MRRA seeks to mend fences with Brunswick, Topsham
BRUNSWICK — The Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority is proposing a new group it hopes will open the lines of communication with municipal officials, avoid policy conflicts and pave a smoother way for economic development at Brunswick Landing.
MRRA Chairman John Moncure announced the creation of the (Naval Air Station Brunswick) Redevelopment Community Group at the Dec. 3 Town Council meeting and suggested Town Manager Gary Brown and two councilors be appointed, along Topsham Town Manager Cornell Knight and two Topsham selectmen.
"The purpose of this working group is to establish a forum for regular briefings on redevelopment issues and activities and obtain input on these subjects from community leaders," Moncure said, reciting a letter he sent to Town Council Chairwoman Joanne King and Topsham Board of Selectmen Chairman Donald Russell earlier that day.
He said the group will also include two MRRA trustees, MRRA Executive Director Steve Levesque and state Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner George C. Gervais.
The announcement comes at a time when the town hasn't been able to come to terms with MRRA on economic development strategies, something Moncure said could be avoided in the future if the new panel starts working soon.
In early September, the Town Council tabled negotiations with MRRA for a tax increment financing agreement that would have returned some of the redevelopment authority's property taxes back to Brunswick Landing for infrastructure improvements.
The council cited uncertainty with possible legislation that might have tipped the TIF agreement too much in MRRA's favor. The concern was triggered, in part, by special legislation Gervais was trying to pass in March that would have done just that.
The most recent issue surfaced in October when Brown said Levesque informed him that MRRA was considering legal action against the town because it is taxing property at Brunswick Landing that the redevelopment authority believes is exempt.
The property in question is leased to Kestrel Aircraft, which MRRA believes is tax exempt under state law as leased public property used for aeronautical purposes.
But that's not how the town sees it, and the conflict all comes down to a difference in legal opinion between Brunswick and MRRA, Levesque said.
He said the town's findings are unfair because other properties used for aeronautical purposes across the state have tax-exempt status.
"It makes it difficult for us to attract businesses here, because of the difference in how laws are being applied," Levesque said.
For now, Levesque said MRRA hasn't made any decisions on whether it will move forward with litigation. And until any resolution is made, the redevelopment authority will foot Kestrel's tax bill.
Moncure said he hopes the formation of the new group will improve relations with the town and prevent future problems disputes. He said he also hopes this means TIF negotiation between MRRA and the town could begin sooner, as well.
"We have to have high-level communication," Moncure said, "so that the miscommunication that's taken place because of rumor (can be put to rest) and the leaders can talk to each other to address questions or issues (each party has)."