SKOWHEGAN — Destination Skowhegan.

That’s the idea behind a collaboration between the town’s tax increment financing committee and Main Street Skowhegan to make the town a business and visitor destination as a growing food and agricultural hub, with a whitewater park through downtown and a vibrant arts community.

“There are these two parallel processes happening right now that are related but separate and cooperating,” said Amber Lambke, owner of the Somerset Grist Mill and chairwoman of the TIF Oversight Committee. “Both parallel processes are looking to engage the community in their thoughts and feelings about the future of Skowhegan.”

The 10-member oversight committee is recommending that the town renew its downtown TIF designation with the state for another 18 years and has been working with Skowhegan selectmen on where and how to spend TIF money if the plan passes muster. A TIF district in Maine may be designated for a period of up to 30 years. Skowhegan’s downtown TIF was established in 2006 and expires in March 2017.

In a TIF, the town applies to the state to take the base valuation for property taxes in a designated area — such as the downtown business district — and asks that any improvements in the base valuation and subsequent increased tax values be collected, or “captured,” to be held in reserve for local economic development.

Lambke said a TIF is an economic development incentive tool that allows municipalities to use new property taxes that result from commercial investment to invest in the future.

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TIF money has been used to meet match requirements for the municipal parking lot renovation and the Run of River environmental study, making physical improvements to the riverfront walking trails, buying security cameras to help protect downtown businesses and maintaining municipal trails and green spaces, she said.

The idea is to try to attract new people and new businesses to Skowhegan, Lambke said.

“The rationale is that if you are able to make concentrated investments over a period of time, you’ll continue to raise your property tax values that support the general fund and support the community over the long term,” Lambke said of the TIF process.

General categories of the TIF committee’s focus and the Main Street plan include supporting a Run of River whitewater park through the Kennebec River Gorge downtown; encouraging expanded retail and wholesale agricultural businesses to the growing food hub in Skowhegan, adding to Lambke’s Maine Grain Alliance and the local farmers’ market; improvements, energy efficiencies and upgrades to existing businesses and tourist destinations; “green” energy and solar projects; year-round family recreation; improving broadband Internet access; and collaborating with the Wesserunsett Arts Council.

The TIF committee and Main Street Skowhegan will begin working with legal counsel to draft a TIF renewal proposal for the Board of Selectmen, who will determine whether to send the plan to voters at Town Meeting in June. Voters would have the final say at Town Meeting.

Since 2006, when the TIF was established, property values in the downtown commercial district have increased by $4.3 million, resulting in the capture of $559,000 in such revenue.

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For its side of the collaboration, Main Street is focusing in on its strategic plan for the next five years, said Kristina Cannon, executive director at Main Street Skowhegan and a member of the TIF committee.

Cannon said a public forum on Main Street’s planning process is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Skowhegan Municipal Building on Water Street.

“We are inviting all members of the community to join us for a public forum and discussion on the future of the town,” Cannon said. “We feel that engaging the public is absolutely critical. We want to get feedback and ideas from our residents and excite people about what Skowhegan could be in the future.”

Lambke said recent news of the devaluation of the Sappi Fine Paper mill on U.S. Route 201 and the resulting $1.2 million loss of tax revenue makes this a good time to be capturing taxes generated from improvements to the commercial district and “strategically reinvesting those dollars in our local economic development priorities.”

The Skowhegan Board of Selectmen is scheduled to approve the agreement at a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday with S.D. Warren Co., a subsidiary of Sappi and the legal owner of the property, for the company. Under the agreement, the company will withdraw its pending abatements before the state Board of Property Tax Review in exchange for an agreed upon $64 million in reduced value of the paper mill for taxation beginning this coming year.

Lambke said a TIF allows the town to avoid using money from the general fund for town improvements. She stressed that the point of capturing new taxes in a TIF is to try to improve the economy in Skowhegan.

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“If we spend these monies smartly, we’re going to spend the money to improve infrastructure in ways that capture more property tax dollars going forward to potentially reduce the tax burden for the community,” she said. “A TIF can be used strategically to try to attract businesses, build a value of businesses.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow


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