Wiscasset’s planner keeps focus on work ahead of vote

Posted:  Tuesday, April 18, 2017 - 8:30am

Wiscasset Town Planner Ben Averill said, going into the budget vote each year, any public sector worker is hopeful they will still be working July 1; and he is hopeful this year.

The proposed $66,674 planning budget using $57,764 in taxes and $9,000 from Molnlycke’s tax-increment financing deal is getting mixed recommendations from town panels. During budget talks, as in some past years, some members questioned the need for a full or part-time planner.

Selectmen considered keeping the budget off the warrant, then kept it on, voting 3-2; and the budget committee had two members recommending passage and six not.

“That doesn’t change my day-to-day,” Averill said April 7 about the recommendations that appear on the June 13 warrant or the annual uncertainty that comes with government work. 

His day-to-day runs a gamut of duties, depending on the day or night. Some weeknights, he’s with the Planning Board, historic preservation or conservation commissions, or the waterfront, ordinance review or other committees, aiding their reviews of vendors’ or property owners’ applications or whatever other issues and requests come the panels’ way. His 40 hours a week also include advance work for the panels, writing them memos and preparing the rest of their meeting packets, working with the applicants who will seek their approval and getting hearing notices published.

Averill works to make sure developers and other applicants, as well as the town boards, understand town rules, or ordinances, a project must follow. He fields a lot of questions, in person, by email, or on the phone. “I’ll get a call from a resident or a realtor asking about specific land use questions. Other times, maybe it will be questions from the board of selectmen or others about how we’re supposed to interpret specific ordinances as they affect residents in the town.” He and the ORC make sure ordinance revisions make sense and are legal before sending them on to selectmen and voters.

Averill said the varied schedule suits him better than 9 to 5. It was one of the things that attracted him to planning. 

Some of the committee work ties into economic development, by helping a vendor or other business move to town; the economic side of the job also encompasses serving on the boards of Wiscasset Area Chamber of Commerce and the Damariscotta-based Midcoast Economic Development District; and pursuing grants for projects. Averill recently worked with Ransom Consulting and Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission to seek federal cleanup funds for sites on the Mason Station peninsula.

Some of a planner’s work sometimes counts as an in-kind match, as his predecessor Jamel Torres’ work applied to a state Coastal Communities grant to study scenarios for Wiscasset’s wastewater treatment plant if the river or sea levels rose, Averill said.

“I focus a lot on ensuring we have increased economic development in town, so that can (involve) anything from speaking with developers or other economic development professionals when there are interested parties who may want to start a business or learn more about what our opportunities are in town.” He does quarterly updates of available commercial properties for the town website at wiscasset.org.

Interviewed separately, Town Manager Marian Anderson said having a planner is important to Wiscasset’s future; residents have seen a need for one, and shown it not only by funding the budgets but passing ordinances the planner has a role in carrying out, she said.

In response to a question, Anderson said if the planning budget fails and no new offer goes to voters, the help the planner gives committees would fall to the volunteers.