Portland officials are withholding the name of a waterfront business that has asked for a property tax break.

The City Council’s economic development committee met in closed session Tuesday to take up the request for the second time. But the agenda did not disclose the name of the applicant and city officials refused to provide the information on Wednesday, even though the request is being made for a project on the waterfront, where several developments have been reviewed or approved in recent years.

Maine’s Freedom of Access Act includes several exemptions, including one that allows city leaders to withhold information that may compromise the city’s negotiating position.

City Hall Communications Director Jessica Grondin said the city also is allowed to withhold information about requests for economic development assistance if the applicant requests confidentiality and if disclosing the information would result in “significant detriment to that party.” Grondin said the city believes the application meets those requirements because disclosing that information may result in “a loss of business.”

She said the public would have several chances to comment if the committee reaches an agreement with the applicant.

“Should this go forward, there will be a public process, including a minimum of three hearings, and as such the name would become public then,” Grondin said.

Mayor Ethan Strimling, who has been critical of such Tax Increment Financing agreements in the past, said the public has a right to know who is requesting taxpayer dollars before the council takes the time to negotiate an agreement.

“It’s very frustrating that we can’t let the public know,” Strimling said. “If folks come into the city of Portland and they want public money it’s imperative the public know those conversations are happening. That way when and if something happens here, it doesn’t come out of the blue.”

TIFs divert property taxes generated from new developments from the city’s General Fund to either help a developer pay debt associated with the development, or fund certain infrastructure projects by the city.

TIFs also shelter the property value of a new development from state revenue-sharing and education calculations, which tend to drop as a city’s value increases.

Strimling tried unsuccessfully to convince the council to add provisions for fair wages, among other things, to an agreement with the biotechnology firm ImmuCell in 2016. He was criticized by councilors for trying to alter the agreement at the last minute after it had been negotiated for months behind closed doors.

Although the TIF for ImmuCell was approved, Strimling was successful in leading to a citywide policy change last year to require projects that receive TIFs to pay a prevailing wage, among other things.

Strimling said the city should be able to release an applicant’s name in order to be transparent.

City Councilor Justin Costa, who leads the economic development committee, said he would like to release the name but needed to follow the city’s legal advice. He said the TIF request may appear on a future agenda, but nothing has been scheduled to date.

“Anytime you’re looking at something like this it’s sort of an admission by the party that they’re having trouble with the financing,” Costa said.

The council’s consideration comes after Westbrook extended a tax break for Idexx Laboratories Inc., a veterinary technology firm that reported $1.97 billion in revenue last year. The new agreement would return $1 million a year to the company until 2037.

According to Portland’s annual TIF report, nearly $1.1 million in tax dollars were returned to businesses last year through so-called credit enhancement agreements, rather than going into the city’s General Fund.

Randy Billings can be reached at 791-6346 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: randybillings

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