Town councilors weigh Falmouth TIF proposal

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FALMOUTH — The Town Council held a workshop on a proposed OceanView and natural gas tax increment financing district projected to capture more than $20 million in value.

The TIF district would be made up 355 acres and proposed to capture 100 percent of increases in assessed real estate values associated with new OceanView development and natural gas line installation by Summit Natural Gas over a 30-year term.

At its core, a tax increment is the difference between between the amount of property tax revenue generated before and after the TIF district is established. So by seeking to capture 100 percent, the town would then be putting all the incremental increases into the designated TIF fund, which could only be used for designated projects.

Some councilors questioned why the TIF district would include both OceanView and the Summit gas line.

James Saffian, the town’s bond counsel, explained bundling the two together into one district would avoid complications down the road. A single TIF would mean the town would be able to avoid issues of using money from one TIF in an area outside its boundaries.

“You have a more difficult time supporting some projects with different TIFs,” Saffian said.

Theo Holtwijk, the town’s director of long-range planning,  said the district would not just be a single area, but more of a “spiderweb network,” comprising more than 66 miles of public roads that require upkeep. Included in the TIF is $12 million for road repairs.

The TIF includes a series of projects that essentially fall into categories of things that need to be done, things the town would like to do, and things of a lower priority. Town Manager Nathan Poore said the list was developed as a way to generate a conversation for councilors, and that some things are “placeholders for discussion.”

Council Vice Chairman Dave Goldberg compared the TIF district to home repairs, saying over a number of years there are things a homeowner has to do, like fixing the furnace or roof, which he equated with road repairs. Then he said there are things an owner would like to do, like updating a kitchen, which he equated with sidewalk installation. Finally, he said there are things lower on the priority list, like finishing a basement, which he compared to projects like a proposed Pan Am rail tunnel, which would connect the Falmouth school campus to Community Park.

Councilors expressed concerns about some things on the list, as well as the possible inclusion of some projects that might not merit funding.

“If we make it too big and too bold, we handcuff future councils,” Councilor Russell Anderson said.

Saffian said the list of projects can be amended, and the council is not obligated to pursue any of the projects on the list.

Holtwijk added the council annually has to make “conscious decisions” on projects, and future councils are able to learn from past councils and amend past actions.

He added that 2o44, when the TIF would expire, “is a long time away.”

No action was taken at the workshop. The next step will be an informal introduction of the TIF district at the council’s Feb. 23 meeting, followed by a public hearing and order on March 9.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.