were the towns’ largest single employers, even though they employed a fraction of the number of people they employed during their heydays.

Since the mill closings, nothing like that concentration of new jobs has come into the targeted towns or the county’s unincorporated areas, which the director will also serve.

“This is about jobs,” said Rep. Steve Stanley, D-Medway, a Katahdin Revitalization member. “A coordinated, local approach to economic development makes a lot of sense, and we believe this is going to help bring jobs back to the region.”

The region’s last effort to have one economic development director focusing on East Millinocket, Medway and Millinocket — the Millinocket Area Growth and Investment Council — ended in 2007 due to a lack of funding.

Today the towns, plus volunteer groups such as Our Katahdin and Katahdin Revitalization, handle different economic recovery efforts.

Our Katahdin took ownership of the Millinocket mill site and is marketing it. Katahdin Revitalization has been working with the Penobscot County Board of Commissioners and Eastern Maine Development Corp. to create the economic development job, Masse said.

The board voted 3-0 on Oct. 30 to support a seven-year contract — five years, plus two possible one-year extensions — and apportion about 75 percent of the position’s funding from its tax-increment-financing reserve accounts. The rest will come from the monument payment, according to meeting minutes.

That would mean $86,250 coming from TIF reserves and $28,750 from the national monument’s payment to Penobscot County.

The director will work to draw all forms of business to the region, apply for grants and make the region more attractive to business.

About $70,000 of the $115,000 is expected to be the director’s salary, with $29,000 more for medical insurance. The rest will cover expenses associated with the director’s office, which will be based in East Millinocket at the Katahdin Region Higher Education Center, Masse said.

The position will be filled by Jan. 1, Masse said.

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