FARMINGTON — Two businesses in Franklin County are seeking grants from the county to fund economic development projects, but county commissioners on Monday put the requests on hold as they debated whether to give the grants to private business.

“I’m not saying you need to fund private business year after year, but I’m saying there’s nothing wrong with a shot in the arm to help them get started,” said Sandra Lamontagne, owner of Tea Pond Lodge & Cabins in Eustis, one of the two businesses whose request for grant funding through its tax increment financing, or TIF, program, was put on hold.

Lamontagne is seeking $50,000 from the county to put towards an open air pavilion that would be used for her business as well as community events and concerts.

“Yes, it would benefit Tea Pond, but the bigger picture is when other communities such as Rangeley have big gatherings, they have a venue for concerts, a place to put things on,” she said. “In Stratton, Eustis, we don’t have any of that. It would be for weddings, events that we do but also community concerts.”

Commissioners, however, expressed reservations about using TIF funds for a private business when the county also has a revolving loan program that receives few, if any applications, they said. The other business seeking TIF funding that was put on hold Monday is the Freeman Ridge Bike Park in Freeman Township, which is seeking $12,000 to expand a network of bike trails.

“We need to find a balance between the loans and money from TIF,” said District 1 Commissioner Terry Brann. “Nobody is asking about the revolving loan. All the requests are asking for free money.”

The TIF program, a common means of promoting economic development in municipalities across Maine, provides funding for both public and private projects through increases in property tax revenue in a designated area. The revolving loan program, by contrast, offers low-interest loans to businesses that must repay the borrowed amount.

In addition to stressing they would like to see more businesses use the loan program, commissioners Monday also expressed concern about spending the grants on private business, as opposed to government entities or non-profits.

“I have no problem giving (Freeman Ridge Bike Park) $12,000,” Webster said. “But if he’s going to charge people we might not want to give this guy taxpayer money so he can make a profit.”

According to its website, the bike park charges $5 for a day pass and $25 for a season pass. Owner Spencer Lee declined to comment on his application for TIF funding.

Other projects approved for TIF grants Monday include $7,900 for the High Peaks Creative Council to join the American Barn Quilt Trail and enable local students to participate in the public arts project; $8,000 for equipment for the Kingfield Fire Department; $50,000 for the Madrid Historical Society in conjunction with the Madrid Gateway project; and $50,000 for the Maine’s High Peaks network for a county-wide regional branding effort.

In other news, commissioners continued to debate whether the county should be funding non-profit social services groups like Western Maine Community Action, and if so, how the money should be spent.

“What you’re asking us to do is raise the property taxes when you’re already receiving state and federal money,” Webster said to Bill Crandall, program manager at WMCA, on Monday. “We’re saying, ‘Okay. Convince us this is leveraging additional money and we can justify it.’ We need to be able to justify it to the little old lady in Avon living in a mobile home paying more taxes because we’re going to generate more money for the whole county.”

He also said if the money is going to salaries, as Crandall acknowledged some of it is, the county should have some say in what employees are paid.

“We hear the complaint all the time these people are making more money than they would with salaries in the private sector,” Webster said.

In June, commissioners and the Franklin County budget advisory committee approved $25,000 in funding for Western Maine Community Action.

Crandall and his organization have argued the county funding is necessary to help secure grant money, both through putting up matching funds in grant applications and in paying people to administer the grants.

“Some of this money is going to salaries,” Crandall said. “I’m not going to try and hide that because that’s not what we’re doing and our request to the county has always indicated that. It’s because we get (grant) money that doesn’t have the salaries covered.”

County Treasurer Pam Prodan said it is unfair for commissioners to expect the non-profits to not spend the money they are allocated on salaries.

“Saying the money can’t be spent on salaries, that’s a catch 22 because they have to have employees in order to leverage the federal money,” Prodan said. “So how can they not have salaries? You should not be saying they can’t use it for salaries.”

Finally, commissioners also authorized county IT Systems Administrator Jim Desjardins to work with the town of Farmington on a project to install downtown security cameras, including near or on the Franklin County Superior Court.

Desjardins also expressed concern about the county’s 911 dispatch phone recorder, which he said is aging and “could go at any time.”

The budget advisory committee will take up the request from communications to fund and replace the phone recorder before the next budget cycle.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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