When Benton voters go to Town Meeting Saturday, they will be asked to approve a 2 percent increase to the town’s budget and three new local ordinances, including one town leaders say will save the town $2 million over the next 30 years.
Elections for the Town Meeting will be held at the Benton Town Office on Friday from 1 to 6 p.m., while the Town Meeting will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Benton Grange Hall.
For the first time, the town is considering implementing a tax increment financing district an area within the town where the traditional rules of taxation would be changed. The money garnered from property tax increases would be set aside to be spent by the town only on developments within the TIF zone itself.
In Benton’s case, the total savings from the district are expected to be about $2 million over the 30-year period of the TIF, which would encompass a 5.5-acre chunk of the new Central Maine Power substation on Albion Road.
The substation generates about $300,000 annually in local property tax revenue. The property within the TIF zone, currently worth $4.9 million, is expected to grow in value, generating $106,000 per year in extra cash.
If the $106,000 is captured in the district, that amount would be spent by Benton on public improvement projects within the zone.
The town isn’t yet sure what to spend the $106,000 on, but town leaders have suggested improving natural resources within the zone, including access to the Sebasticook River, building up a trail system and directing money into the annual Alewife Festival and harvest.
Town leaders say they will also explore the idea of creating a business park on Neck Road, a sewer line extension and bringing improved Internet access to the town.
Selectman Antoine Morin strongly supports the TIF, which he said was drafted with help from the Kennebec Valley Council of Governments.
If the town found that it needed revenue from within the zone to spend elsewhere, he said, it could opt out in any particular year over the TIF’s 30-year life.
“If we were facing a tough budget year, we would have the option to take nothing,” he said.
Richard Lawrence, Benton’s treasurer and tax collector, is opposed to a TIF district in Benton, calling it a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist. Lawrence said that many communities use TIFs to direct money into questionable local development deals, while the loss of revenue for the state has led to an overall weakening of state finances.
“I don’t see that TIFs have been a good thing for the state of Maine nor fulfilled the promised development or economic dreams that they were proposed to fulfill in the communities,” he said.
The total budget proposed by Benton’s leaders is about $559,000, an increase of about $11,500, or 2 percent over last year’s budget. That includes a proposal for a 3 percent increase, totaling about $2,000, for office personnel wages. If the increase is approved, the total cost of the staff would be about $69,600.
Another proposal would increase by $10,000 the cost of fire and rescue services from Fairfield, to $155,000. Voters will also be asked to adopt an inter-local agreement with Fairfield for fire and rescue services, which Lawrence said would offset some of the added costs, because it would allow for mutual aid to be provided from Winslow and Waterville at no additional cost to Benton.
Meanwhile, rumors that the Police Athletic League could lose funding at the Town Meeting are unfounded, according to Morin.
On March 4, a page called “Do NOT cut PAL” was created on Facebook, where it quickly racked up likes from more than 900 Facebook users. The league serves children in Albion, Benton, Clinton and Fairfield and gets money annually from each community.
According to the page’s description, the youth sports league is being threatened, but Morin said the idea that Benton’s $14,000 annual appropriation to the group will be cut is a simple misunderstanding.
“It’s a Facebook fantasy,” Morin said.
While the funding must be voted on, Morin said he and other budget committee members voted in January to support the league and that there is no reason to expect the committee’s recommendation will be overruled by voters at the meeting.