Five members of China’s Tax Increment Financing Committee reviewed nine requests for 2024-25 TIF funds at a Feb. 5 meeting. They unanimously recommended the select board approve all nine.
The only long discussion was over requests from the Thurston Park Committee and the Four Seasons Club for money from the trails fund. As they did last year, the two groups asked for a total of more money than the fund can grant.
The trails fund is authorized to spend $65,000 a year. The Thurston Park Committee, represented by chairman Jeanette Smith and member Scott Monroe, requested $48,482. The Four Seasons Club, represented by president Thomas Rumpf, asked for $40,000.
The Thurston Park request was further complicated by including plans to use the money to buy equipment. Smith explained that some of the park’s five volunteers bring their own trailers, side-by-sides, chainsaws and whatever else is needed to mow the picnic area, clear fallen trees, add gravel to washouts and do other maintenance.
Town Manager Rebecca Hapgood said town-owned equipment cannot be used by volunteers unless they have been trained. Otherwise, the town gets in trouble with the Bureau of Labor Standards and the insurance company.
Rumpf’s major project, which will cost a good deal more than $40,000, is to rebuild the north-south Narrow Gauge Trail, aka Bog Trail, which has seriously deteriorated. For last summer, he had approval to use sections of Bog and Pleasant View Ridge roads as alternative ATV trails.
Rumpf and Smith presented information on the importance of trails to the town, for residents’ recreation and as an attraction for visitors who spend thousands of dollars at local stores and eating places.
Rumpf said people from all over New England use Four Seasons Club trails, not just for ATV riding and snowmobiling, but for hiking, biking and riding horseback. The windstorms did considerable damage, he said, but thanks to “the best volunteers in town,” trails are now “open, cleaned out and ready to go.”
Smith said since November, a game camera has shown many hikers, some with dogs, a few horseback riders and one bobcat enjoying Thurston Park.
TIF committee members agreed on the value of both groups’ work. After almost an hour’s discussion, they voted unanimously to recommend the select board split the trails money between them, $32,500 each.
Rumpf and Smith were satisfied, but both had requests for future changes. Rumpf wants the committee to review the allocation of TIF funds, to see if more money can be spent on trails at the expense of less popular, or less needy, projects.
Smith pointed out that for at least the second year, the Thurston Park Committee’s two major problems are not addressed. The maintenance situation is unresolved, and so is the issue of park access.
Currently, the only road access is from the north, through Albion, down a steep gravel-road hill that is not adequately maintained. The former Yorktown Road runs through the park to the south boundary, but a landowner there is not open to having park visitors pass by his house. Monroe emphasized the desirability of providing a south entrance.
Rumpf presented one of the other funding applications, for $5,000 for fireworks for China Ice Days in 2025. The 2024 Ice Days ice fishing derby is scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 18.
The China Lake Association requested $25,000 for environmental improvements. Association president Stephen Greene said the funds would go toward the Youth Conservation Corps’ water quality protection work and the Courtesy Boat Inspection program aimed at keeping invasive weeds out of area lakes.
The China Broadband Committee had a double application, $10,000 to continue to contract with consultants Mission Broadband and the next $30,000 installment of a continuing grant to increase broadband access for town residents.
The Town of China requested TIF funds for four purposes: $10,000 for China Community Days 2025 ($5,000 for fireworks and $5,000 for general support, Hapgood said); $10,000 toward hiring a summer intern; $7,725 for Kennebec Valley Council of Governments dues; and $500 for Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce dues.
China Days is identified as an economic development event, and the last three projects are aimed at promoting the town as a business location.
Money in the TIF fund comes from taxes on Central Maine Power Company’s north-south line through the town and its substation in South China. These taxes bring in more than $300,000 a year, according to China’s “Tax Increment Financing District and Development Program” on the town website.
TIF committee members set their next meeting for 6 p.m. Monday, April 1.
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