CHINA — A town committee is exploring ways to use tax increment fund returns to make improvements, including to the causeway, boat launch and other areas, that would make the town a “destination.”

The TIF Committee, which met Monday night, is looking at improving not only the causeway and the South China boat launch, but also establishing a revolving loan fund and creating a town center near the south end of China Lake — all funded by an agreement stemming from a TIF district established by 2015 Central Maine Power upgrades.

The committee is working quickly to establish definite projects and price tags so it can hold public hearings before sending the ideas to the Select Board. If the board approves a TIF committee proposal, town residents would vote on it in November. A public hearing on any project would have to be held 10 days before the Nov. 8 election, and would have to have a week’s public notice.

The TIF district, established after major Central Maine Power upgrades across the town increased tax valuation, covers about 110 acres. The TIF accumulates about $270,000 a year from the line improvements that have to be used for projects that help improve economic development.

The committee now is using about $65,000 a year for park dues and other annual costs. Last year it put $50,000 toward renderings for improvements to the causeway on Causeway Road along the north end of China Lake, leaving the committee with a total of about $350,000. The town is expected to receive a total of $5.09 million in TIF revenue before it ends in 2035.

The main project proposes adding more parking spots to the causeway, create fishing platforms, put sheet pile over the rocks by the dock and create handicapped-accessible crosswalks and platforms for people to walk along the causeway more safely.

Committee member Dale Worster on Monday also proposed using the TIF money to buy property in South China near the Hannaford supermarket and The Green Bean to create a “real doggone town.”

The proposals face some hurdles, however.

The causeway project involves acquiring property across Causeway Road from the lake, in the Muldoon Pond area, that has parking spaces that the committee would like to expand to accommodate rigs and boat trailers. When the town approached the owner of the land, however, she said she would sell it contingent upon the town buying another piece of land she owns, which is outside the project area and has a house on it.

Of the $517,000 estimated for the project by engineer Mark McCulskey, who drew up the plan, $80,000 was included for buying the parcels; but the landowner wants $100,000, committee Chairwoman Amber McAllister said.

Committee member Tom Michaud also raised the concern about how the parking area could affect the lake.

“Already we’re got a bad situation down there, I think, as far as LakeSmart goes, with runoff,” he said. “I know LakeSmart’s not gonna like it … an impervious surface is not gonna fly.” LakeSmart is a Maine Lakes Society program that helps lakefront property owners reduce runoff. China Lake’s water quality is considered poor because of high phosphorus levels caused by a number of factors, including runoff.

A proposal to amend the land development code also would have to be approved for the project to be built.

Committee member Frank Soares III, the Planning Board chairman, said the project would be like trying to “put lipstick on a pig.”

“The area stinks,” he said. “And no matter what we do to it, it’s still gonna stink.”

Soares added, though, that if the project’s goal is to improve the safety of the area for pedestrians, he thinks it’s moving in the right direction.

Member Amy Gartley questioned whether the causeway project gave enough benefits to the town to be a TIF project.

McAllister said improving the causeway would enhance the area and draw more people there, as well as make it easier to fish. She mentioned a similar project that was successful in Greenville, on Moosehead Lake.

“We’re not talking apples to apples,” Michaud said in response. “We’re talking a lake you can fish for game in, and a lake you can boat around in and maybe catch a perch once in a while.”

The bridge on the causeway is also in critical condition. It’s “on the state’s radar,” McCluskey said, and the footings are deteriorating. A motion was made to get more information about bridge repair costs, low-impact development and different options for the project. The motion was approved.

At the end of the discussion, a motion was made to move forward in negotiations with the property owner, offering to buy one parcel but rejecting the other. The motion was approved to allow Town Manager Dan L’Heureux to contact the owner and report back to the committee.

Worster’s proposal for the south end of the lake would include using parcels on the inside of U.S. Route 202, Jones Road and Old Windsor Road, which also is intersected by Legion Memorial Drive to create ” a real downtown area.” He also proposed buying land along Town Landing Road by the lake. The tax value, he said, is about $775,000.

Worster said the area could have a main street, flanked by stores and proposed partnering with a land development community to build 20 to 30 units for elderly residents along Route 3 and across from U.S. Route 202.

“It’s one of the things that pays us in the future,” he said, adding that it would create a strong tax base. “Personally, I’d really like to see $5 million do something really cool and not just get dinked away with park dues.”

One issue with the proposal is the increased traffic, including tractor-trailer traffic, that would come into the area as a result of increased businesses. Soares said The Green Bean, a coffee shop on Old Windsor Road, as well as summer residents were concerned about previous business proposals.

“Some people might just have to live with progress,” Worster said.

Others in the committee expressed interest in the idea. “What I hear in this proposal is to make China into a destination,” Gartley said.

However, the committee is still subject to the Select Board’s and town’s opinions. Soares mentioned the pay-per-throw trash initiative throughout the meeting — which was put on hold after an outcry from residents — and warned committee members that presenting ideas to the public is not always easy.

“I think there’s a real danger here,” he said. “If we present things to the public that get shot down right away, we’re gonna get a reputation of not thinking things through.”

The committee faces a number of hurdles, however.

The TIF committee also discussed creating a revolving loan fund to help businesses that couldn’t get the amount they needed from a bank loan. The interest earned on the loans would go back into the TIF account.

The committee is proposing partnering with the Kennebec Valley Council of Governments, which would screen loan requests and send the most feasible to the committee, which then would recommend certain loans to the Select Board.

The committee did not make a motion on the item, instead agreeing to have KVCOG representatives explain the program for new members at the next meeting. The committee expects it will probably have to wait until the spring Town Meeting to ask the town to vote on setting aside money for the loan program.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour

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