New Rumford Town Manager Linda-Jean Briggs said she’s passionate about community service.
RUMFORD — Linda-Jean “LJ” Briggs said she’s excited about the upcoming downtown improvements and what they could lead to in the future.
The estimated $4 million project calls for replacing the sewer and stormwater system under several streets on the Island, and improving sidewalks.
“What an honor it is to have a development like this and be able to say that it happened under my watch, because so many town managers don’t have that opportunity,” Briggs said.
She said having the new $5 million Best Western Plus Rumford Falls hotel at 50 Prospect Ave. so close to the downtown is a bonus.
“It’s the right type of hotel that will cater to families,” she said. “By emphasizing the walkability of this downtown, in conjunction with the hotel, can only bring additional development. We need to attract some other businesses that will help to make the hotel successful.”
Bids for the downtown project were opened Monday. After a contract is awarded, Main-Land Development Consultants of Livermore Falls and town officials will develop a construction plan.
She said she’s confident the town will secure a Community Development Block Grant for the project.
“As a result of identified environmental issues, we have been given the go-ahead that as of December 2016, anything that we spend here can be used as a match against the pending CDBG,” she said. “I’m really hopeful for the CDBG. That way, we wouldn’t have to go in and pull as much out of permanent roads to finalize the project.”
She said the economic benefit of the two-year project “is going to be drastic. It’s not going to happen overnight, but I think five years down the road we’re going to have the storefronts full, and maybe the upper level of some of those buildings will be utilized.”
Briggs said Jim Rinaldo does a fabulous job as a part-time economic developer, but with the downtown project, she would like to have a full-time economic planner, someone who “could change the face of Rumford.”
“If you had a planner on the ground when the Island is complete, they can go out and start marketing the town to some of the more established companies and have them look at Rumford in a different light as a destination.”
She said she believes that person would not only attract people and bring vibrancy to the town, but he or she would be able to subsidize much of their salary through grants.
“I know I’m facing resistance, just by having said, ‘I’d like a full-time planner,'” she said. “I get it. I understand that. But ultimately the community will fund what it finds value in. “
Briggs says residents share two different outlooks about Rumford.
“There are those who want folks to believe that Rumford is a little town,” she said.
“When you look at the population in Maine, Rumford is a modest-sized town, with an older population. It has its economic challenges. We see that through General Assistance, the level of subsidized housing we have, and the free and reduced-price lunches in the schools.
“Having said that, there’s another side where you have strong working-class folks who think Rumford is the best place to be. They’ve grown up here; generations have been here. And the mill continues to employ a good amount of folks at reasonable salaries.”
Briggs said, “I see folks who love Rumford and are still willing to give back so much, and you hear the same names all the time. I often say, if you want something done, you give it to a busy person, and those people are out there.”
Being a town manager is a second career for Briggs, who retired from Verizon after nearly 25 years.
“It is more than a job,” she said. “It’s a passion for community service. To make a difference in a community is really what it’s all about.”