FARMINGTON – If the proposed tax break for a Canadian energy company’s 44-turbine wind farm in Northern Franklin County is approved, millions of dollars would be available to market the scenic attractions of the unorganized territory and promote economic development.
TransCanada is seeking approval for creation of a Tax-Increment Financing district that would “capture” a large portion of the new project’s $22.2 million in property taxes each year.
The deal would give Franklin County $4 million a year of the “captured” property tax money to target economic development. Another $8.9 million would be returned annually to TransCanada to invest in the project. The Unorganized Territory of Maine, which encompasses 400 townships in 12 counties, would get $9.3 million a year.
A public hearing on the proposal will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 29, upstairs in the Franklin County Courthouse on Main Street in Farmington. Commissioners will likely vote on the TIF at their next meeting on June 3. Maine Department of Economic and Community Development approval is also required.
Franklin County’s county tax rate would drop “precipitously” without the TIF, said Tom Walker of the Maine Revenue Services’ Property Tax Division, which is responsible for annually assessing and collecting property taxes in the unorganized territory.
Franklin County’s current tax rate is $8.08 per $1,000 of property value. A drop in the tax rate would mostly benefit the high-valuation towns of Carrabassett Valley, Rangeley, Jay and Farmington, but all 22 towns would see some reduction.
According to a chart prepared by the consultant hired by the county, Gregory Mitchell of Eaton Peabody Consulting Group, the towns would see their county taxes reduced by $106,000 a year.
Nancy Marshall, a Carrabassett Valley resident who owns Nancy Marshall Communications, a marketing firm in Augusta, said the TIF is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“We cannot pass this up because it will allow us to take a very strategic approach to business attraction and tourism in Franklin County,” she said.
“There are a lot of opportunities this county misses because we are not organized enough to get the information out and attract visitors in,” she said.
“This will be a win-win all around. More tourists means they will be spending money in the both the unorganized and the organized communities,” she said.
Carrabassett Valley Town Manager David Cota, speaking on behalf of his town’s selectmen, strongly opposes the TIF.
“This is not about whether or not (wind farms) make good energy or economic sense. It is about whether or not a TIF for this project and company is good public tax policy. We believe it is not,” he said.
The towns need property tax relief rather than new programs, and TransCanada should pay its fair share of taxes, he said. At an earlier meeting, Cota suggested to Mitchell and the commissioners that the company make a payment in lieu of taxes to cover its share of county services such as waste disposal and fire and police protection.
That request is not in the final draft.
“I am shocked,” Cota said. “Instead of giving property tax relief, we are getting these new programs when we need money for county services.”
He questions whether the new programs are really needed and if residents in the unorganized territory really want them.
Dain Trafton of Phillips also argues that “putting money back into people’s pockets” is the most beneficial thing to do.
He said TransCanada had originally told the community the company had no plans to apply for a TIF.
TransCanada’s project director, Nick DiDomenico, has since said the company needs the tax break in light of soaring costs and a drop in the value of the dollar. That makes imported materials and equipment, including the turbines manufactured in Europe, more expensive than was initially budgeted.
He also has said the company needed the TIF before TransCanada’s board of directors meets in June to show the project was financially viable.
Ed David of Farmington calls it “greed” for the high-valuation towns to see the issue as money in their own pockets when it could be used for the greater good.
“This is a remarkable opportunity to capture revenue in Franklin County that would otherwise dissipate and disappear. It will support economic development and it is $4 million that we would never have had,” David said.
The $4 million worth of investment projects proposed in the draft plan over the 20-year life of the TIF would only benefit the county’s unorganized territory, a sparsely populated area that spans about two-thirds of Franklin County.
Among the recommended projects:
• $50,000 a year, or a total of $1 million, for improvements to scenic byways and scenic outlooks along 23 miles of Route 27.
• $30,000 a year, or a total of $600,000, to pay half the county’s dues for Greater Franklin Development Corporation. In return, the economic development agency would focus half its efforts on marketing the unorganized territory.
• $5,000 a year for business marketing and $35,000 a year to promote tourism, especially nature-based tourism.
• $10,000 a year to map trails.
• $25,000 a year for a revolving loan fund for businesses.
• $12,500 a year for equipment for police and fire agencies responsible for responding to emergencies at the facility.
In addition, TransCanada will give the towns of Eustis and Stratton, the communities closest to the project, about $132,000 a year.
By Betty Jespersen
Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel
25 May 2008
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding