SIDNEY — A tax break for a proposed Richmond-to-Madison gas line was rejected Wednesday by another central Maine community.

A special town meeting crowd of 338 registered voters packed into the gymnasium at James H. Bean School voted against a tax increment financing district for Kennebec Valley Gas Company’s proposed natural gas pipeline.

The 172-119 vote followed more than an hour of sometimes rancorous debate, during which nearly 50 people left the building. By comparison, 149 voters attended last spring’s annual Town Meeting.

Town Clerk Shawna Foye said votoers were showered with phone calls and mailings from advocates on both sides of the issue, and that probably boosted the meeting’s attendence.

Sidney joins Farmingdale and Madison in rejecting the deal. But Farmingdale officials said this week the town will vote again in a referendum June 22.

Rich Silkman, a partner with Kennebec Valley Gas Company, said the company needs the 12 communities it would go through to approve TIF districts to make the project financially feasible. He added that the plan might be revised to avoid communities that have opposed the TIF. In the case of Sidney’s rejection, the plans might be altered to run the pipeline on the east side of the Kennebec River through Vassalboro or an alternative route on the west side.

Silkman said Thursday he is not discouraged by Sidney’s vote.

“We are still going full steam ahead with the project,” he said.

Before the vote, Sidney residents spoke for and against the TIF, and asked questions of Silkman and the board of selectmen. Questions ranged from the safety of the pipeline, the environmental impact and whether residences would be tied into the line.

One voter asked the board to share its views of the project.

Board of Selectmen Chair John Whitcomb said he was in favor of the TIF because a gas line is a rare opportunity to increase town revenue and perhaps spur development in Sidney.

“I don’t foresee anybody else coming in, knocking on our door and investing $9 million,” he said. “We all want new investments in our town.”

Selectman Kelly Couture said she opposed the TIF because the gas company should pay full taxes just like other utility companies.

Couture’s remark elicited widespread applause.

By voting down the deal, Sidney lost a potential of $1.6 million in tax revenues over the life of the TIF, according to Whitcomb’s estimate.

In Sidney, nine miles of pipeline would have been installed about 4 feet below Middle Road from Augusta to Oakland. Along the way, the pipe would have provided gas distribution to James H. Bean School, town-owned buildings and any homes between those sites on Middle Road, with the possibility of adding some homes elsewhere over the years.

The money would have been used for improvements to Goodhue, Quaker and Shepherd roads.

The proposed TIF districts allow municipalities to redirect a percentage of property taxes generated by the pipeline back to the developer to help finance the project. The districts also act as tax shelters, so increased property values in those areas don’t result in increased tax commitments for towns.

Also, communities can use the percentage of new property taxes they keep for economic development. Under the TIF agreement, 80 percent of pipeline’s property taxes during the first 10 years would return to the developer and 20 percent to the towns. In years 11 through 15, 60 percent would return to the developer and 40 percent to the towns.

In Sidney, for years 16 through 30, 100 percent of the taxes would have gone to the town, and would have been sheltered. Or, during that time, the town could choose to dissolve the TIF and put the taxes into the general town revenue.

According to the gas company’s proposal, the total project would cost about $85 million and would be completed by the end of 2013.

The pipeline would deliver 3 billion cubic feet of natural gas a year — the equivalent of 20 million gallons of heating oil — to industries, schools, hospitals and, in some communities, homes adjacent to the line. Silkman has said the pipeline will save the region $25 million a year in energy costs, Waterville City Council will take a final vote on the proposal next week, and Norridgewock voters will decide during its town meeting in March.

Augusta, Fairfield, Gardiner, Oakland and Skowhegan have approved TIF districts within their boundaries.

Waterville City Council has approved first and second readings on the proposal and will take a final vote on Tuesday. Norridgewock voters will decide during Town Meeting in March.

Richmond has no plans to vote on the proposal. During a November town survey, Richmond residents did not support the TIF proposal, according to Town Manager Marian Anderson.

Ben McCanna — 861-9239

[email protected]


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