BINGHAM — People wanted to know on Wednesday night how a potential wind development project would benefit them, not the developer.
About 25 residents and people from the surrounding area gathered at Quimby Middle School for a two-hour public meeting with representatives from the wind turbine developer First Wind and the town’s attorney.
There, they mainly expressed skepticism of First Wind’s proposed project to construct about 10 turbines in Bingham, which would mark the beginning of a chain of about 50 total turbines stretched up to Mayfield Township.
The meeting was called in order to teach people, and give them the opportunity to ask questions, about the possibility of establishing a tax-increment financing (TIF) district in town, which would require ultimate approval by residents.
Joan Fortin, a Bernstein Shur attorney with First Wind, explained that a TIF district’s boundaries are drawn around the area where the turbines are located, in addition to other areas where the town would like to lure economic development. Taxes on the district’s new revenue would be captured, over time. A large percentage would go to First Wind, and a smaller percentage would go to the town and be used to fund economic development projects.
The TIF district would help First Wind finance the project, said Fortin. But she said it would benefit residents by reducing money that would otherwise be spent from the general fund, on road projects or an economic development director, for example.
William Dale, the town’s attorney, of Jensen, Baird, Gardner and Henry, said one of the largest issues about the TIF district is what economic development projects in town it will benefit.
“Can you find enough legitimate jobs to spend this?” Dale said. “If you have enough good places to spend the money, it make sense.”
“It’s your job to do well by yourself,” he said. “So you’ve got to decide, ‘Is this in my selfish interests?’”
Dale said the town has run numbers with Maine Revenue Services and determined that if there were no TIF, the average property tax bill would go down slightly.
Selectman Steven Steward said selectmen are working on proposals for economic development projects, such as fixing up roads.
The town could “absolutely” benefit from the TIF district, he said. “It’s got to.”
Jack Flynn of Bingham said people should “not be fooled by the money.” He is largely concerned with potential health effects of turbines. The town should inform residents of the perceived effects of vibrational and low-frequency fields created by turbines, he said.
“If the town were to approve this, without, or in violation of proper due process of law, we have no choice, but to bring suit,” he said.
The next public meetings will both be held at 7 p.m., on Wednesday, Nov. 17 and Wednesday, Dec. 1, at Quimby Middle School.