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Brunswick base campus bill awaits Baldacci's signature

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Brunswick base campus bill awaits Baldacci's signature

BRUNSWICK — A complex bill designed to pay the start-up costs for a planned campus at Brunswick Naval Air Station and municipal services at the base now awaits Gov. John Baldacci's signature.

Last week, the bill, sponsored by Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, survived additional scrutiny from the Legislature's Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, which questioned its funding mechanism and requested assurances from stakeholders – the Maine Community College System, Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority and the University of Maine – that they would not request money from the state's General Fund for at least five years.

The bill works by redirecting 50 percent of the state income tax revenues from workers hired at the redeveloped base into a so-called job increment financing fund. Collected revenues would be split between the redevelopment authority and the Advanced Technology Campus, a collaborative school between Southern Maine Community College and UMaine.

The rest of the income tax revenues will go into the General Fund.

MRRA will use the funding to pay for municipal services at the base, such as utilities, police and fire protection and facility maintenance.

Projected start-up costs for the Advanced Technology Campus are about $4 million. Another $4.75 million is needed to renovate several buildings.

The renovation outlay is included in Baldacci's $150 million bond package, will be on the June 8 ballot.

The fiscal note attached to Gerzofsky's bill acknowledges that the funding mechanism will not be sufficient to support all of the campus start-up costs – presumably because job creation at the redeveloped base will take some time.

The note says the community college system will seek access to alternative funding for the new campus, but that those sources "cannot be determined at this time."

During appropriations committee deliberations, lawmakers sought assurances that the campus would not seek access to the General Fund for at least five years.

"The bill has been a roller-coaster ride," said Gerzofsky, adding that appropriations is typically where "bills go to die."

If signed, the bill also stands to benefit the redevelopment authority, which would begin receiving 25 percent of revenues generated by the job fund in fiscal year 2014 to pay for municipal services at the base.

The community college system will receive 100 percent of the job fund revenues for the first two years beginning in fiscal year 2012. After fiscal year 2014, the MRRA and college system will split the fund revenues until 2031, unless 5,000 jobs are created at the base and a legislative review halts the program.

The bill also sets up an airport authority for the MRRA, which hopes to begin airport operations at the base before the U.S. Navy departs in May 2011.

"We are very pleased with the bill," said Steve Levesque, executive director of the MRRA. "Among other things, it cleans up several areas in our existing statute, gives us the statutory provisions requested by the Federal Aviation Administration for the airport and provides for a long-term funding stream for the college campus operations and for maintenance and improvements at Brunswick Landing."

The MRRA says the Advanced Technology Campus is vital for luring businesses to the base because the school will adjust its curriculum to meet the needs of companies seeking a trained workforce.

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or smistler@theforecaster.net