AYER -- The town's Community Development Block Grant program won't lose its part-time office employee when funding runs out June 30, good news for part-time employee Alicia Hersey, and for the office which is involved in three renovation projects.

Selectmen voted unanimously to allow the Community and Economic Development office to fund the position through June 30, 2014, with "program income." Those funds, identified as "program-administration" income, come from successful participants in the housing program.

A person who sells a home after it is restored with CDBG funds, federal money distributed through the states, is required to pay back a set amount.

David Maher, director of community and economic development for the town, told the board that the part-time position is crucial to the program's operation, in part because the other employee in the office, Sue Provencher, will be leaving at the end of June.

Provencher has served as a consultant in the office.

"It will be like having no one in the office," Mahar told the board during a presentation, the third item of business on the agenda.

"There's always activity in the office and if we continue her (Hersey) part-time through December, we can ask for approval to apply for another grant."

Maher said the program has enough income to fund the 15-hour-a-week position for three years. The job pays $18.95 an hour.

During his presentation to the board, Maher also asked selectmen to support his idea for a regional application for the next CDBG grant, given greater competition for the federal money.

He is suggesting that the town seek a partnership with neighboring Shirley because that town is more likely to be considered for funds, given its lower needs score. That score is based on median income and related factors.

"Their needs score is lower than ours, logistically the town is next to ours, (and) when it comes to the administration of the grant in both places" the odds of getting funding improve significantly, Maher wrote in a memo to the board last week.

Selectmen directed Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand to contact Shirley officials to discuss a possible joint application. Pontbriand said he would call Shirley officials on Wednesday, and if the board decides "to move forward" with a regional grant application, the regional concept could become a discussion item at a future meeting.

Board Chairman Pauline Conley endorsed Pontbriand's approach, saying discussion could "broaden the horizon on grant applications for CDBG, or "free money."

Maher also asked the board to consider hiring a grant writer or grant-administration company to assist with applications. He said a professional grant-writing company was necessary given the competition for funds and the town's rising needs score.