Portland expands zones, options for tax increment financing

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PORTLAND — More properties and more options for spending are the end results of four actions on tax increment financing passed Monday by city councilors.

“We will be much better off by doing this than by not doing this,” Councilor Justin Costa said before the motions drew unanimous support.

Costa is also chairman of the Council Economic Development Committee, which unanimously recommended the TIF measures for passage last month.

Mayor Ethan Strimling was unable to attend the Oct. 15 meeting.

Affected districts include the Bayside, Downtown Transit, and Waterfront TIF districts, either by enlargement, increased recapture rates or added permitted uses for the funding set aside in the districts.

TIFs are districts established for economic development that allow municipalities to set aside increases in tax revenue derived from higher valuations for a variety of uses that can include street and utility work, transportation upgrades, marine improvements, and job training.

TIF districts are not included in state property valuations used to determine funding, including education subsidies and revenue sharing from income and sales taxes.

The TIFs can also be used to spur development by returning some of the recaptured tax revenues to companies or nonprofit agencies for operating costs through credit enhancement agreements. 

“Nothing we are doing here involves a private tax break for any entity,” Costa said before the council votes.

Public comment on the motions was limited to support from Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce spokesman Simon Thompson, who said the Chamber especially supports funding for workforce development and job training added to the permitted uses of the Bayside TIF.

Councilors approved increasing the recapture rate in the Downtown Transit District TIF from 22 percent to 100 percent. The district fits between the Bayside and Waterfront TIF districts, extending from State Street to East Bayside and Washington Avenue. 

According to a memo from city Finance Director Brendan O’Connell and Economic Development Director Greg Mitchell, the district has provided almost $666,600 for public infrastructure and Creative Portland, including staffing, over the last two years.

The TIF agreement expires in 2045, and the increased recapture rate will allow the city to shield at least $3.25 million annually.

Along the waterfront, the TIF district will expand to include land along West Commercial Street from the Casco Bay Bridge to the Sprague Energy terminal on Cassidy Point.

Sprague Energy is considered part of a “future growth area,” while the Portland Yacht Services acreage being expanded by Phineas Sprague and land where the state hopes to add a cold storage warehouse would be added to the TIF zone.

In all, the TIF zone will be expanded by 16 parcels that include the former Rufus Deering Lumber Co., mixed-use development on Newbury Street planned by Shipyard Brewing, and the former Portland Co. site at 58 Fore St.

The expansion will allow the city to shield $2.65 million in valuations through 2032. Permitted spending of TIF funds will now allow investment in a new publicly owned pier, additional parking, dredging operations and “pro-rated salaries” for public officials, including the city manager, economic development director, and planning director and staff.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland City Hall, 389 Congress St.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.