Snub fuels Brunswick vote to end tax shelters for base redevelopment agency

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BRUNSWICK — Negotiations for tax-shelter agreements between the town and the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority – governed by the state’s Tax Increment Financing laws – were terminated Tuesday night by an 8-1 vote of the Town Council.

Town Manager Gary Brown told the Bangor Daily News Wednesday morning that the town’s financial situation – most notably, a reduction in revenues for public schools – and uncertainty about changes to TIF laws being considered in Augusta led to the council vote.

But Councilor Benjamin Tucker, one of the eight who voted to end the TIF for MRRA, said there was also a tipping point that pushed the council to the vote: an email from a state employee to Brown that indicated to Tucker that Gov. Paul LePage’s administration wants to cut the town out of the decision-making about the former Brunswick Naval Air Station.

The Aug. 21 email, which Brown forwarded to councilors and two town employees, said that a town official nominated for the MRRA board – special projects assistant Denise Clavette – was already ruled out for the spot.

“I understand that you are likely disappointed that Denise (Clavette) was not selected to sit on the Board,” wrote Kristine Schuman, the governor’s account executive at the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, in response to a query from Brown about new MRRA board appointments.

The town has not had an official on the board since Brown wasn’t reappointed by former Gov. John Baldacci in 2009, and Tucker said this is a problem.

“(MRRA) is a long-term redevelopment strategy and we don’t want to lose control of where our tax dollars are going,” the councilor said.

Echoing statements from Tucker and Brown, Councilor David Watson said at Tuesday night’s meeting that he wanted to be clear that the problem isn’t between Brunswick and MRRA.

“The two entities have negotiated in good faith. It’s important we make a public statement that this has nothing to do with MRRA and we’ll work out this agreement,” Watson said before councilors voted to eliminate the TIF districts.

MRRA Executive Director Steve Levesque said his organization has no input on LePage’s appointments, and does not make recommendations.

“Unfortunately, MRRA has to take the brunt of the town’s anger,” Levesque said.

Brunswick and the redevelopment group were in the midst of negotiations to create two Tax Increment Financing districts on the former Brunswick Naval Air Station property that would have allowed the MRRA to keep a portion of its property tax payments to the town for various infrastructure improvements on the former base, according to Brown.

Though the exact terms had not been ironed out, Brown said early negotiations indicated that the TIFs could have involved about $12 million over the next 30 years that would have gone back to the MRRA instead of supporting the municipal budget.

Levesque told the Bangor Daily News Wednesday morning that his organization had just heard of the vote and was exploring what exactly it means for the redevelopment effort.

“We’re in the process of fact-finding,” Levesque said. “We hadn’t finished with negotiations yet … but I thought we had reached an accord. If there’s not a TIF program with the town of Brunswick, we’ll have to find other sources of money.”

Levesque said the TIF dollars, which would have dispersed to the MRRA on an annual basis at a rate that had not yet been determined, would have been used for infrastructure improvements and maintenance.

Brown said there were two TIFs proposed because of limits the state has on how large a TIF district can be. In general terms, he said, one of the TIFs involved hangars and other buildings associated with the airfield’s twin runways and the other would have encompassed most of the other buildings on the former base.

Brown said he was unsure of what changes to TIFs might be in the works at the state level, but that “people close to the administration” have told the town that changes may be proposed in the next legislative session.

On the budget front, according to Brown, the council faced a $2.2 million deficit in the School Department alone for the current fiscal year, which began July 1.

“This is not a one-year phenomenon,” Brown said. “The position of the council is that there’s certainly a willingness to re-examine this issue in the future. This is a huge deal for the town of Brunswick to enter into an agreement like this with any organization.”

Adrienne Bennett, a spokeswoman for LePage, along with George Gervais, commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development, told the Bangor Daily News that there is nothing proposed that would alter TIF laws.

“We don’t have anything in the works right now,” she said. “We certainly wouldn’t advise any town official to vote on the premise of what we may or may not introduce in a future legislative session.”

In late March, Gervais introduced an amendment to the state budget during a legislative workshop that would have given MRRA 80 percent of the revenue generated from the TIF districts, although he said the bill’s language wasn’t specific to Brunswick.

The legislative maneuver was done without much chance of a public hearing, and it alarmed Brown and councilors, ultimately causing the bill to die.

Gervais said in April after the bill died that he would possibly consider introducing it again.

The lone vote Tuesday against terminating the TIF talks was cast by Councilor Benet Pols, who said he was not comfortable supporting the move to rescind the deals because he was unable to attend an executive session on the issue, which was held prior to Tuesday’s regular council meeting.

Pols said he doesn’t think the issue with the TIF districts is related to LePage’s decision to not choose a town official as a board member for MRRA. He added that he has been generally pleased with the MRRA board appointments.

“At the same time, I’d be happy to see (Clavette) approved,” Pols said.

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow him onTwitter: @DylanLJMartin.