FARMINGDALE — Residents will be asked to decide, again, on Friday whether to grant a tax break for a natural gas pipeline planned to run through town and central Maine.

Voters overwhelmingly turned down the request for tax increment financing, known as a TIF, at a special town meeting in December.

The Board of Selectmen, however, at the request of Portland-based Kennebec Valley Gas Co. and the Kennebec Valley Council of Governments, chose to bring the issue back to the ballot box so residents could learn more about the proposal.

Polls will be open from noon to 7 p.m. at Hall-Dale High School. Town Meeting will be held in the high school theater at 1 p.m. Saturday.

There are indications the tax break may have more support this time around.

Sheldon Street resident David Cyr, who was a member of a volunteer group created to help explain the TIF proposal, was initially opposed to the deal. Now, however, he sees the financial benefit to having a TIF and will support it if the town negotiates a more beneficial credit enhancement agreement.

“The TIF makes sense because we can shelter more money from our valuation,” Cyr said. “I don’t think it should be given carte blanche.”

The 12 communities in the proposed gas line corridor are being asked for the tax breaks. Money collected by the town would be sheltered from state valuation of property, returning revenue to the company and the town.

Even though he favors the tax break, Cyr still has concerns about the entire project. Cyr says the TIF proposal was previously not presented to the public in an appropriate and understandable manner.

Selectmen said they were pressured by the gas company to hold a special meeting in December and said they didn’t have enough time to present the proposal as clearly as possible.

Another issue, Cyr said, is that no one has conducted the proper research on what the cost would be to convert to a natural gas furnace. He also said people need to know that if they are not satisfied with the company that is serving the gas, then they can’t change companies.

“I just think that people need to be informed. Gas is new to central Maine and people need to be aware of that,” he said.

Bill Crowley, an outspoken opponent of the TIF and gas line, is still against using public money to finance private projects.

“I think if this is a good enough idea to go along, with then they should raise their own capital,” Crowley said.

Eugene Moreau, former selectmen who initiated the volunteer group to review the TIF, said he wasn’t impressed with the TIF proposal at the December town meeting. Moreau said he felt more informed after attending a public meeting where representatives from the state Department of Economic and Community Development and Maine Revenue Services explained how it works in greater detail.

“We evaluated it and discussed it thoroughly. I think a TIF is the best thing for the town,” Moreau said.

Kennebec Valley Gas Co. has already received preliminary approval from the Public Utilities Commission to install a 56-mile supply line from Richmond to Madison. The distribution line would enable the company to extend service to residents, businesses and Hall-Dale High School, if they should decide to convert their heating systems to natural gas.

Meantime, Summit Gas Co. of Colorado has entered into a purchase-and-sale agreement with Kennebec Valley Gas Co. to build the gas line.

If the deal goes through — it requires the approval of the Public Utilities Commission — Summit plans to expand the project with more distribution lines in Farmingdale, according to Board of Selectmen Chairman David Sirois. The Board of Selectmen has unanimously voted in favor of the TIF. The Summit deal would also have the line coming down from Augusta, where it would connect to an already existing line in Windsor.

The sale to Summit, Sirois said, would be even better for the town.

“This company is about customer service. They want to market to everyone,” he said. “It’s a huge change for the better.”

Moreau agrees with Sirois that Summit Gas Co. would bring better service to the area. Moreau said representatives of Summit have stated they would spend a lot more cash on both the supply and distribution lines, bringing service to many more residents.

GAS LINE TERMS

If the gas pipeline TIF is approved on Friday, a volunteer group suggests selectmen appoint a committee to recommend possible future changes in the TIF district and future expenditures from the Municipal TIF Account.

It also suggests:

* amending the TIF Development Plan to include Northern Avenue in the list of streets affected by the project;

* designating other locations eligible for TIF-funded improvements such as along the entire district location, which may be within or next to the town right of way in which a gas line may be built;

* encouraging the extension of a distribution line up several short streets off Maine Avenue and within the residential area westerly along Maine Avenue between and within the limits of Sheldon and Lonsdale streets;

* assuring that the developer shall provide adequate and continuing emergency response training to the Farmingdale Fire Department;

* providing distribution access to Hall-Dale High School-Middle School.

OTHER DECISIONS

In addition to the TIF, voters will be asked to vote to fill a selectmen’s seat: Julian Beale is running against incumbent David Sirois.

Also, voters will be asked if they want to pay $51,723 to fund two foreign language positions and one-half school nurse position at the Hall-Dale schools, which was cut from the Regional School Unit 2 budget.

 


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