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BRUNSWICK — The first phase of a proposed tax break for Brunswick Landing was unanimously tabled by the Town Council Monday night.
The move took Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority by surprise. It also delayed the town’s chance to avoid paying higher county taxes and receiving fewer state education subsidies in the future.
“I guess they tabled them because they wanted to talk to us,” Steve Levesque, MRRA’s executive director, said Tuesday. “I’m not aware of any issues, so we’re just waiting for the town to have that discussion. I found out about it at the meeting.”
After a public hearing, the Town Council was set to take action Monday night on two proposed tax increment financing districts for Brunswick Landing and Brunswick Executive Airport. But councilors voted to defer any decision-making to their March 18 meeting.
Councilor John Richardson cited the need for more public input.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to provide some economic development initiatives to redevelop the base, and I think it’s an important issue,” Richardson said.
“I think it’s also one that carries with it a significant amount of taxpayer monies that would then be invested onto the premises, so I think it’s important for (the public) … to have a chance to weigh in over the next two weeks…”
Councilor Ben Tucker said he and Richardson will meet with MRRA before the council’s next meeting to begin discussing a TIF agreement.
“We hope to come back here on March 18 and report that we’ve had a successful initial meeting and then designate the (districts) and then move forward on this project,” Tucker said.
Fred Blanchard, of Harpswell Road, was the only resident to speak up during the public hearing. He said he opposed the TIF districts and that the State Legislature’s creation of MRRA was unlawful.
“Either we are a country of laws, which those in government also obey, or we are not,” Blanchard said.
“I can only conclude from the actions of our political leaders, including two governors and attorney generals and the council members of the town of Brunswick, who have been advised of these facts time and again over six years, that they consider themselves above the law.”
In response, councilors advised Town Manager Gary Brown to address Blanchard’s criticisms during the council’s next meeting.
If the council creates the two proposed TIF districts, it will carve out a path for a credit enhancement agreement that would rebate MRRA a percentage of its property taxes over a set period of time. MRRA could then use that money for projects such as infrastructure improvements.
When the council terminated TIF negotiations with MRRA last year, Brown had said that agreement would have given MRRA $12 million back in tax revenue over 30 years – revenue that would have otherwise stayed in the municipal budget.
But none of those details have been worked out for the current TIF agreement.
Richardson said Tuesday that most of the TIF agreement’s details, including how the town would use its TIF revenue, have not been discussed.
“We’re too early in discussions to speak definitively as to what the TIF money will be used for,” Richardson said.
In addition to rebating MRRA some of its tax bill, the TIF districts would prevent the town from paying extra county taxes and losing state education subsidies, because the districts would shield Brunswick Landing from increased property valuation this year.
Richardson said that while the overall TIF agreement would direct a percentage of taxpayer dollars to MRRA for redevelopment purposes, the other option would be for the town to incur extra costs.
“Either you use it for economic development or you use it to pay higher county taxes and lose some state school funding,” Richardson said.
To give the public a better understanding of tax increment financing, the Town Council will hold a TIF workshop Thursday, March 21, at 7 p.m.
“This is for the benefit of ourselves and educating the public about TIFs in general,” Chairwoman Suzan Wilson said. “This isn’t a session where we would be negotiating or talking about specifics regarding the MRRA TIF itself. We really want to just bring the public in and talk more about how TIFs work, what the benefits are.”