BETHEL — Selectmen voted to delay any involvement in the Community Heart and Soul project until next year.

“Community Heart and Soul reconnects people with what they love most about their town and translates those personal and emotional connections into a blueprint that serves as the foundation for future community decisions,” according to the Heart and Soul website.

The program was developed by the Orton Family Foundation in Vermont.

“When a community takes the time to get to know itself, it gains a sense of identity and purpose that informs decisions and planning,” according to Lyman Orton, founder of the Orton Family Foundation. 

Bethel had approached Greenwood, Woodstock and Newry about also joining Heart and Soul.

The foundation recommends hiring a full-time coordinator for about two years.


Bethel Town Manager Christine Landes said that initially, a local effort could be funded with $4,000 shared among participating towns for a coach to train a coordinator during the two years.

The Orton Family Foundation has offered an additional $10,000 a year for each year toward the coach, Landes said. But an estimated $80,000 would be needed over two years for the coordinator, likely coming from private grants, she said.

Selectmen were wary, however, citing current efforts relating to the town’s Comprehensive Plan, sewer rate changes and the difficulty in getting people to serve on town committees.

“I’m not totally committed,” Selectman Pat Carter said. “It seems like we have a lot on our plate.” 

Resident Al Cressy said there are numerous other planning activities going on in town.

Selectman Don Bennett made a motion to “say ‘no’ to this now and hope it comes up at a more opportune time.”


It was unanimously approved.

Selectmen also voted to ask the Comprehensive Plan Committee to turn its attention to the possibility of crafting a strategic plan, with a focus on economic development.

The committee, meeting for the past two years, has been in a stalemate over how thorough a process would be needed to update the 1998 plan. State law requires towns that have impact fee ordinances to have a plan, and Bethel has a sewer impact fee.

But at the committee’s meeting last week, several businesspeople criticized the plan, which outlines broad goals for the future on such topics as land use, as being unfriendly to business. It was suggested to eliminate or redesign the sewer fee to remove the plan requirement for Bethel, and instead look toward a strategic plan. The latter plan more commonly focuses on infrastructure planning, but can have some components of a comprehensive plan.

Landes said she was still awaiting guidance from the Maine Municipal Association on how to deal with the sewer fee, which could also affect the ultimate fate of the Comprehensive Plan Committee.

Bethel businessmen Ron Savage and Dennis Doyon urged selectmen to emphasize an economic development component in any strategic plan process.

“You’re going to get more bang for your buck if it’s a strategic/economic development committee,” Savage said. “You’re going to get those people who are going to want to be on it … What’s the strategy moving forward, both for the town and the businesses? You’re on the same team. This will get the businesses working with the town, instead of fighting with the town.”

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