The creation of two tax increment financing districts is the question being put before the voters of Camden at a special town meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 23. After several months of work, the Camden tax increment financing work group took a series of recommendations to the Select Board at its Feb. 2 meeting. The Select Board then voted unanimously to approve scheduling a public hearing and town meeting vote on the two new TIF districts. The public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the Washington Street Conference Room, followed by a town meeting vote at around 8 p.m. to take action on the proposed Downtown Tax Increment Financing District and its companion (or donor) district, the Business Highway Tax Increment Financing District.

So just what is a TIF district? TIF is a powerful tool created by the state to help provide individual towns with funds to invest in themselves. TIF revenue comes from the increases in property taxes that are the result of new development and property improvements within a TIF district. To put it another way, the TIF-generated funds come from the incremental increase in property taxes that occurs after the date that a TIF district is created – taxes that would be paid with or without the TIF district. The TIF districts being proposed for Camden will not take funds away from existing taxpayers, nor will they directly benefit any individual or corporation. These funds will, over the next 20 years, make it possible to carry out much-needed town improvements to enhance the community and economic vitality of Camden, much as TIF districts are helping both Rockport and Rockland.

The TIF legislation makes it possible for towns to shelter these incremental taxes. When a TIF district is created, the property values are basically frozen as far as the state is concerned, for the period of the TIF (up to 30 years). By freezing the values and using the TIF revenue for downtown related projects, the community succeeds in sheltering those funds from impacts related to the state and local school aid formula, local county taxes, and the state revenue sharing formula. Without a TIF district in place, it is projected that Camden could lose as much as 88 cents out of every new dollar of tax revenue created over the next five years.

The primary focus of the TIF work group, as well as other town committees involved in improving the economic and community viability of Camden, was on the downtown area. As it turns out, most of the larger private development projects forecast to occur over the next few years are located in the downtown and harbor areas. The boundaries of the proposed Downtown TIF District encompass these properties. The Downtown TIF District extends from the old Bean Yard around the harbor as far as the Yacht Club, and includes the downtown area roughly from Harbor Park to the Elm Street School, and Tannery Lane, the Camden Parking Company, and the Public Safety Building property. The second proposed district, the Business Highway TIF District, includes most of the properties on both sides of Elm Street as far as the Hannaford Shopping Center. This district is called a “donor” district in that the TIF revenues derived from it may be spent on projects in it or within the Downtown TIF District. Copies of the map delineating the two TIF districts are available at the town office.

During the development of the TIF districts, the working group met with many of the town stakeholder committees to gather input and comments on the TIF district areas as well as the proposed project list; additional projects were added to the list developed by the TIF working group. This project list is included in the TIF documents in order to provide future direction on projects that could be funded from TIF revenues. These projects consist of a series of improvements that have been proposed by a number of committees, to be located in the downtown or at the gateway entrance – near Hannaford. These projects are meant to improve the efficiency of the infrastructure, the quality of life of Camden residents and the economic potential of the downtown. These are community based projects only and do not involve direct assistance to developers or corporations.

Once approved by the voters, a TIF district and its development program can be changed by future town votes to reflect changes in the economy, priorities and so on. The Select Board, with the advice of the Community and Economic Development Advisory Committee, will, through its annual budget process, decide how the TIF funds should be used and then presented for voter approval.

We strongly urge the voters of the town of Camden to become fully informed of the great benefits to our community that the creation of these two TIF districts will provide. Information is available at the town office and through members of the work group: Select Board member Morgan Laidlaw, John Arnold, Martin Cates, Peter Gross, Vera Rand, Town Manager Roberta Smith, and Town Planner and Code Enforcement Officer Jeff Nims. Finally, we urge you to attend the public hearing and special town meeting starting at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 23 and vote to approve these two TIF districts for the future of Camden.

Martin Cates is chairman of Camden’s Community and Economic Development Advisory Committee and Peter Gross is chairman of the TIF work group, a subcommittee of the CEDAC.