Southborough – With the town facing a significant financial deficit, some Southborough residents, as well as several officials, believe the community must start to actively court businesses in order to get them to locate to the town. But for this to happen, the Board of Selectmen believes, all other town boards must share the same philosophy.
In that spirit, a group of Southborough residents and business leaders have been meeting over the last few months to try to form an Economic Development Committee ( EDC) for the town. The group presented their initial proposal to the selectmen at their March 8 meeting to get their feedback.
David Ferris is one of the members of this group.
“Many individuals have been donating their time and efforts to see how this type of committee might help alleviate some of the tax burden for the citizens, as well as retain core services,” Ferris said. “This [forming the new group] would be a big opportunity to do so.”
Presently, 20 percent of the town's tax revenues come from businesses, he said, compared to neighboring communities that receive approximately 40 to 50 percent. Ferris said ideally the new group's members would include a “hybrid” of town officials and a select group of business leaders.
“We want to bring to our group some of the best practices that other towns use,” he said.
Selectman John Rooney said at one point the town actually had a committee such as this but it never really got established. He thanked the group for their efforts and in particular, Chris Robbins, who he said had been “a man of action driving this.”
“If we don's diversify our tax base,” Rooney said, “then we are going to have to have tax increases. But we need to make sure there is a proactive development plan in place. It needs to be done with the Southborough subculture in mind. If the Planning Board is not on board, then this committee will be frustrated.”
Town Planner Eric Denoncourt replied that the Planning Board had reviewed some of the information from the proposed EDC and had given its “tentative approval.”
“I's looking for something more than that,” Rooney said.
William Pezzoni, a Southborough resident and a director with 495 MetroWest Partnership said, “There's a lot going on in the region on a grander scale. We need to look at what's available on Route 9. No one wants to see the culture of Southborough change, but we need to find “pockets” [to develop].” There were development monies available, he added, that could be used for projects along routes 9 and 495.
Selectman Bill Boland agreed.
“No one wants to see a quick build-out of Route 9. We want it to be a win-win for everyone. This is a logical step – we'se been lying dormant but now have a great opportunity.”
It was also important, he added, that the businesses in the town “know that we care about them and how they are doing, more than just asking them for donations for fundraisers.”
The members of the proposed EDC will meet with the selectmen in a few weeks to present a more detailed plan of what the next steps should be to get the proposed group up and running.