BRUNSWICK — In a 7-2 vote that the opposition warned would set a dangerous precedent for meddling in state tax legislation, the Town Council on Monday agreed to endorse a bill designed to give tax incentives to the film industry.
The state Legislature in June pushed the bill, LD 1449, to the next session, mostly because the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee wasn’t able to agree on a funding method. But recently, local advocates for the legislation asked the council to send a letter of support.
Councilor Joanne King, who voted with the majority on Monday, sponsored the item, arguing that the legislation has the potential to benefit Brunswick, and specifically the redevelopment of Brunswick Naval Air Station, which advocates claim has drawn interest from a major film producer for a potential studio.
King’s reasoning drew wide support from councilors, some of whom argued that the council had made economic development one of its priorities this year.
But the two dissenters, Councilors Ben Tucker and Benet Pols, said supporting the legislation would force the council to take a position on future tax legislation.
“It has not been the practice of this council to endorse tax bills,” Tucker said. “… We’re not the (Legislature’s Taxation Committee), but I just felt like I was in a (Taxation) Committee hearing.”
Tucker and Pols also argued that the legislation does not specifically target Brunswick or Cumberland County.
The bill makes specific mention of Aroostook, Franklin, Oxford, Piscataquis, Somerset and Washington County for additional tax incentives. It does not mention Cumberland County.
“I’d feel differently if this were tied to Brunswick or the base,” Tucker said. “We need hard evidence that this is the case, not anecdotal.”
“I have to oppose this on general principle,” Pols said. “There are dozens of worthy tax bills each session. We don’t pick and choose which ones we want to support.”
Councilor Gerald Favreau, meanwhile, said the bill is in line with the council’s goals for 2009.
“Economic development is at the forefront,” Favreau said, adding that film production could pump a lot of money into the local economy.
Councilor Debbie Atwood agreed, adding that the council has taken positions on other state matters, like extending passenger train service to Brunswick.
“If we can support some, then why not others?” Atwood said.
“This is not a specific project,” Tucker responded.
After the vote, Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, told the council that its decision wasn’t necessary, adding that the obstacle confronting the bill wasn’t broad support, but funding.
“You have support for this bill, and (the film advocates) know that,” Gerzofsky said.
In other business, councilors agreed to hear a future proposal that would expand drug-free zones to some of the town’s parks and recreation areas. The zones are similar to the drug-free zones currently mandated by state law to increase drug trafficking penalties within 1,000 feet of schools.
While most of the council appeared willing to support the proposal, Pols, an attorney who practiced criminal defense for several years, said that in his experience, drug-free zones ensnared unintended targets and were widely dismissed by district attorneys.
“It’s well-intentioned,” Pols said. “But in practice, it doesn’t catch the guy in a trench coat hanging around the school yard.”
Brunswick Police Cmdr. Kevin Schofield argued that the department is trying to be proactive in drug trafficking enforcement, adding that the proposal doesn’t eliminate district attorneys’ discretion to toss additional penalties.
The council didn’t take action on the proposal, but agreed to review the proposal at a later date.
The council also adopted its five-year Capital Improvement Program, which includes $5.6 million in expenditures for the current fiscal year. Most of the spending is devoted to public works projects.
The 2010-2011 CIP jumps to $15 million, an expenditure driven largely by a $6.6 million police station. The council recently launched a subcommittee to study the potential sites for the new station. So far the leading contender for the station is town-owned building on Industry Road.
The town purchased the building in 2004 with intent of converting it to a police station, but a previous council balked at the expenditure. The town has since spent over $1 million renovating the building.
The building has since become the home of Southern Maine Community College’s Advanced Technology Center, the feeder program for the region’s composites cluster.
Last month, SMCC president James Ortiz said the ATC could be forced to suspend classes should the council endorse using the Industry Road facility for a police station in 2010.