Thursday, June 2, 2011

Judging Our Town Government – Part II

Kenneth M. O’Brien

Back in 2000 the Southbridge Economic Development Department consisted of one person. Today it has four employees.

How well has this Town Department served our community?

Well, given the 300% increase in their employment, it would seem logical to judge that increase against their effectiveness in improving employment for the town’s residents.

Now, we all know that employment, or conversely, unemployment, does not take place in a vacuum.

It has to be measured against some objective yardstick.

In this case, it would seem reasonable to compare unemployment in Southbridge against the rest of Worcester County.

With that in mind, I have prepared the following chart:

For a brief period from mid 2006 to the beginning of 2008 unemployment in Southbridge approached that of the average for the county. Since then, however, there has been an expanding divergence.

What has our town Economic Development Department been doing to address this problem?

One of the major allocations of time is devoted to management of Community Development Block Grant funds.

According to a January 4, 2011 Southbridge Evening News article titled, “Block Grants Mean Success”, “Although approval for the grant is nearly a lock, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a chance of them losing it. The town has two employees that work on keeping the town’s paperwork in order and to make sure that the town is using the money the way that the state wants it to be used.”

The article further states that,” The program is designed to help low-to-moderate income families and businesses in poor neighborhoods make improvements through state-funded grant money. In order to help businesses improve the look of their storefront, they receive what is basically a loan where they pay 25 percent up front The remaining 75 percent will be deferred for 10 years.”

So, that’s where half of the manpower of the Economic Development Department goes.
But, the “lock” on these grants, and all of the obvious improvement that they have made in providing employment, (LOL) may not be such a lock. The House of Representatives in February approved a continuing resolution that set funding for the Community Development Block Grant program, or CDBG, at $1.5 billion, a 63 percent reduction from 2010.

If these cuts persist, will we see a reduction in CDBG grants? Most likely. Will we see a reduction in employees devoted to overseeing the program? Not so likely.

Another area of activity in the Department, highlighted in an April 4, 2011 Evening News article titled, “SEDC OKs permitting guidebook”. The subhead on this article says, “Designed To Streamline Business Process.”

The article explains, “
In a continuing effort to make Southbridge more appealing to incoming businesses, the Southbridge Economic Development Commission has assembled a permitting guidebook to make the process of bringing a business to town easier and simpler….The book is a step-by-step guide to what permits to take out, what boards and committees need to be met with and what inspections are necessary to open a business.”

The article goes on to say, “Another reason behind for [sic] its creation is that it will be the first step in expediting permitting. It’s a program where the town gets involved with the state and would pick target areas in the town, possibly the industrial park, downtown and the American Optical complex, and would guarantee a business a permit within 180 days after applying for it. Before the horrible economy, the state was giving out grants to help with the process.”

Well, that sounds like a laudable development.

What the article ignores is the fact that this could have been done four and a half years ago.

The minutes of the subcommittee on Planning and Economic Development for December 7, 2006, has the Director of Economic Development pointing out the enactment of the legislation providing for expedited permitting. She noted that, “…there may be some money in this for Southbridge.”

DUH! Ya think?

See that remark that the state was giving out grants? They were giving grants of up to $150,000 to facilitate implementing the expedited permitting process.

When I got on the council 7 months later, this was one of the first issues I raised as a member of the subcommittee.

Then chairman of the subcommittee Livengood said that it was being referred to the Southbridge Economic Development Commission recently formed by town manager Carlisle.

Well, four and a half years later we’re almost ready to start looking at instituting an expedited permitting process. Never mind that the grants that were once offered are no longer available Never mind that at the time additional funds were available through another state program to incentivize companies to locate to communities that had instituted expedited permitting.

At least we’ve provided employment for three more people who might not have had jobs otherwise.


  1. Funny how in Southbridge, MA, only our manager, who's not from Southbridge, can hide the inefficiencies and lack of competence in so vital a position.

    Then again, he needs to keep hif friends clos, and the scumbags on the council closer.

    What a town filled with morons.

    Keep electing them Southbridge.

    You're getting what you deserve.

  2. It's time that Acly and her crew go and make some other town home. Incompetence breeds incompetence.

    Completely different thought: can you find out if Clemence's "show ID to vote" racists will be at this election too, or was that just for her friend Durant?


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