BRUNSWICK — A tax dispute between the town and the quasi-municipal authority that runs the former Naval Air Station has possibly taken a turn for the better, according to officials on both sides.
Meanwhile, Maine’s Department of Economic and Community Development has withdrawn a proposed bill that local officials blasted for threatening to remove local control of redevelopment at the former base, now known as Brunswick Landing.
In an e-mail sent to fellow board members of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority on Monday, DECD Commissioner George Gervais said the legislation written to “clarify the property tax exemption for municipally owned airports” has been removed from the department’s list of proposed bills.
Gervais indicated in early January that the bill was triggered by an ongoing dispute between the town and MRRA over whether Kestrel Aeroworks, a tenant at Brunswick Landing, is exempt from property taxes.
After consulting with Maine Revenue Services on the bill’s language, Gervais said he decided to withdraw the legislation.
“It was bought to our attention that while this legislation clarified certain sections of the statute,” Gervais wrote, “it failed to fully clarify all of the issues and therefore its title misrepresented the intent of the legislation.”
Steve Levesque, MRRA executive director, said in early January that Kestrel’s tax bill for the current fiscal year is $114,000, or 25 percent of the property tax revenue from Brunswick Landing the town is expected to receive.
Although Levesque was unavailable for comment Wednesday, MRRA spokesman Ben Sturtevant provided a statement released by Levesque Tuesday morning.
“We are evaluating the options and hope to work with the town on workable solutions regarding taxation and economic development issues,” Levesque said, “that will make Brunswick Landing a welcoming location for business investment and quality job creation.”
According to MRRA Board Chairman John Moncure, the authority has now chosen a new direction in an attempt to resolve the dispute. Town Manager Gary Brown said he considers it a “less aggressive approach,” compared to what the board was previously considering.
Instead of seeking legal action against the town, the MRRA board voted at their Jan. 23 meeting to file for a tax abatement, Moncure said.
“We still maintain that the property is not taxable, but we chose to go the less adversarial route,” Moncure said. He said the board previously had considered seeking a declaratory judgment for the dispute, which would bring the issue directly to the courts.
Moncure said the abatement process will be “long” and painful, but “we decided it would be a better route of us to take at this time.”
Andy Cashman, lead lobbyist from Preti Flaherty, the law firm hired by the town to monitor legislation that will affect Brunswick’s redevelopment efforts, said the MRRA’s new approach to the tax dispute is a positive development. Like Moncure, he described it as “less adversarial.”
“If you look at the fact that the MRRA board voted to have an abatement rather than a declaratory judgement, and the fact that the (DECD) just pulled this bill, it seems to indicate the MRRA board is interested in working more directly with the town,” Cashman said Tuesday.
Brown said the town is relieved it won’t have to fight a piece of legislation over the issue. Though he said Preti Flaherty will continue to monitor legislation in Augusta, he also said he is not aware of any other bills the town may want to oppose.
“We don’t see anything on the surface that has given us cause for concern,” Brown said.