The Gorham Town Council narrowly approved including money in the budget for a new town administrator that would oversee the planning and code offices.

Councilors opposed to the measure warned that including the $105,000 for the salary and benefits for what the town is calling a zoning administrator could force the town to lay off other employees in what is expected to be a tight budget.

However, councilors supporting the measure argued the administrator could help the town attract new businesses.

The vote to budget for the position was approved 4-3, with councilors Shonn Moulton, Noah Miner and Phillip Csoros opposed.

The town has a full-time director of planning and zoning, Deborah Fossum. It also has a full-time code enforcement officer, Clint Cushman, as well a part-time director of the Gorham Economic Development Corp., Tom Ellsworth.

In a budget workshop last month, the seven town councilors discussed various scenarios, which included placing the planning and code offices and possibly economic development under the supervision of a new administrator. Some councilors believe the changes could help consolidate administrative responsibilities and streamline the process for business applications.

Town Manager David Cole said in Tuesday’s meeting that adding the position would lead to layoffs. “This is a difficult budget year,” Cole said.

Any layoffs this year would be on top of several positions that were eliminated last year, including the engineer, compliance officer and a reference librarian, in addition to three top School Department administrators.

However, councilors in favor of the new position said creating it could help attract new businesses.

“I want businesses to know we’re open for business,” said Gorham Town Council Chairman Matt Robinson, who added the position has been discussed for two years.

A year ago, the Town Council approved the position, but no one was hired. Town Councilor Brenda Caldwell didn’t see the position as new and regretted it wasn’t already filled.

Town Councilor Burleigh Loveitt also supported the new position. “I think this is an economic development tool,” Loveitt said.

However, Miner, Csoros and Moulton were unconvinced the position was necessary.

Moulton argued Tuesday that hiring the new administrator would lead to more layoffs and he wasn’t interested in losing a firefighter or police officer.

Csoros, who argued the measure was lacking in detail, said he was concerned about the economy. “I believe we’re going into economic depression,” Csoros said.

Moulton suggested the money should be used to hire two new workers.

“The zoning administrator is now David Cole,” Moulton said. “He’s overseeing the departments.”

Moulton said the economic development process is working, and Csoros praised Cole, who is coordinating monthly meetings with planning and code enforcement departments, along with the Gorham Economic Development Corporation, directed by Tom Ellsworth.

But Csoros said Ellsworth is a part-time employee, and he suggested a making his job full time.

However, Town Council Vice Chairman Mike Phinney said that amendment would be inappropriate because it hadn’t been advertised as part of the meeting’s agenda.

Robinson ruled Csoros’ amendment would be too significant a change to make to the agenda without notice, and no one challenged his decision.

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