GRAY — Voters have a date on Valentine’s Day for a special town meeting in Gray next week, when residents will decide whether to pursue a new municipal tax increment finance district, more commonly referred to as a TIF.
The Gray Town Council voted 5-0 Tuesday night to set the meeting for Wednesday, Feb. 14 at 7 p.m. in Newbegin Hall. The vote was preceded by a presentation from town staff and legal representation, along with public comment.
Tax increment financing is a process by which state law that allows municipalities to “leverage new property taxes generated by a specific project or projects within a defined geographic district” and put them towards public or private projects in the town over a period of up to 30 years, according to the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.
Under Gray’s new TIF proposal, the district would be in the Gray Village area and would include certain properties along five roadways converging in the area: Route 26 (Shaker Road), Route 202 (Main Street), Route 100 (Portland Road, Route 115 (Yarmouth Road), and Route 115/202 (West Gray Road).
The proposed TIF would span 30 years and include about 402 acres and an initial taxable value of more than $21.7 million.
Community Development Director Doug Webster led off the staff presentation Tuesday night and explained the town’s rationale for exploring the new TIF, which, he said is part of an effort to develop a “long-term solution to come up with funding for the necessary public infrastructure projects” in Gray.
Webster said tax revenues from the TIF district, if approved, are “intended to be part of the solution to fund the public infrastructure, not only in TIF district shown on the map … but also on all five main spokes radiating out from the village …”
He noted that the TIF “isn’t going to solve this all by itself ” and state funds and impact fees could also be part of the equation.
According to Webster, there are “many projects that need to be done,” including Route 115 improvements, work on the stormwater system in the village area, culverts on West Gray Road, and sidewalks “in many locations.”
Attorney Alyssa Tibbetts from Portland-based law firm Jensen Baird Gardner & Henry, the town’s legal representation, outlined the general TIF process Tuesday night.
Town Planner Kathy Tombarelli noted that the properties included in the proposed village TIF district map had been tweaked slightly since a council workshop last week after several property owners expressed a desire to be included or excluded from the district.
Tombarelli said the TIF district revisions added six parcels of land from three property owners. One parcel, the Crossroads Community Church, was removed. She said the proposed area is “really maxed out now at the threshold for the total acreage in one TIF.”
By state law, an individual TIF district cannot exceed 2 percent of a municipality’s total acreage and a town cannot have more than 5 percent of its total acreage in various TIFs. The original assessed value of all new and existing TIFs in a municipality cannot exceed 5 percent of that municipality’s total value of taxable property.
Webster said the town has two existing TIF districts: Northbrook and South Gray.
The public comment portion of Tuesday night’s meeting included questions about the TIF process and requirements and how properties within the proposed TIF district would be affected moving forward, along with concerns about the process in the town thus far.
Gene Tarsetti, who owns property within the proposed district, asked how decisions would be made to spend revenues generated from the TIF.
Tibbetts said TIF revenues are still handled “in the way that all other municipal finances are” and remain subject to the existing Town Council and Town Meeting budgetary processes.
Fran and James Monroe each raised concerns about the process, with James Monroe asking for “very simple math” to justify the TIF and Fran Monroe suggesting the process was rushed and not inclusive.
Councilor Jason Wilson, who Webster described as the “impetus” for the TIF discussion on the council, attempted to answer some of the Monroes’ questions.
Wilson used a whiteboard in council chambers to outline a graph of the theoretical gains from TIFs and said, “If they weren’t effective, they probably wouldn’t exist.”
Wilson also said the council had been talking about addressing infrastructure issues in the village for some time, a point that was echoed by other councilors.
“The council had indicated back in September, when Councilor Wilson first addressed this, that we were interested in doing this TIF,” Council Chairwoman Lynn Gallagher said, noting it was added to the council’s list of goals in November. “We have been talking about this for months.”
The town has until March 1 to submit its TIF application to the state if it wants approval by April 1. Gray’s timeline and move to hold the special meeting in time to meet the March 1 deadline is motivated in part by a coming town-wide reevaluation and a desire to capture any increased value that could be associated.
Webster said the reevaluation could provide a “good start for the tax revenue that will be directed into the TIF.”
Town Manager Deborah Cabana gave an overview Tuesday night how next week’s special meeting will work.
Cabana said it will be an open meeting format that will include an explanation of the issue, an opportunity for the public to speak, and then a vote.
Gray Community Development Director Doug Webster outlines a proposed TIF district for Gray Village during a Feb. 6 Town Council meeting.
Gray Town Councilor Jason Wilson employs a whiteboard while attempting to answer a question from the public about the potential benefits of a proposed TIF district for the town.