Road improvements, tourism, economic development, public safety and even mapping trails in Franklin County’s unorganized territory are some projects that could be funded through a tax break program proposed for the Kibby wind farm project, a consultant told county commissioners Tuesday.
The meeting was the most recent in a series conducted by consultant Gregory Mitchell of Eaton Peabody Consulting Group in Augusta, who was hired by the county to put together a Tax Increment Financing District plan, or TIF, for the TransCanada wind farm.
TransCanada, based in Toronto, Ont., Canada, has been working for three years on plans to build a $220 million, 44-turbine wind farm near the Canadian border in Kibby and Skinner Townships. The project was approved by the Land Use Regulation Commission in January.
Under a TIF, Franklin County would keep a still-to-be-determined percentage of the wind farm’s annual $1.1 million property tax revenue over the next 20 years. The deal allows the municipality to “shelter” the property tax revenue from state valuation and use it for commercial or economic development activities in the unorganized territory “district.” TransCanada would use its portion on the project.
“If we can get some money back for Franklin County to help out with economic development in that area, that will weigh on my opinion as much as anything,” said Commissioner Fred Hardy of New Sharon.
The TIF requires a vote by the county commissioners and approval by the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development. The state also has to support the county’s list of investment options, Mitchell said.
“This is an opportunity of a lifetime . . . because you can establish a TIF district before the (property) value gets counted (by the state),” he told about 20 local officials and residents in the audience.
Possible projects he suggested are better signs and improvements at scenic lookouts; access road upgrades along designated scenic byways, such as Routes 27 and 4; and public safety equipment for local fire departments that would be called on to respond to emergencies at the wind turbines and the 30 miles of transmission lines.
Money might also be used for tourism planning and marketing as well as paying a portion of the $60,000 in annual dues to Franklin County Development Corporation to promote the unorganized territory.
Mitchell said his office will have a cost equivalent for each investment option that will be used to negotiate the financial deal with TransCanada. Suggestions from the audience included funds for snowmobile trail and bridge improvements, trail grooming equipment and conservation easements.
Nancy Marshall of Carrabassett Valley, owner of the marketing firm Nancy Marshall Communications in Augusta, said marketing and tourism will require great Web sites and maps as well as signs and road improvements.
“Signage is fine when they are already here. But how do we get people here?” she asked.
Commissioners will meet in executive session with TransCanada and Mitchell on April 29 to discuss financial details such as the percentage of TransCanada’s property tax revenue to be returned to the company.
Future public meetings and a public hearing will be announced and commissioners said there will be full disclosure of the discussions.
“We want as much transparency in the process as possible,” said Commissioner Gary McGrane of Jay.
9 April 2008
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