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Commission OKs tax break for wind farm

Franklin County commissioners unanimously approved a tax break for a Canadian wind-farm developer Tuesday morning after closing a public comment period open since last Thursday.

Over the weekend commissioners received e-mails and comments about the proposed 20-year tax agreement between Franklin County and Toronto-based energy company TransCanada.

TransCanada proposes to build a 132-megawatt, 44-turbine commercial wind farm along Kibby Mountain and Kibby Range in Kibby and Skinner townships in northern Franklin County.

The project was approved by commissioners earlier this year. Then TransCanada sought a tax increment financing plan.

“It was the hardest decision I’ve had to make in 15 years on the board,” said Commissioner Fred Hardy of New Sharon. “I believe the tax agreement can be beneficial to Franklin County. I’m not doing it to give TransCanada a tax break but to get economic development.”

In the proposal, the county would be able to capture up to $4 million, based on a $220-million taxable investment, in new revenue to invest in economic development in unorganized territories.

But it could also return a maximum of $8.9 million to TransCanada to reinvest in the development over 20 years, and a $9.3 million in new tax revenue to the state’s unorganized territories.

That’s money that could otherwise reduce the property tax commitment to all 21 Franklin County towns and plantations, said Carrabassett Valley Town Manager Dave Cota at an earlier meeting.

“A 75 percent agreement is better than 100 percent. It isn’t as damaging,” Hardy said, adding that everyone in the county benefits from economic development.

Commissioner Meldon Gilmore of Kingfield said of 10 e-mails received as public comments, only two opposed the TIF, and since he represents the people, the majority rules. Hardy said he received 18 comments in favor and about 16 comments opposed.

Commissioner Gary McGrane of Jay said negative comments were not against the TIF but against the project.

Farmington Town Manager Richard Davis then asked commissioners why they would approve a TIF for a project that people don’t like.

“The commissioners have been privy to private information that the public does not have. We’ve been made aware of issues in negotiations,” McGrane said, information that is up to TransCanada to release.

The board agreed that the deal could be good and public comments were not the only thing they used to make the decision.

“We represent the people to the best of our abilities, and I believe that’s what we’re doing today,” McGrane said.

By Ann Bryant
Staff Writer

Lewiston Sun Journal

4 June 2008