BENTON — Just a handful of voters turned out Saturday morning for the Town Meeting, where those in attendance approved a tax zone that is expected to generate millions of dollars for the town over the next 30 years.
The zone, called a tax increment financing district, passed on a secret-ballot vote of 22-14, the slimmest margin of the meeting.
Because of the vote, taxes on a portion of the new Central Maine Power Co. substation on Albion Road that otherwise would have been diverted to the state and county instead will be kept in Benton.
The zone will result in a net gain for Benton of an estimated $79,000 per year in state subsidies that otherwise would have been lost, Noreen Norton, an economic development consultant for the town, told voters as she fielded a variety of questions.
However, the arrangement restricts how the town can spend revenue raised in the TIF zone, which amounts to a total of $106,000 per year.
That money must be spent to improve the area of the TIF zone itself.
Selectman Antoine Morin, who has been vocal in his support of the TIF, said some of the money might be spent to help resolve noise complaints from the substation’s neighbors.
The money could go to pay legal fees and consultations as the town works with CMP to deal with the noise problem, he said.
Approved uses for the money include about $27,000 in existing costs for the town, such as trail maintenance and expenses associated with an annual alewife festival, Morin said.
The rest of the money might be spent on things such as a business park on Neck Road, a sewer line extension and bringing improved Internet access to the town, all of which are acceptable uses under the TIF, according to Morin.
Town Treasurer Richard Lawrence spoke against the TIF, saying it would give “an unknown, unpredictable future group of town officials ambiguous control over an ambiguous fund.”
Lawrence said TIF zones in neighboring communities have not lived up to their promises, and said he was philosophically opposed to them, because they are created at the expense of the state, the county and the school district, all of which must make up the difference for the money lost.
Morin said TIFs have been adopted in area communities including Fairfield, Waterville, Winslow and Skowhegan and that a Benton TIF would help to level the playing field between Benton and those communities.
Communities with TIFs benefit in state funding formulas used to determine state revenue sharing and education dollars, because the value of the TIF doesn’t count toward the town’s valuation, meaning that it qualifies for increased support.
Voters also approved a $14,000 expenditure to the Police Athletic League. The item had drawn public attention after an anonymous Facebook page claimed support for the youth athletic league was threatened.
At the meeting, the item passed without public comment, save for Selectman Antoine Morin, who asked the crowd, “Is there anyone in attendance who would like to say anything to my face that they’ve been saying about me on Facebook?”
Morin’s question was met with silence, and the article was approved unanimously.
The total municipal budget was about $561,000, which was $2,000 more than had been published in the warrant. Voters approved an increase of $2,000 in the Town’s Office equipment budget after Selectwoman Melissa Patterson said that amount was needed to make some overdue upgrades and pay for unexpected fees.
In all, the $561,000 represents a 2.5 percent, or $13,500 increase from last year’s budget.
The bulk of the increase went toward a $10,000 bump in the cost of fire and rescue services from Fairfield.
Office personnel wages also were increased by 3 percent, at a cost of about $2,000.
Voters also approved ordinances to regulate the construction of large, 50,000-square-foot structures in the town, and to regulate the construction of new utility lines, should a natural gas line ever be routed through the town.
By the end of the meeting, about 1 p.m., just 20 voters remained to cast votes, a small fraction of the more than 1,800 registered voters in the town.