At their Oct. 22 meeting, China Tax Increment Finance (TIF) Committee members finally put to rest the question of whether to recommend that voters buy Susan Bailey’s property near the head of China Lake’s east basin. Their decision: no.
The property consists of a small parcel across Causeway Street from the boat landing, where landing users habitually park, and a larger piece across Routes 202 and 9. In November 2016 China voters appropriated up to $10,000 to buy the smaller piece to provide additional town-owned parking close to the boat launch.
Since then, TIF Committee members have learned that the two parcels are indivisible, and that the state would not approve using any part of the larger one for boat launch parking because users would have to cross the busy highway. Left with the alternatives of no purchase or asking voters to spend $120,000 for the entire property, committee members voted 7-2 to advise selectmen to abandon the idea (Tom Michaud and Jim Wilkens were opposed).
Wilkens said if Bailey were to sell the whole property to someone else and the new owner wanted to reopen negotiations with the town over the smaller piece, the question could be revived.
The unused $10,000 will go into China’s undesignated fund balance (also known as the general fund or surplus).
In other business Oct. 22, Michaud and Town Manager Dennis Heath updated the rest of the committee on replacement of the old causeway bridge just west of the boat landing. Arrival of the concrete culvert has been delayed to Oct. 26, Heath said, with installation now scheduled for Oct. 29.
The timber mat at the bottom of the old structure was in good shape, he said. Rocks were added to extend and slightly raise the base for the new culvert.
“All in all it looks like things are going pretty well,” he summarized.
Michaud said the second phase of the causeway project will consist of a walkway along the head of the lake. For the present, he recommended against the proposed floating “fishing bridge,” saying it would be one more thing to maintain; boaters and swimmers would be tempted to use it; and the walkway will offer ample room for fishermen.
Committee members heard two requests for TIF funds. They agreed to recommend that selectmen put a request for $52,000 for continued work in Thurston Park on the March 2019 town business meeting warrant. Thurston Park Committee Chairman Jeannette Smith said if voters approve, the money would be used to continue improving what is now Trail One and work on Trail Two, the former roads looping off the main road that runs north-south through the park. Smith said Aislinn Sarnacki intends to include Thurston Park in her new guide to dog-friendly hikes, scheduled to be published next spring. Already, Smith and TIF Committee members said, out-of-towners are using – and praising – the park.
The second request was from Landis Hudson of Maine Rivers, seeking funding for the Alewife Restoration Project (ARI) that is intended to let alewives swim from the Atlantic Ocean into China Lake. The money would be combined with other funding sources to install fishways at three dams on Outlet Stream in Vassalboro.
Committee members agreed that China’s TIF program and state law limit TIF expenditures to within town boundaries. They therefore rejected Hudson’s request and encouraged her to ask selectmen to ask voters in March 2019 for non-TIF town funds. By consensus, committee members accepted H. David Cotta’s suggestion that they send selectmen a letter of support for ARI funding. Chairman Frank Soares volunteered to write the letter.
They also agreed that the subcommittee overseeing the causeway project should have the additional responsibility of reviewing TIF-funded projects, like Thurston Park, during and after the work. Soares suggested a 30-day notice before a funding application is submitted would be useful, to give time for a pre-inspection if desired.
Heath gave committee members a financial update, showing a balance of more than $626,000 as of June 30, 2018. He estimated that incoming revenue of almost $348,000, less obligations during the 2018-19 fiscal year, would leave a little more than $311,000 in the TIF account as of June 30, 2019.
The next TIF Committee meeting is currently scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15.