China committee begins work on revising TIF document

by Mary Grow

Four members of China’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Committee started on their planned revision of the town’s TIF document at a workshop session May 13.

The group deliberately postponed any decisions, partly because some of the financial information they need is not yet firm, partly to give themselves time to consider the different points of view expressed.

One figure needing confirmation is how much TIF money is available to be allocated to projects, continuing and/or new. The amount currently expected to be on hand at the June 30 end of the fiscal year is more than $530,000.

The other important figure is how much income to expect from the TIF in 2024-25. The answer depends mostly on the 2024-25 tax rate, which has not yet been set.

For what is TIF money used, and from where does it come

The purpose of a Maine TIF (Tax Increment Financing) program is to expand employment, broaden municipal tax bases and “[i]mprove the general economy of the State of Maine.” Municipal programs need approval by the state Department of Economic and Community Development.

China’s TIF program was established by town vote on March 21, 2015, and amended on June 8, 2021. The current program extends to June 30, 2045, although funding for some of the specific activities in the program expires sooner.

Money for China’s program comes from taxes paid on Central Maine Power Company’s north-south power line through the town and, since the 2021 amendment, on its South China substation. The program estimates annual revenue declining slowly, from $366,209 in 2020 to $249,325 by 2045.

The 60-page TIF document, found on the website, under the TIF Committee under Officials, Boards & Committees on the right side of the main page, is the document current TIF Committee members are reviewing as they consider updates.

Most of the workshop session was spent discussing whether the amount in each of the categories into which TIF funds are divided should be increased, decreased or left alone. In the current TIF document, funding amounts in some categories have deadlines after which they disappear or decrease; the deadlines, too, were discussed.

Two categories, funding for economic development activities and for maintenance of recreational trails, are consistently spent each year. Committee members are considering recommending more money.

The activities account contributes to two events that bring people to town, China Days in August and China Ice Days in February. Town Manager Rebecca Hapgood said if she had time and money, she has lots of ideas for more events that would publicize the town and help local businesses.

For example, she said, with a portable stage and money to pay entertainers, there could be music festivals and similar events all summer.

The trails account supports maintenance work by the Four Seasons Club, on town snowmobile and four-wheeler trails, and the Thurston Park Committee, on trails in the park. In recent years, the two groups’ requests have exceeded the total in the account.

Several accounts are never or seldom used, including money for job training; the revolving loan fund intended to help businesses; and matching grant funds. Defunding them might not be a good idea, however.

Committee members Jamie Pitney and Mickey Wing pointed out how little publicity the job training program has had, suggesting it might be used if people knew about it.

From the audience, Four Seasons Club President Thomas Rumpf proposed converting the loan fund to a small grant fund, to which a town business could apply, for example, to pay for a new sign. And the Four Seasons Club might ask for matching grant funds for a major trail rebuilding project, he said; not this year, because the state grants that would be matched are being used to repair storm-damaged trails.

Reviewing on-going projects, committee members foresee continuing to use TIF money for the South China boat landing. They anticipate requests from the environmental improvements fund as proposed work in China Lake and its watershed takes shape.

The “causeway project” that made major changes to the road, sidewalks and boat launch at the head of China Lake’s east basin is finished. However, committee members and Hapgood and Rumpf recommended improvements: a second dock and buffers on the docks to minimize damage to wind-blown boats; expanded parking where boat trailers neither block access to the four-wheeler trail or impede traffic on Causeway Street; and extended sidewalks.

A related question, not answered, was whether TIF money could be used for maintenance of TIF-funded projects, like putting in and taking out the boat docks.

Pitney, who is a lawyer, compared China’s TIF document and Maine’s TIF law and found several unclear areas. For example, he said, there is no definition or description of the kinds of grants that TIF funds can match; should someone apply for a match, he believes the application would need state review.

The next TIF Committee workshop is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 29.

Copies of annual town report now available at town office and other public places

Copies of China’s annual town report for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2023, are now available at the town office and in other public places around town.


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