CHINA — A proposed tax increment financing district was approved overwhelmingly Saturday by voters at the Town Meeting.

Almost 170 residents turned out at China Middle School to vote on the TIF and an approximately $2.2 million annual town budget. Voters deliberated on the 34 articles on the meeting warrant for almost four hours.

The proposed TIF is intended to shelter new tax revenue created by upgrades to the power lines owned by Central Maine Power Co. that run north-south through town.

If enacted, the new, higher property value created by the development won’t be assessed for school or county taxes, Assessing Agent Bill Van Tuinen told the assembly. Revenue from the new development, estimated at $5.09 million in total, is placed in a special account the town can use to pay for approved projects related to economic development, he added. Town officials estimate they will receive an average of almost $255,000 a year as revenue for the TIF.

The town’s proposed TIF district still needs to be approved by the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development before it takes effect.

According to its TIF application, the town plans to use the new revenue to help pay for improvements to lake access, recreational trails, possible commercial sites, annual community events and dues to organizations such as the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce.

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The town doesn’t need to spend all the money it gets every year, and it can save up until it has enough to pursue a project, Van Tuinen added. If it didn’t approve the TIF, the town would see a short-term decrease in taxes, but the added valuation would mean that its share of school and county taxes probably would increase in the long term, Van Tuinen added.

Considering the benefits, Budget Committee Chairman Robert Batteese said the town would be “shooting itself in the foot” if it didn’t approve the TIF.

Voters approved the measure and the first year’s spending request.

Selectmen propose to use about $62,000 from the TIF in 2015-16 to pay for administration expenses, funding for the China Region Lakes Alliance and China Community Days, and a $37,923 payment the town owes the Kennebec Regional Development Authority for its portion of the FirstPark development in Oakland.

That funding sparked questions from voters about whether the town should remain in the development authority.

Resident Richard Morse said he has been disappointed with FirstPark and made a motion to remove the payment from the authorized TIF spending.

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Town Manager Dan L’Heureux noted that the payment to KRDA is an obligation and would have to be paid either way. Using TIF revenue for the FirstPark payment means the money doesn’t have to come from other sources, said as property taxes, L’Heureux said.

Morse expressed concern that the revenue the town receives from the development are less than half what it invests each year. He asked whether the town could get out of the agreement. L’Heureux said it would be expensive to leave FirstPark now, but when the town’s agreement with KRDA expires in five years, it could be easier to opt out.

While voters approved the approximately $2.2 million budget proposed by the selectmen and the Budget Committee, there was considerable discussion about items such as health care, funding for libraries and debt service.

Resident Sheldon Bumps questioned the estimated $220,000 the town budgeted for insurance for its 10 full-time employees and said that the amount the town pays for insurance seems to increase every year. He suggested amending the motion to remove the added money for health insurance this year.

L’Heureux said the selectmen and the Town Office were sensitive to the increases, but added it is “very difficult to do much about health insurance.” Selectboard Chairwoman Joann Austin said the selectmen had decreased a requested 2 percent wage raise to 1.7 percent in recognition of the price of health care.

Other voters added that reducing benefits for town employees could lead some to look for employment elsewhere.

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Voters approved the full $274,138 that selectmen and the Budget Committee recommended for employee insurance and unemployment compensation.

Voters added about $2,000 to the $22,000 proposed for debt service in order to pay off the town’s remaining debt on a truck purchase. Residents also overwhelmingly approved providing an additional $1,500 for each of the town’s small libraries.

Selectmen and the Budget Committee recommended giving South China Library and Albert Church Brown Library $3,000 this year, less than the $4,500 the organizations each received last year. Selectwoman Amber McAllister said the board decided to reduce the amount because of the large endowment Albert Church Brown Library has, and it wanted to make the two figures equal. Cheryl Baker, who volunteers at South China Library, noted that the money received from the town is a critical part of its $10,000-a-year operating budget.

Voters approved giving both libraries the $4,500 that was requested originally.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire


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