China Four Seasons Club, Thurston Park to split TIF money 60/40
by Mary Grow
Five members of China’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Committee met Feb. 8 and reviewed most of the requests for TIF funds for the 2023-24 fiscal year that begins July 1.
China’s TIF money comes from taxes Central Maine Power Company pays on its north-south transmission line through the town. By state law, TIF expenditures are to focus on promoting economic development. On the town website, china.govoffice.com, under the TIF Committee, the Second Amended TIF Program approved in 2021 lays out details of permissible expenditures.
Committee chairman Brent Chesley, who is also a member of the China select board, said he intended to participate in discussions, but would not vote, because the TIF Committee reports to the select board and he votes there. “One man, one vote,” he summarized.
A major topic at the Feb. 8 meeting was requested expenditures from Project C.7, titled Trails. The Thurston Park Committee asked for $44,000 from that category for trail work in the park in northeastern China; the Four Seasons Club asked for $60,000 from the same category for work on the snowmobile and four-wheeler trails its members maintain throughout the town.
The total annual expenditure for Project C.7 is capped at $65,000.
Four Seasons Club President Thomas Rumpf and Thurston Park Committee Chairman Jeanette Smith each said they could spend a great deal more than the requested amounts. Smith talked about repairing damage from the Dec. 23 storm, fallen trees and washouts, as well as normal trail maintenance and mowing some trails and the picnic area. Rumpf said meeting new state requirements requires major trail improvements; miles have been done, but more work is needed, especially south of Route 3.
Smith also requested funds to buy a side-by-side off-road vehicle to tow the bush-hog. Committee members talked about whether TIF money can be used for equipment, whether using volunteers’ equipment and labor for park work is appropriate and what alternatives there might be.
Smith said she is waiting for a reply to an application for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds to repair the entrance road to Thurston Park, which was badly damaged in the December storm. Only after the road is reopened, she explained, can she hope to get cement poured for the planned storage building in the park. Money for the cement pad was included in the current year’s budget and appears as an unspent balance.
Town Manager Rebecca Hapgood said FEMA’s response to town requests might come in days, weeks or months.
TIF Committee members suggested Rumpf and Smith move to the far end of the room and talk out their differences. They did, and reported an agreement to split the $65,000, $32,500 apiece.
After further discussion, committee members overruled them and voted 3-1 (Danny Boivin, James “JJ” Wentworth and Michael “Mickey” Wing in the majority, Jamie Pitney opposed and Chesley abstaining) to give $25,000 to the Thurston Park Committee and the remaining $40,000 to the Four Seasons Club.
The majority’s rationale was that people bringing in snowmobiles and four-wheelers from out of town spend more at local stores and thus contribute more to the town’s economy than do Thurston Park visitors.
The Four Seasons Club’s request for a separate $5,000 from Project C.2 (Economic Development Events) for next year’s annual Ice Days celebration was tabled, as was the China Lake Association’s request for $1,000 from the same account.
Committee members unanimously endorsed the China Lake Association’s request for $10,000 and the China Region Lakes Alliance’s request for $20,000 for environmental improvements.
They also approved a total of $40,000 for the China Broadband Committee, with Pitney abstaining because he is a member of that committee.
Votes on requests from the Town of China were postponed to the next TIF Committee meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 8.
TIF Committee recommendations go to the select board. The select board will ask voters to approve total TIF expenditures at the annual town business meeting in June. At the June 14, 2022, meeting, voters approved spending a total of $265,000 in TIF funds (Art. 15 of the meeting warrant).
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