Highlands TIF changes won't go to Topsham Town Meeting

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TOPSHAM — The Board of Selectmen voted April 15 to send 27 warrant items to the May 19 Town Meeting.

A 180-day moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries will go before voters, along with ordinance amendments regarding a proposed code of conduct and code changes involving Town Meeting.

But selectmen removed a request for amendments to the Highlands’ three tax increment financing districts.

The retirement community development has proposed amending its TIF agreements with the town so that all new value, including renovated existing buildings and new infrastructure, would fall under a different revenue-sharing structure than existing value.

All existing value would have kept the same terms, while the Highlands would earn 75 percent of tax increment revenue on new value, leaving the town with 25 percent.

Town Manager Jim Ashe said Highlands owner John Wasileski asked to remove the proposal, and that Wasileski planned to come back to the board at a later date.

Matthew Teare, development manager for the Highlands, noted Tuesday that Topsham residents are looking at a potentially significant tax increase, “and we just didn’t think it would be a good time to ask them to focus on anything else.”

He said the Highlands’ proposal was intended to stimulate growth and create new tax revenue. The Highlands is looking at bringing the application back in the fall, when there is more time to explain the benefits, Teare said.

Selectman Don Russell said that “when we started this process of looking at TIFs, it was understood the goal was that it would be equitable for both sides.”

However, he added, as the process continued “it appeared to be that goal was not being met.”

Russell speculated that the item would have been debated at Town Meeting, and he thanked Wasileski for requesting its removal from the warrant.

The fiscal items on the warrant add up to a proposed 2011 municipal budget of $8.3 million, an increase from the $7.8 million fiscal 2010 budget. All jobs and services remain in place, while union and non-union employees have agreed to postpone salary increases.

“This has been probably the most difficult year that I’ve faced,” said Ashe, who developed two previous town budgets. “… This year, every time we turned around to do something, it seemed like revenue got reduced.”

While the current budget estimated about $800,000 for state revenue sharing, “we’re down now to $664,000,” Ashe said.

With estimated school and county budgets figured in, the property tax rate is projected to rise from the current $13.80 per $1,000 of valuation to $14.84, an increase of 7.5 percent.

Capital projects total $860,500, funding expenditures such as the first phase of drainage improvements for Bay Park and a new plow truck.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or [email protected].

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.