BRUNSWICK — The Town Council on Tuesday scheduled a public hearing and vote on proposed tax increment financing districts at the former naval air station, now known as Brunswick Landing.
The unanimous vote followed a series of developments between the town and Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority that officials from both sides said indicates a positive, new direction in their relationship.
TIF discussions were tabled last year after town officials said they were faced with financial pressures and uncertainty about changes to TIF laws.
Councilor Ben Tucker said approval of the two TIF districts on March 4 would be the first part of a two-phase process with MRRA that would ultimately rebate a portion of the authority’s property tax payments for infrastructure improvements, among other things, over a set period of time.
The town would also be able to use a portion of TIF revenue for its own special projects.
Tucker said if the council approves the TIF districts, councilors could begin negotiations with MRRA about the TIF agreement that would establish the percentage of property tax payments eligible for rebate.
So far, that detail hasn’t been discussed.
“We haven’t even started the negotiations yet,” Tucker said, although he indicated they could start as soon as the same night the TIF districts are approved.
Councilor John Richardson, the other councilor designated to negotiate with MRRA, explained the importance of taking a phased approach to the TIF agreement by first creating the TIF districts.
“I can say that clearly within the last month the relationship between the town and MRRA has improved somewhat,” Richardson said, “and as a result of that … if we decide to do this TIF, we will need to set a public hearing for March 4. So the public understands, that’s a requirement so we can get in under the deadline … imposed by the Department of Economic and Community Development.”
Richardson said the TIF districts, one for the former naval air base and the other for Brunswick Executive Airport, helps set the boundaries for where the new assessed value of the land is captured by the town for TIF revenue.
The TIF districts also would prevent the town from facing an increase in county taxes and a decrease in state subsidies, such as funds from the municipal revenue sharing program.
“I think that March 4 public hearing will provide us with critical input to the discussions that we will have with MRRA if we hear enough support for the TIF,” Richardson said. “… I also want to indicate to the public that I think we’re a long ways off from any final agreement for a TIF. That is something we, as a council, have to consider.”
Richardson said the DECD would have to approve the TIF districts before the council could negotiate the final agreement with MRRA.
He said if an agreement is worked out, the town could possibly use its portion of TIF revenue for schools, Maine Street development, train quiet zones and recreational opportunities.
“All those things we’re going to have to hear about from the public,” Richardson said.
In other business, Town Manager Gary Brown reported the police station construction project at the corner of Stanwood and Pleasant streets, which began last November, has incurred over $110,000 in change orders so far due to unexpected ledge and clay removal.
Brown said that takes about a third out of the project’s $360,000 contingency fund, which prompted Councilor Benet Pols to ask if it could have been avoided had engineers done an early soil study of the foundation last fall.
Some councilors raised questions last fall about why such a study wasn’t done when they learned less than two months before the project began that the police station’s foundation would cost significantly more than originally expected.
Brown said back in November that some of construction costs came in lower than expected, which would offset the foundation’s higher cost.
On Tuesday, Brown said a core sample study may have detected a small amount of clay, but most of the ledge was outside the building footprint.
“Our contract attorney at the time said it would be difficult to prove that we were harmed as a result of that when the architect didn’t cause the soils to be what they were, that we effectively weren’t harmed as a result of it,” he said.
Brown said whether a soil study was done or not, the construction costs would have likely come in the same.
Responding to a question from Councilor John Perreault, Brown explained why the town’s established quiet zones for railroad crossings at Union and Stanwood streets have been put on hold.
He said Pan Am Railways, which owns the license to operate the rails, has refuted a study done by the town that helped determine the designation of quiet zones, where trains wouldn’t have to sound their horns at crossings.
“We don’t know when we will have a resolution to this issue, but we will continue to work on this,” Brown said.
The quiet zones were supposed to begin last December.
By a 5-4 vote, the council approved two drug-free safe zones for the Perryman Village Housing complex and the McKeen Landing Park area.
Councilors Pols, Richardson, Tucker and Sarah Brayman were opposed.
Brayman said she wondered whether a drug-free safe zone had ever been declared for a housing complex.
“I was just concerned about designating a housing complex as a drug-free zone and I wasn’t sure about law and precedent on that,” Brayman said.
The two new safe zones join the town’s existing 29 zones.