CHELSEA — When Maine Natural Gas and Summit Natural Gas of Maine installed nearly 7 miles of natural gas transmission pipelines through Chelsea, they opened up new possibilities for this town of about 2,700 people on the eastern bank of the Kennebec River.

The value to Chelsea lies not in access to an alternate heating source, but in the $2.5 million in property taxes the $6.9 million infrastructure investment it is projected to generate in the next three decades.

With part of that money, town officials are taking advantage of a one-time opportunity to launch a plan to promote economic development, thanks to a Tax Increment Financing District created to shelter the additional tax revenue and put it to use in specific projects.

“We’ve never had a TIF before,” Scott Tilton, Chelsea town manager said. “We want to create jobs and facilitate growth. We want to become more business-friendly.”

The Tax Increment Financing and Development Program is a mechanism that municipalities use to protect new revenue from the financial effects that come with large investments. Changes to a town’s increased assessed property value affects the town’s share of state aid to education, local school district contributions, municipal revenue sharing and county tax assessment. Chelsea officials estimate they lose 60 percent of each new tax dollar to cover lost state subsidies and increased county taxes that come from new assessed value.

Aside from funds identified for local road improvements needed as a result of the gas line installation, the bulk of the TIF program is focused on communitywide economic development projects.

“For so many years, residents have been asking what we can do to bring business here,” Selectman Rick Danforth said. “We’re right in the middle of the Gardiner-Augusta area. What can we do to make people stop here?”

Reaching that goal will take some work and a plan.

The town is partnering with the Kennebec Valley Council of Governments to craft an economic development plan.

The first step is signing up residents willing to serve on an economic development committee. Tilton said he is looking for five to seven volunteers who will meet throughout next year with town officials and a consultant from KVCOG to seek public input, collect and analyze town data, consider what Chelsea has to offer, identify obstacles to overcome and draft strategies for economic development — both to support existing businesses and attract new ones.

“Having a plan is the best way to make things happen,” said Joel Greenwood, KVCOG’s community planner who will work with Chelsea officials. “You can’t figure out where you’re going or how you’ll get there until you know where you are. It’s important to understand that there’s no magic bullet for economic development, and it doesn’t happen overnight. You have to be ready for opportunities as they come along.”

Along with the work on the plan, Tilton expects the town to revise its comprehensive plan and consider implementing site plan review for new developments.

“This is a chance to get the kind of change we want to see,” Tilton said.

Any resident interested in serving on the committee can contact Tilton at the Town Office or fill out the volunteer application on the town’s website, chelseamaine.org.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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