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CUMBERLAND — Along with ratifying components of a $3.2 million municipal budget for next year, North Yarmouth Town Meeting approved the town’s first tax increment financing district and a land swap to facilitate moving the Old Town House to the Village Center.
Saturday’s gathering, held at the Greely Center for the Arts, ran more than three hours and drew 156 registered voters. All 24 warrant articles passed; only No. 6, on whether to establish the TIF district, fueled much discussion.
The 233-acre Village Center TIF includes several properties along Route 9 and Route 115, from about Pea Lane north to Route 231 and east to Oak Hill Road.
New property tax value – the tax increment – will be created on a parcel within the district’s boundaries when it has been developed or improved. New value from such projects would be sheltered by North Yarmouth instead of being added to its state-determined valuation. This sheltering could avoid tax assessment increases to the town from School Administrative District 51 and Cumberland County.
Those monies, raised outside of property taxes, would have to go toward amenities within the Village Center TIF district. They could include recreational trails, street-related improvements like sidewalks and lighting, and capital expenses related to public safety, such as a fire truck.
The net effect of such a district would “cause other towns to pay monies that we would be exempted from paying,” Jim Briggs of New Gloucester Road noted, adding if North Yarmouth wants given services, the town should fund them “and not try to distribute those costs to the other towns in the state.”
Linc Merrill of North Road said he is “philosophically opposed” to TIF districts, noting “all we’re doing is finding ways to say that the tax system doesn’t work, and if some of us are lucky enough, they can shift the taxes onto other people.”
North Yarmouth does not have much infrastructure, “and what we’re talking about is dedicating a lot of (TIF) money every year to build that infrastructure,” Merrill said. “So we’re going to be looking to build things into our budget that we don’t currently have.”
“This is what the town really has to ask themselves: do we really want a bunch of commercial business in this area,” Bill Young of Sweetser Road said, noting there is no guarantee businesses coming to town will be suitable for North Yarmouth, nor are they certain to succeed.
“This is not an anomaly that we’re asking for,” Audrey Lones of Baston Road said, noting the hundreds of TIF districts Maine has, many in towns the size of North Yarmouth “who are looking to not just shelter their taxes from county and school (assessments), but also to help create improvement in their town, to provide jobs, to provide vibrancy in town, and to improve our community and public safety.”
Town Meeting must approve how TIF monies are spent, she added.
“This is about sidewalks, this is about public works, public safety,” Select Board member Anne Graham of Farms Edge Road said. “How we have a strong, safe, vibrant community.”
David Smith of Walnut Hill Road noted that Cumberland, North Yarmouth’s partner in School Administrative District 51, uses its TIFs “to reduce their school taxes and make us pay more school taxes. … We need to fight back (by creating a TIF district in North Yarmouth) so that we can get back to parity with Cumberland.”
The proposed $3.2 million budget for fiscal year 2020 is up $467,000 from current spending. Nearly $817,000 in fixed expenses – up about $332,000, or nearly 69 percent – is the major driver behind the sharp spending increase.
The first year of debt service for the Wescustogo Community Center encompasses nearly $286,000 of those fixed expenses.
The budget picture’s silver lining is a projected revenue hike that will offset expenses. About $2 million in non-property tax increases – 22.3 percent growth – is anticipated by both the Select Board and Budget Committee.
School and county assessments to North Yarmouth are $7.3 million (up nearly $44,000) and $362,000 (up about $25,000), respectively. The SAD 51 impact is expected to be flat this year, compared with nearly 6 percent last year, thanks largely to a $961,000 hike in state aid to education.
All told, taxes would increase 0.3 percent, adding 5 cents to the town’s tax rate of $16.67 per $1,000 of property valuation. The owner of a home assessed at $300,000 would consequently see their tax bill increase by $15.
Residents also authorized the lease of the town-owned Village Green at 475 Walnut Hill Road (Route 115) to the North Yarmouth Historical Society to allow the organization to relocate the Old Town House there. In exchange, the society will transfer ownership to the town of the quarter-acre 470 Memorial Highway (Route 9) property on which the 1853 structure sits.
Historical society members hope to move the weathered, 1,550-square-foot building to the vacant land in the center of town, where Wescustogo Hall stood for decades before burning down in 2013.
North Yarmouth’s annual Town Meeting, held Saturday, April 6, at Greely Center for the Arts in Cumberland, drew 156 registered voters. They passed all 24 warrant articles.
Katie Murphy of Mountfort Road, president of the North Yarmouth Historical Society, advocates a land swap between the town and society to allow moving the Old Town House to the center of town.