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Bath-based business council becomes Midcoast Council of Governments

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Bath-based business council becomes Midcoast Council of Governments

BATH — In an attempt to expand its capacity and strengthen its services, the Mid-Coast Council for Business Development and Planning on June 18 enacted bylaw amendments including renaming itself the Midcoast Council of Governments.

The council has also added Lincoln County to its jurisdictional area, which already includes Sagadahoc County and the Cumberland County towns of Brunswick and Harpswell.

"This is a logical and much-needed step for this organization and the Mid-Coast region," said John Richardson, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, in a press release from the council. "It will provide area communities the opportunity to form and define their own regional organization, and it will give both Augusta and Washington a single delivery point for funding and services to a very important area of the state."

The new name is intended to reflect the council's new strategy and broader regional engagement, according to the release.

The council's executive committee has established several goals for a more powerful council of governments. One is to use the council of governments model to create a municipally controlled and municipally based structure that will sustain and support collaboration in economic and community development and planning. Another is to widen the municipal services offered by the council in order to provide cost-effective and efficient solutions for member municipalities' needs.

A third goal is to add municipal members in order to better utilize regional resources and reap advantages from greater efficiencies of scale.

"We're starting to realize that with the (Brunswick Naval Air Station) base coming online, with the scale of projects and impacts, if you're really trying to do regional planning, that really working within a very tight nexus of a dozen towns probably isn't a large enough scale," said council Secretary John Shattuck, who is Topsham's economic and community development director.

"And for one thing, is it sustainable as an organization?," he added. "Do you have enough contributing member communities to really drive the process forward?"

Shattuck said MCBDP was actually reorganized as a council of governments in 2001, but did not change its name until last month.

"The name has changed, and that's meant to communicate that we're looking at changing the function in terms of being more comprehensive or aggressive in offering a wider array of services," Shattuck said. "Because that's what provides value for the member communities to either want to join or maintain membership."

The eight-member council has not expanded its jurisdictional boundaries, but rather amended its bylaws to allow all 31 communities in its jurisdictional area to be eligible for membership. Previously membership was limited to only 10 Sagadahoc County communities plus Brunswick and Harpswell, Shattuck said.

The council's newest member is Boothbay, which joins Brunswick, Topsham, Harpswell, Bath, Bowdoinham, Richmond and West Bath.

In keeping its focus so local in the past, Shattuck explained, "the COG really hasn't looked at some of the broader and higher-level services that a lot of communities want. And that's been a deficit on our part."

He said the organization has been "fairly minimalist," which had been acceptable to its member communities for a time, "but as we combat the prices that we're all looking at, communities are looking for some specific opportunities to save some money."

The Mid-Coast faces issues that are regional in scope, such as the 2011 closure of the air base and its impact on the area. "Planning services, economic development work, bidding on contracts for the towns, these are all things that I think we can do better on as a COG," Shattuck said.

He used geographic information system mapping as an example, pointing out that smaller communities might be interested in that service, but that it might not make sense for them to make an independent investment to do that. On the other hand, Shattuck said, "a COG is a centralized point of gathered resources that makes sense in doing that, making it available to all member communities."

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.