China TIF committee discusses broadband funding

by Mary Grow

China Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Committee members spent most of their Nov. 17 virtual meeting talking about broadband funding with Jamie Pitney, speaking for the China Broadband Committee.

The Broadband Committee’s goals is to expand and improve internet access throughout China, including making service faster and more reliable for residents who already have it and extending it to unserved areas.

When China’s TIF program was set up, the state program that authorizes it did not include broadband service as eligible for TIF funding. In 2019, according to a report from Pitney, the state law governing the program was amended. TIF money can now be used “to pay costs related to broadband service development, expansion or improvement, including connecting to broadband service outside of a TIF district.”

TIF projects must promote economic development. Municipalities are allowed to use certain property taxes to fund local TIF programs. China supports its TIF activities from taxes on Central Maine Power Company’s north-south transmission line through town and its South China substation.

The Broadband Committee proposes amending China’s TIF document to make broadband expansion and improvement TIF-eligible. A separate proposed amendment would add water quality improvements, so that local groups working on erosion control and related projects around China Lake could receive TIF funding.

The process for amending the TIF document involves the TIF Committee making a recommendation to the selectmen; the selectmen writing a town meeting warrant article and holding a public hearing on the proposed changes; voters approving the amended program; and the state Department of Economic and Community Development approving the final product, Town Manager Becky Hapgood told committee members.

If the changes, known among town officials as Amendment Two or the Second Amendment (voters approved an earlier amendment that redistributed TIF funding), are to be on the warrant for China’s 2021 town business meeting, Hapgood said they need to be in final form by mid-March 2021. The town business meeting is currently scheduled for May 18, to be held by written ballot.

Pitney was not sure the Broadband Committee could act that fast. Selectmen just authorized the committee to hire a consultant, Mission Broadband Inc., to prepare a request for proposals for expanded service.

Pitney and TIF Committee members discussed whether they need to prepare amended wording or amended dollar amounts and decided the answer is both. Pitney had no estimate how much town-wide, fast and reliable internet service might cost; he suggested the “place-holder” $1.5 million in the current TIF budget might be much too low.

At the Broadband Committee two evenings later, Nov. 19, Pitney said committee members talked about how to develop a budget number for broadband work. They made no recommendation.

TIF Committee members agreed to hold a virtual budget workshop meeting at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 1, with Hapgood to send attendees printed budget information in advance to make following the numbers easier. The next regular TIF Committee meeting, also virtual, is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 8.


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