Open letter to Belfast residents

I recently read an item on the Belfast City Council agenda regarding a request from the firm Realty Resources to enter into a TIF-CEA agreement with the city of Belfast to renovate units at the senior housing facility “Hilltop Birches” on School Street. A  TIF-CEA, or tax increment financing-credit enhancement agreement, is actually two agreements that, in tandem, enable businesses to take a snapshot of their current taxes and then continue to pay the same amount, despite improvements, in many cases for 20 to 30 years.

Belfast has already established several TIF-CEA agreements. The oldest is the downtown area TIF district, and the newest is the Wight Street district which also involves Realty Resources. As it stands, city records show these agreements have created, and will continue to create, a loss of more than $6 million in revenues over the next 30 years, or about $200,000 a year. That is about the annual budget of Belfast Parks and Recreation. The TIF-CEA, while beneficial to Realty Resources, is not “free money,” and must be made up in taxes paid by city residents.

In its new application, Realty Resources, a for-profit company, is requesting a TIF-CEA with the city to help renovate existing units at “Hilltop Birches.” Realty Resources is also applying for state-level grants for the $2 million renovation at Hilltop and asking Belfast to bolster its application for these grants through tax breaks at the municipal level.

Council members seemed to misunderstand that the extension of affordable housing rates to Hilltop residents was not contingent on the city’s agreeing to a TIF-CEA, but on the state approving its grant request. The state grant could probably be awarded even without Belfast entering into the TIF-CEA, one that would embody all of the worst unintended consequences of the TIF-CEA legacy: a diminished tax base with no benefit to residents.

During a June 29 council working session, the Belfast economic development director introduced the idea on behalf of Realty Resources to gauge the City Council’s reception. I was disappointed in how warmly this proposal was received by the council, and that agreements such as these do not require further vetting. Our council is not alone. Small cities and towns are often not equipped to counter this kind of sleek money grab.

I wholeheartedly agree with council members that housing is too expensive in Belfast. However, I do not believe that this TIF-CEA agreement is a good way to address the issue. I call on the council not to approve the proposal, and any future TIF-CEA agreements, until comprehensive guidelines are established by Belfast, as other communities have done, that consider the merits and costs of the proposals and ensure they meet the needs of Belfast residents.

Nat Clifford

Belfast

Brave explorers and their sailing vessel

Over 500 years ago a group of Spanish explorers made the perilous crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in a 94-foot Caravel named Santa Maria. The ship was a two-masted square rigged vessel with one fore-and-aft sail. The journey was difficult and dangerous. Like space travel today, it required men who were willing to put their lives at great risk in order to see what none had seen before.

A few days ago a replica of that historic vessel docked in Bucksport. The vessel was greeted by hundreds of people who love old boats and the mystique that surrounds them. Sadly, it was also greeted by a small group of protesters. Most of them white and I assume Americans. There was the usual collection of left-wingers, even a Black Lives Matter placard showed up. Don’t know how that was relevant!

There was also a group of Native Americans. They were the only group that had any relevance at all. The natives were offended by a replica of a vessel that brought the white man to their shores over 500 years ago. I think it is about time to get over it. Columbus never set foot in North America and his appearance in the Caribbean reduced both cannibalism and slavery among the Native peoples.

As for the white contingent, you  would not have a country, you would not have a place to stand and hold your cardboard signs if not for those brave explorers and their sailing vessel.

Leo H. Mazerall Jr.

Stockton Springs

Thanks for courageous and persistent stewardship

I would like to publicly thank the Penobscot Nation for again demanding accountability and respect from the state of Maine for the truth of our — all of our — history. The full statement of the Penobscot Nation in response to the thoughtless inclusion of a replica of a ship used by Christopher Columbus to celebrate Maine’s bicentennial is something all Mainers should read and share with our children.

The statement begins: ” The Penobscot Nation is disappointed and disheartened that any group would use a replica of a ship used by Christopher Columbus to celebrate the heritage and statehood of Maine. While offensive in numerous ways as well as historically inaccurate, it is also deeply harmful to the Wabanaki Nations as well as the descendants of all Indigenous nations who live in the lands and waters that our ancestors have been stewards of since time immemorial. Maine has existed for 200 years. Our people have been here for at least 12,000 years. ”

I want to thank the Wabanaki People for their courageous and persistent stewardship not only of our land and waters but also for their dignity and power of example in helping restore the truth about our history. Their clear statement and fortitude has succeeded in the cancellation of the welcome planned for this Spanish replica representing  colonization and genocide, and has saved some dignity for all Mainers. As the Penobscot statement reads: “Celebrating the statehood of Maine cannot be done without telling the truth about the history and honoring the Indigenous People.”

Meredith Bruskin

Swanville

A pattern of subterfuge

Kendra Caruso’s article on Nordic Aquafarms buying waterfront property from Janet and Richard Eckrote and giving it to the city of Belfast says the land acquired by Nordic includes intertidal land needed by Nordic for its saltwater intake and effluent discharge pipes. Later the article states, almost in passing, that the city will need to clear “alleged title defects” on the property.

But this is no trivial matter. Ownership of that intertidal land is currently being contested in Waldo County Superior Court, and that same court dismissed a motion by Nordic for a summary judgment in its favor. Thus Nordic no more owns that land than I own the Eiffel Tower.

The Bangor Daily News quotes Belfast Mayor Eric Sanders saying, “The (city) council and I are thrilled to receive an area that will make a tremendous oceanfront park for the citizens of Belfast. I can personally think of no better gift to future generations.”

But Nordic Aquafarms would dump 7.7 million gallons of effluent per day into Belfast Bay. With a dispersion time of two weeks, that means 107.8 million gallons of Nordic effluent in the bay 24/7 — and Sanders’ “tremendous oceanfront park” will be ground zero.

This is a con. It has nothing to do with creating a park for anyone. It has everything to do with the city preparing to declare eminent domain over the tidal flats should Nordic lose in court. If this was just about creating a park, why did the City Council discuss it entirely, 100%, in private executive session? What is the council hiding?

Not only is the city preparing to trample on our courts, it has apparently aided and abetted Nordic’s failure to disclose these machinations to the court. And this is the second time Nordic has engaged in subterfuge with our state government. When Nordic first discovered there was at best substantial doubt about ownership of the tidal flats, it failed to tell the Department of Environmental Protection. Should Nordic build its industrial fish farm, one can expect more such deceitful behavior.

Nordic’s pattern of subterfuge is now well established, and if Belfast Mayor Eric Sanders can’t think of a better gift to future generations, I can: a city government that respects our courts and doesn’t connive behind closed doors for big, polluting, deceptive corporations from 3,000 miles away.

Lawrence Reichard

Belfast

 

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