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Murray hopes third time is charm in run for Middlebury selectboard

EAST MIDDLEBURY — Eric Murray is hoping his third try for a spot on the Middlebury selectboard will be the charm, as he seeks to break into the winning column on March 4 following a spirited six-person race for two three-year spots on the town’s chief elected board.
Murray, 52, is part of a field that also includes challengers Brian Carpenter, Ted Davis, John Freidin, Laura Asermily and incumbent selectman Craig Bingham. The top two vote-getters will win seats. Incumbent Selectman Dean George and Heather Seeley are competing for a one-year term on the board. Murray has finished shy in previous contests, most recently last year.
Murray is owner of East Middlebury-based EJM Enterprises  — a company that specializes in heavy equipment and truck repairs, as well as towing. He has served on the ad hoc committees Middlebury River Task Force and Hazard Mitigation Planning Team.
He and his wife Erika have five grown children.
As was the case in his past campaigns, Murray continues to emphasize the need to make Middlebury more business friendly. He opposed the creation of Middlebury’s new Office of Business Development and Innovation, arguing that endeavor was too costly. The town of Middlebury, Middlebury College and local businesses are jointly bankrolling the office’s roughly $180,000 annual budget.
“I would rather see us use good, old-fashioned incentives and a streamlining of the approval process,” Murray said of what he considers to be the most effective business recruiting strategy.
“There seems to be a tunnel vision favoring businesses that certain people want, and anything other than that, we seem to make it difficult for them to locate here,” he added.
He cited Staples and Price Chopper as examples of businesses that were thwarted in their attempts to lay down roots in Middlebury. Murray believes Middlebury should encourage larger stores to settle in town, and he opposes the town’s current zoning rules that limit retail store applications to 50,000 square feet.
“It would boost the downtown,” he said of the presence of new, larger retail stores. “Right now, shoppers are going miles away to Wal-Marts in Williston and Ticonderoga, N.Y. But the more shoppers you attract to our local area, the better chance they will shop at local stores.”
Murray believes Middlebury’s town plan should have more business-friendly language and that local boards should be more transparent in how they conduct the community’s business. He counted himself among those who believe the selectboard could have been more open in the manner in which it developed a town office-recreation center plan with Middlebury College. The selectboard announced last June that the college had agreed to absorb $4.5 million of the estimated $6.5 million combined cost of a new municipal building at 77 Main St. and a new recreation center off Creek Road. The college, in return, would acquire the current municipal building/gym site at 94 Main St. to turn into a park and another town-owned parcel at 6 Cross Street to provide a new home for the institution’s Osborne House.
“The negotiations for this current proposal were totally flawed,” he said, believing the public should have had more input. “This has been a hasty decision. And I’m not sure what the haste has been about.”
Murray calls the 77 Main St. site “totally unacceptable” for a new municipal building. He believes the site offers little or no room for future expansion, has a lack of on-site parking and could constrain future growth of the adjacent Ilsley Library. Town officials have argued that there is ample nearby parking and have vowed to work with the library in an effort to meet its space needs.
Murray proposes tabling action on a new town office and recreation center for around six months. During that time, he said the town could develop two options to put before local voters:
• A proposal to bring the current buildings up to code at their present 94 Main St. location. He believes that reconstruction/renovation could be done for less than the $6.4 million that Bread Loaf Corp. has estimated and that savings could be derived from putting such a project out to a competitive bid.
“Use the free market to come up with a good number for these things,” he said. “There doesn’t need to be a huge amount of money spent on this.”
• Negotiating a new agreement with Middlebury College to put a new town office building at a new location — but not at 77 Main St. And he believes the college should be asked to pay the full amount for such a project rather than a percentage.
Middlebury College officials have said their current offer will sunset with the project vote on Town Meeting Day, March 4. Middlebury College, as a non-profit institution, is exempt from paying local property taxes on its holdings that are not directly part of its educational mission. The college is the town’s largest taxpayer and employer and a few years ago agreed to assume $9 million of the $16 million costs of the Cross Street Bridge project. The college also maintains a “fair share” agreement with the town of Middlebury through which it pays the community around $250,000 annually in lieu of taxes.
“If it’s determined that (the municipal building) complex should be replaced, the whole thing should be renegotiated for a more suitable piece of property and the college should foot the whole bill for the new building,” Murray said.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com

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