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New TIF district, pot tweak to get July 14 votes

Medical dispensary language added
By Fran Gonzalez | Jun 23, 2020
Source: File photo

Searsport —

Residents will vote July 14 on an economic development tool proposed for the town, which could lure new businesses and stimulate growth.

Several items appearing before primary election voters were discussed at a public hearing held during the selectmen’s June 16 meeting.

With the auspicious name “Searsport Downtown Omnibus Municipal Development and Tax Increment Financing District,” or TIF, the economic development program would create a boundary from Prospect Street to Station Avenue, running along Route 1. In this area, businesses would be able to use funds raised by the TIF tax-sheltering program for facade grants, revolving loan funds, signage loans, matching loans and low-interest loans to encourage growth, among other options.

Economic Development Director Dean Bennett said, in essence, the TIF would be used to shelter new tax dollars coming in from businesses to invest in business in the community for the benefit of the town. Some towns, Bennett said, lease municipal land and can negotiate with developers coming in. Searsport is not in that position.

With this TIF district, however, the town could offer businesses looking at Searsport an incentive to move in. “It puts us in a better position to attract businesses and for business expansion,” Bennett said.

When the town assesses property values, normally they go toward the municipal valuation, which is the basis for other funding. “It's the basis for county tax,” he said. “Typically the higher your municipal valuation, the higher county tax you pay.

“Municipal valuation is also the mechanism to determine revenue-sharing,” he said. “The more money the community has, the less revenue-sharing it gets. It is the basis for state aid for education. The more money you have, the less aid for education you receive.”

“Your tax dollar is reduced by various other costs and revenue-sharing losses,” he said.

When a tax dollar is generated in a TIF district, it does not go into the municipal valuation, but rather is sheltered from it, allowing the money to be spent on economic development. Thus the  program would allow commercial development tax dollars to fund additional commercial development moving forward, Bennett said.

Town Manager James Gillway said currently the town does not have anything to offer small businesses downtown.

Projects and programs that could be started with TIF funds, Gilway said, include a Searsport harbor walk, public streetscape improvements with branding and marketing, permanent revolving loans and investment funds and grants, a downtown accessibility costs study and recreational trails.

Public Wi-Fi, broadband expansion, training and workforce development, economic development events, public pier improvements, and professional services and administrative costs could all be funded through the TIF, he said.

Gillway noted that these projects would require further funding to complete and that TIF funds would be used as "seed money" in order to get additional grants.

Selectman Doug Norman said, “If we don't include them (the projects), we can't use TIF money.”

The meeting grew tense at times with several back-and-forth objections from residents over costs, projects listed and alternative economic development ideas.

Questions from the community can be directed to Bennett at the Town Office. He is available Monday and Thursday at 548-6372.

Pot ordinance tweaked

An update to the Marijuana Ordinance approved last March will also be voted on July 14. According to Gillway, there was an error in the final draft of the ordinance voters approved, and some legalese housekeeping is in order.

Prior to adopting the marijuana ordinance at this year's town meeting, the town had previously allowed a medical marijuana dispensary in the mixed residential zone for several years, Gillway said.

The goal was to keep the dispensary and add a growing area and testing facility. “The final draft that ended up in the books did not have the option for a medical dispensary in the mixed residential area, which had already been approved for many years,” Gillway said.

The referendum question will ask voters whether to “allow for one permit for a Marijuana Medical Dispensary in the Mixed Residential Zone and to remove the ability of one Marijuana Testing Facility and one Marijuana Cultivation Facility in that zone.”

In other town news, the owners of the Hitchborn in Stockton Springs are opening a West Coast-style taqueria at 25 E. Main St. The Mexican restaurant will start as a takeout operation offering beer and liquor and eventually shift to a dine-in service.

Owners said they hope to reach a larger audience with lower price points at this new location and also make the experience easily accessible for everyone.

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