On November 27, the Boothbay Board of Selectmen voted 4-1 to reintroduce the tax incremental financing district (TIF) at a special town meeting scheduled for February 24, 2014.
One month ago, Boothbay voters rejected every item on the local referendum, but the majority of the selectmen still feel that a TIF district is in the best interest of the town.
Some Boothbay residents are not happy with the selectmen for revisiting the controversial issue. On a memo to the selectmen, Town Manager Jim Chaousis reported that, “Some people have been very negative and nasty about the selectmen considering reintroducing the questions.”
On November 20, the town posted a survey to determine whether the selectmen should revisit the TIF. So far 167 people have responded, but according to Chaousis, the results have been skewed.
A single respondent, represented by one IP address (a number sequence unique to each individual computer), filled out the survey 15 times in the span of 3 hours.
Chaousis said he did not want to limit the survey to one vote per IP address because of the possibility of multiple voters living in the same household, however it was suspicious when 15 people in the same household filled out the survey with identical answers each time.
Despite the inconsistent data, 27 percent of the respondents said they did not vote on November 5, but 57 percent preferred a referendum ballot over an open town meeting, should the selectmen revisit the vote.
Now the town aims to put together a scaled down version of the TIF by December 11. The selectmen said they want to use the next few months to help voters understand the benefits of what a simple TIF district could bring to the region.
“The TIF is purely beneficial to this town, whereas the bond came with some risks,” Selectman Dale Harmon said. “The TIF doesn't come with any risks. It just comes with a funding mechanism to do something with down the road, and maybe give an incentive for businesses to be attracted to the district in which we drew the lines around.”
The original proposed TIF district was drawn around 272 acres that encompassed the Industrial Park, the Route 27 corridor, the Boothbay Common and the Boothbay Harbor Country Club.
When owner Paul Coulombe said he planned to spend about $17 million more dollars on the country club, the selectmen wanted to capture the additional property tax revenue from the new development.
Additionally, the selectmen asked voters permission to take out a $2.5 million bond to improve traffic safety through the Boothbay Common. Although the selectmen said the would not take out the bond if they could not secure matching state funds, controversy erupted over a traffic roundabout introduced as part of a concept design called the Boothbay Village Improvement plan.
Despite the fact that the plan was based on a preliminary drawing, many voters went to the polls vehemently opposed to the roundabout.
Some residents speculate that the TIF and bond were defeated because it was a complicated plan foisted on voters who didn't have enough time to fully learn about the proposal. Others felt that they whole idea was improperly influenced from the start. Yet there remain many proponents that believe a TIF can be vital economic tool that will cause no harm to tax payers.
“From my perspective you had a great opportunity, but a reasonably complicated situation that involved three big components: a bond, a TIF, and the drawing of a rotary; and now, in my mind you've eliminated 90 percent of that by just focusing on the TIF,” said Joe Paolillo of East Boothbay. “I don't think you should wait any longer than you have to to execute on a modified strategy in order to try to get this to pass.”
It's still unclear whether the new proposed TIF district will have the same components of the previous plan. However, the majority of the selectmen chose to schedule the vote sooner than later, for the sake of protecting nearly $8 to $10 million in estimated increased property value.
If the selectmen delay the vote until the annual town meeting on May 5, the town could lose out on an estimated 40 percent of the overall tax shelter. Each April, the town’s value is reassessed; this coming April, that reassessment will add the value of all of Coulombe’s improvements to date.
Selectman Chuck Cunningham, the minority vote on the board, said he's not against the TIF, but rather the short turnaround time for reintroducing a controversial question. Cunningham has repeatedly warned that revisiting a TIF in too short of time will not be received well by the public.
But even in the face of possible public scorn and ridicule, the majority of the selectmen said they are willing to sacrifice their reputation if it's for the best interest of the town.
“Even with the chance of some embarrassment, I would just assume do it again,” Selectman Steve Ham said. “It's the right thing to do.”