by Mary Grow
China’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Committee members agreed unanimously on two motions at their Dec. 4 meeting, including, conditionally, a recommendation to town selectmen. The recommendation to selectmen is to ask voters to appropriate $20,000 in TIF funds for the China LakeSmart program, after they clarify allowable uses of TIF money, specifically whether it can be used to pay salaries.
China Lake Association President Scott Pierz asked for the assistance for LakeSmart. The program, headed by Marie Michaud, works with lakefront landowners to install buffers and other erosion control measures to protect China Lake water quality.Normally, Pierz said, the China Lake Association provides shrubs and other materials for projects; the China Region Lakes Alliance (CRLA) pays the salaries of the Youth Conservation Corps members who do the work. However, increases in the Maine minimum wage left CRLA short of money last summer, and the minimum wage is due to go up again in 2018.
TIF Committee members agreed that good water quality is a contribution to China’s economic development, so LakeSmart’s goal qualifies for TIF money. The remaining question is whether TIF funding, if approved by selectmen and town voters, would have to be restricted to materials only.
The second issue was the previously-discussed Susan Bailey property at the head of China Lake’s east basin. Committee members instructed Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux to find out whether the low area on the east side of Lakeview Drive can be filled in to create a parking area.
The property includes two separate parcels, about six acres of mostly wetland where people using the boat landing now park and 30 or more acres across Lakeview Drive, bounded by Lakeview Drive and Pleasant View Ridge Road.
Committee members want the small parcel as a key part of their plan to expand access at the head of the lake. The project is starting with a new causeway bridge, planned to include wide walkways from which people can fish.The two parcels are part of the same mortgage. L’Heureux said the attorney who was asked if they could be separated has not yet given an opinion. Joann Austin said separation, if allowed, would cost another $2,000 or so, requiring new surveys and valuations of each parcel. Some committee members favor paying up to $120,000 for both lots.
Frank Soares sent a letter to the Dec. 4 meeting stressing the larger lot’s value for overflow boat landing parking plus parking for those using the snowmobile trail that crosses the lot; protecting the east shore of the swamp, called the muldoon, north of the causeway; and giving the town the rest of the land “to develop, sell or trade for other uses.”
H. David Cotta opposed the purchase, pointing out the limited developable areas on the larger lot. Several other committee members questioned whether state or local environmental regulations would allow filling the low area to create the desired parking. Irene Belanger said the dip was created when the road was raised and is a drainage area for the road. At one point the complex discussion led committee member Dale Worster to propose looking elsewhere for lake access instead of trying to expand use of “the little corner” dictated by the existing boat ramp.
Ultimately, Tom Michaud made a motion asking L’Heureux to provide written proof the town can fill in the low area to make a parking lot if voters agree to buy the property. Otherwise, he said, there is no point in further discussion. The motion was unanimously approved. In other business, Austin provided very preliminary information on her proposed elderly housing project on Route 3, on land adjoining the former Fairpoint building (where the China Planning Board is close to approving a satellite Kennebec Community Church). As plans develop, she said, she intends to talk with China for a Lifetime Committee members; she is likely to seek TIF assistance eventually. Worster commented that her project sounded more useful than boat parking.
The next TIF Committee meeting is scheduled for Monday evening, Jan. 15, 2018.