TIF changes, easement

Special town meeting set for Feb. 25

By Stephanie Grinnell | Feb 19, 2014

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 sgrinnell@villagesoup.com.

Comments (5)
Posted by: Robert Nichols | Feb 20, 2014 07:52

Saying "No current tax funds are diverted away from the general fund." is a clever use of words to hide what is really happening where all future tax valuation increases from the commercial areas under TIF's are diverted. 

 

Our property taxes are rising at an ever increasing rate due to increased services provided by towns as well as inflation.  These increased taxes are paid by residents and businesses.  With TIFs in place, the extra taxes paid by the businesses are diverted to special projects and the residents are left with a double whammy to not only pay their share of increased expenses but also those of the commercial district.

 

We have become towns where our children and grandchildren will never be able to afford to live.  What a great legacy we are leaving!



Posted by: Deb Dodge | Feb 19, 2014 13:39

A vital and year-round downtown economy is essential to our whole community's welfare. And it is for that reason that Camden's Community and Economic Development Advisory Committee supports the proposed amendment to our Downtown Tax Increment Financing District. Camden's Downtown TIF allows the town to capture any increase in property tax value in the designated downtown area, and only that in that area. Those dollars are spent on projects within that district that support economic development. By adding the ability to enter into Credit Enhancement Agreements, the town is being given a needed tool to encourage investment and jobs within our downtown. In both cases, the expansion of the district to include Knox Mill and the new Credit Enhancement Agreement, funds are raised only when there is an increase in property value or an investment is made that meets a minimum threshold. No current tax funds are diverted away from the general fund. The purpose is to encourage investment & job creation for the benefit of the community.

D. Dodge, CEDAC Chairman



Posted by: Barrie C Keegan | Feb 19, 2014 12:14

I also recommend reading the article in the Bangor Daily before taking a position. Very informative.



Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Feb 19, 2014 09:02

You beat me to it, Mr. Nichols: "TIFs create giant slush funds for Select Boards and increase property taxes for all taxpayers in a town by having to make up for the tax revenue which was diverted." Rockland is a good example. It is a lot easier to squash it now than later.



Posted by: Robert Nichols | Feb 19, 2014 08:53

TIFs create giant slush funds for Select Boards and increase property taxes for all taxpayers in a town by having to make up for the tax revenue which was diverted.

Perhaps Camden voters should read the article "Maine tax law diverts billions in business property taxes from local services" in today's BDN http://bangordailynews.com/2014/02/19/politics/tax-law-allows-billions-in-business-property-taxes-to-be-diverted-from-paying-for-local-services/ before diverting even more of their own tax dollars.



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Staff Profile

Stephanie Grinnell
(207) 236-8511 ext. 302
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Stephanie has served as editor of Camden Herald since its return in April 2012.

Previously, she was editor of VillageSoup's Capital Weekly in Augusta and has worked a number of years in the newspaper business from southern Maine to Waldo County.

Outside the office, she enjoys reading, cooking and gardening.

Stephanie lives in Washington with her husband Jeff, four children, a dog named Chewbacca, a rabbit and two chickens.

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