UNITY — A proposal to use tax increment financing money to repair damaged sidewalks along Main and School streets was approved by residents at a special Town Meeting Wednesday evening.

Other warrant articles — including proposals to use TIF funds to help buy a vehicle for the Unity Fire Department and improve the Kanokolus Boat Launch area and a proposal to use surplus money to buy heat pumps for the Town Office — were also approved at the meeting, which was held at the Unity Fire Department.

In Unity, the difference between the original valuation and current valuation of lots in the TIF district goes toward the TIF fund, said Gail Chase, a member of the economic development committee. Unity was one of the first towns in Maine to get a TIF district and has had one since the 1990s.

It’s estimated that the fund gets about $60,000 per year, said Selectman Emily Newell, and it had $71,125 of unappropriated funds available at the beginning of the special Town Meeting.

The vote for the sidewalk proposal was taken after some discussion and no one openly opposed it.

The money will pay for repairs to the sidewalk along Main Street in front of New Horizons Health Care as well as along School Street between the intersection with Main Street and the food hub. The repairs are necessary because pieces of the sidewalks are missing, making it difficult for wheelchair users to traverse them.

One of the categories TIF money can be used for in law is alternate transportation, according to Chase, who said that some businesses had mentioned “it would be beneficial to them if people could, in fact, walk.”

One resident said he thought having passable sidewalks in the downtown area was essential. “If we have businesses, we’ve got to have sidewalks in front of them,” he said.

The amount approved was no more than $38,600, which was a quote the select board received from Bard Paving in July. According to the article on the warrant, the selectmen will solicit more quotes to get the best price. Newell previously said that if the amount approved is now too low, the town will repair a smaller area.

A proposal to use TIF funds and fire department funds to buy a utility vehicle that would replace an old tanker was approved with some opposition. One resident wanted to know if it would affect taxes. The moderator, Don Newell, said that it would not.

“My goal is to eliminate a couple of trucks ultimately … To make things a little bit simpler and to eliminate some costs,” said Fire Chief David Smith.

Smith said they will look for a used vehicle that can carry equipment and tools. TIF funds will cover 38 percent of the cost of the vehicle up to $9,500, as 38 percent of the calls the new vehicle would be used for come from the TIF district.

Some questioned why Smith doesn’t use the truck fund, which gets $10,000 each from the town and the TIF fund every year. Smith said that fund was originally created so the fire department could buy a new truck every 20 years, and while he may consider using some money from it, he would prefer to “see that money accruing for that purpose.”

The fire department currently has three engines and two tankers and only needs two engines and one tanker, he said. A 31-year-old engine is being used to carry extrication equipment among other things. The other engines don’t have enough room to carry that equipment without sacrificing their purpose.

The fire department will try to sell two old vehicles, but Smith said he doesn’t expect much more than $5,000 due to their age.

The old engine cost the department $3,000 in maintenance costs alone this year, he said.

Kanokolus Boat Launch will get up to $2,000 worth of upgrades via the TIF fund after the town voted to approve the recommendation.

Selectman Tony Avila said he’s hoping to add picnic tables, changing booths, signage, grills and a swimming float to the area to make it more family-friendly.

However, some residents are concerned that the money will go to waste.

“I’m just concerned because we’ve been having increased vandalism in town,” one woman said. “I’d hate to see us make all these improvements down there and then see it get destroyed.”

Avila said the signage will say when the area is open for visitors and that he’s talked to law enforcement about patrolling the area.

One resident suggested using security cameras, but Avila said that would cost more than $2,000.

In other business, the recommendation to use $5,000 of surplus money to install two heat pumps in the Town Office passed with no apparent opposition as well.

Madeline St. Amour – 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour


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