Views differ on wind TIF: Commissioners’ certain area will benefit from TransCanada deal; residents wary
FARMINGTON – Most of the comments submitted to Franklin County commissioners prior to their vote this week approving a tax break for TransCanada’s wind farm appear to oppose the deal, a review of the documents reveals.
Commissioners Tuesday unanimously approved creation of a $9 million, 20-year tax break for TransCanada’s 44-turbine project to be built in the unorganized Kibby and Skinner townships near the Canadian border.
The debate over the tax issue elicited dozens of letters, public comments, emails and phone calls to the three commissioners and to the county office.
An overwhelming majority of comments made at a hearing last week and most of the submitted written statements made available after the vote opposed the tax deal.
Opposition was from community members and town officials including Farmington Town Manager Richard Davis, Carrabassett Valley Town Manager David Cota and his town’s selectmen, state Rep. Tom Saviellor, U-Wilton, and Franklin Memorial Hospital President Richard Batt.
Their position was that property taxes throughout Franklin County would drop if the tax break was not approved for TransCanada’s $220 million taxable investment.
Letters of support for the TIF came largely from people in the economic development, tourism and business community who saw the county’s share of the tax deal as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest in marketing nature-based tourism and supporting projects that attract visitors and generate business and jobs.
After the meeting, Cota said that in light of the public opposition, he wanted to read the statements “to make sure the public hearing process was honored.”
“I respect the commissioners final decision . . . but I find this a little troubling. We support wind power and we support TransCanada but the issue is that no one had time to review the public record before the vote,” he said.
Following the vote, Hardy said, “This has been about the toughest decision I ever had to make in my 15 years on the board.”
“I firmly believe the TIF can be a benefit to Franklin County. I’m not doing this to give TransCanada a tax break. I am doing it to benefit the entire county,” he said.
The tax deal will direct $4 million from the $22.2 million in estimated property taxes over 20 years to Franklin County to be used in the unorganized territory for economic development programs. Hardy said towns outside the unorganized territory will also benefit from tourists who will spend money for food, gas and shopping as they drive north.
With a tax increment finance district, the average annual shift of municipal taxes – money that municipalities will not have available to offset county taxes – is estimated to be $106,000, or $2.91 on average per year per county taxpayer, according to Hardy.
He said the information came from Eaton Peabody Consulting Group, the company hired by the county to oversee the TIF process.
Hardy said he felt that was a reasonable trade-off to reap $4 million that will stay in Franklin County.
Under the TIF, out of TransCanada’s $22.2 million property taxes over 20 years, a maximum of $9 million will be returned to the company and Maine’s Unorganized Territory will receive $9.3 million.
Any revenue generated over the cap will be paid as regular property tax to Maine’s Unorganized Territory.
By Betty Jespersen
5 June 2008
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