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Bingham residents debate TIF for First Wind farm  

Credit:  By Erin Rhoda, Staff Writer, Morning Sentinel, www.onlinesentinel.com 16 February 2011 ~~

BINGHAM – Nearly 30 people gathered Tuesday night at Quimby Middle School to discuss a plan to pool about $6.5 million in property tax increases, driven by a planned commercial wind farm, into an economic development fund over the next 30 years.

Tuesday’s public hearing was informational only; residents are scheduled to vote on the proposed tax increment financing district at 7:30 p.m. March 7 at the annual Town Meeting, to be held at Quimby Middle School.

Under the proposed tax incentive program, the town ultimately would receive slightly more money than developer First Wind, which plans to install about seven turbines in the northeast corner of the town as part of a larger project of about 50 turbines extending into Mayfield and Blanchard townships.

The turbines near Johnson Mountain would add about $37 million new taxable value to the town its first year of operation, with the value decreasing slightly over time. Under the proposed TIF, 30 percent of the new property taxes would come to the town in the usual manner. The remaining 70 percent would be split between First Wind and an economic development fund with the town. First Wind would receive 70 percent of the sheltered value over 20 years. The town would receive 30 percent over 20 years and then 100 percent over the remaining years.

In total, the town is projected to receive $6,493,281 over 30 years for economic development projects. A total of $5,341,311 would enter the town’s general fund.

First Wind would receive a total of $5,969,777 in tax relief.

Under state law, the town is required to use the tax increment financing money for economic development projects.

Proposed projects, agreed on by selectmen and the Budget Committee, include: upgrades to the town’s waste-water treatment facility, improvements to and construction of recreational trails, construction of a boat landing on the Kennebec River, creation of a marketing campaign to promote tourism, improvement of roads, purchase of a firetruck, expansion of the Fire Department building, college scholarships for residents, downtown revitalization and a commercial revolving loan and grant fund.

Proposed projects, agreed on by selectmen and the Budget Committee, include: upgrades to the town’s waste-water treatment facility, improvements to and construction of recreational trails, construction of a boat landing on the Kennebec River, creation of a marketing campaign to promote tourism, improvement of roads, purchase of a firetruck, expansion of the Fire Department building, college scholarships for residents, downtown revitalization and a commercial revolving loan and grant fund.

Residents on Tuesday wanted to know how their taxes would be affected if they did not approve a TIF.

“This project is not going to make anyone’s taxes go up; the caveat is the town controls that,” said Joan Fortin, an attorney for First Wind. If there were no TIF, and the developer still built the wind farm, residents’ tax bills would decrease about $230 yearly if they owned a $100,000 house, said Bill Dale, the town’s attorney.

However, the increased valuation would lead to eventual decreases in state aid for education and revenue sharing subsidies and increases in county taxes, he said.

Although some people spoke in favor of the TIF, saying it would aid economic development, many spoke in opposition.

Karen Pease, of Lexington Township, said TIFs originally were created to entice businesses to come to towns and create jobs. “Industrial wind brings very, very few full-time, permanent jobs,” she said.

A TIF would “sacrifice” part of the town’s tax base in order to help First Wind’s bottom line, she said. “What you’re doing is enhancing their bottom line, and their bottom line is pretty much paid 60 percent by us already through tax subsidies,” she said. Kay Michka, of Lexington Township, said she thought it ironic the TIF would benefit tourism-related projects when the turbines probably would drive tourists away.

“I honestly cannot envision any benefit coming from these monstrosities being put on our ridgelines,” said Margie Flynn, of Bingham.

“I’d say, ‘Great, go somewhere else with your project,'” if having no TIF meant First Wind couldn’t finance the project, she added.

Evelyn Beane of Bingham said she wanted a moratorium placed on wind power development until the town could consider an ordinance to put in place setback limits.

Dale, the town’s attorney, said residents should keep in mind that some of the economic development projects will need to be funded whether there’s a TIF or not, including the sewage treatment plant upgrades.

Fortin said the TIF also gives the town an opportunity to pay for items they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford, such as a high-end marketing campaign to highlight local businesses or tourism activities.

Source:  By Erin Rhoda, Staff Writer, Morning Sentinel, www.onlinesentinel.com 16 February 2011

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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