Special town meeting set for Feb. 25
Camden — Voters will decide on expanding the town's Downtown Tax Increment Financing District during a special town meeting Tuesday, Feb. 25, as well as consider adding a credit enhancement option.
Development Director Brian Hodges presented the suggested changes to the select board last week and said the 2010 creation of the TIF intentionally left out parcels of land considered part of Knox Mill due to unsurity regarding its future development.
"[A TIF] can be a really powerful tool for a municipality," he said.
Hodges proposed the properties bordered by Mechanic, Knowlton, Alden and Washington streets around Knox Mill be added and the life of the TIF — currently 20 years — be extended to 30 years. Per the state Economic Development Office, the name "Omnibus" must be added to the title, he said. Other proposed changes include adding project costs from the Downtown Master Plan and Public Landing Redesign Plan that are not already addressed in the TIF as well as a credit enhancement option.
Hodges spent a fair amount of time explaining in further detail how a TIF district is funded and how creating one can benefit a municipality. The base value within the Downtown TIF District was set in 2010 by the town assessor; in the years since, the corresponding tax due to increase in property values has been added to the TIF account while taxes paid on the base value continues to go to the town's general fund.
Having the increased property value taxes placed aside in the TIF account shelters the town from some increases in county tax, Hodges noted, and allows pre-approved projects to be funded with TIF money. Many municipalities choose to extend or renew TIFs at the end of their term to avoid a dramatic increase in county taxes on the municipality, he said.
Selectman Leonard Lookner took issue with adding "Omnibus" to the title of the Downtown TIF, reading definitions of the word. Definitions he cited included the adjective definition of "of, relating to, or including many things" as well as omnibus bill, defined as a bill containing diverse or unrelated topics.
"It essentially implies part of this is not kosher," Lookner said. "I'm on board with [the proposed changes] but it makes it sound unpalatable."
Hodges said state officials hoped use of the word would draw more attention to the TIF and noted all downtown TIFs will be required to use "Omnibus" in the title.
"We are not alone," he said. "This is an administrative rule from the current TIF director."
While many TIF districts have caps on the value of properties that can be included, those that are "certified downtown TIF districts" — including Camden — do not have a cap, Hodges said. There are two TIF districts in Camden, the downtown TIF and another along the Route 1 business corridor; both already are close to the capped amount but the certification of downtown allows its expansion. Hodges stressed that the business district TIF is not being changed at this time.
Additions to the Downtown TIF include costs for public landing parking, a public landing overlook, fisherman's hoist, lighting and pathway improvements as well as demolition of the existing public restrooms as suggested by the recently approved public landing redesign plan. Other items from the Downtown Master Plan could be added as well, including creation of business incubator space, adding signs, developing a parking overview plan, installing WiFi throughout downtown and looking at transit options. By adding items, the town can use TIF money to pay for those infrastructure improvements, Hodges said.
Selectmen John French suggested a low-cost loan option for businesses to take advantage of rather than using TIF funds for certain projects. Lookner agreed.
"An improvement to somebody's building ... more directly benefits the owner, not the town," French said.
"I have trouble using public money for private space," Lookner added.
Hodges said there already is a low-cost loan option included in the TIF available for business owners wishing to take that route. All projects being funded by the TIF are required to go before the select board for final approval as well, he said.
"In the end, it's going to be your discretion based on what voters approved. ... Nothing obligates us to do any of these things," Hodges said.
Several projects suggested for inclusion already have funding in place, such as the fisherman's hoist and boardwalk at the public landing, he said.
Credit enhancement agreements, or CEAs, return a portion of the incremental tax increase set aside in the TIF fund to the business. Hodges said the agreements are common and the town can set parameters through a policy. If the parameters are not met, the money is placed in the town TIF fund rather than returned to the business. He said there also can be caps on percentages returned for existing and new businesses in addition to job creation requirements.
"I didn't pull this out of my head, I did a lot of research," Hodges said.
Town Manager Patricia Finnigan said the town would be protected from revenue loss.
"You don't just say 'yeah, yeah, you look like a nice person,'" she said. "The policy is going to have those kinds of safeguards."
The 13-page special town meeting warrant is available online at camdenmaine.gov.
Voters also will address a proposed easement from Wayfarer Marine to the town on Sea Street for installation of sewer pipes during the special town meeting, set to take begin at 6:30 p.m. in the Washington Street Conference Room.
Courier Publications Editor Stephanie Grinnell can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at email@example.com.