AUGUSTA — City councilors expressed support for two tax breaks Thursday, one to help create senior citizen housing and the other to help repurpose the historic former St. Mark’s Episcopal Church.

One tax increment financing, or TIF, agreement proposed would help a developer build a new 42-unit, senior citizen affordable housing complex off Civic Center Drive.

Much of the debate about supporting the senior housing proposal focused on whether sidewalks would be built in the area because of its busy location, which does not currently have sidewalks.

“I think sidewalks have to be required at that location,” said Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti. “To stick a bunch of old people out off Civic Center Drive, with no way for them to get anywhere other than to stick their wheelchair out in the road, seems negligent by the city, and I think the city should fix that problem.”

Several other councilors also said there needs to be a sidewalk in the area to protect pedestrians, both those who walk in the area now, and the senior citizens who could occupy the new development proposed by Tim Gooch.

City Manager William Bridgeo said money sheltered by the TIF that would go to the city could be used to help build sidewalks in the area.

Nicholas Hartley, city engineer, said the $600,000 in tax revenue the city could get through the TIF wouldn’t be enough to build sidewalks from the development to other areas of Civic Center Drive where sidewalks may be built as part of other projects. However, he said, other funds may be available to help build sidewalks there.

Gooch, of Freeport, wants to build 42 units of senior housing at 10 Civic Center Drive, roughly across from the entrance to the University of Maine at Augusta, an area that has been cleared of trees in recent years. His proposed TIF deal, according to Keith Luke, deputy director of development services, would return 50% of the tax revenue generated by the new development to him to be used to help fund the project for 20 years, which is estimated to total a little more than $600,000.

TIFs allow municipalities to shelter property taxes generated by new development within designated districts. Sheltering money through a TIF means it would not be added to the city’s total property valuation for state tax calculation purposes. Without that, as a municipality’s total property valuation increases, its state-provided revenue — such as aid for education and revenue sharing — decreases, and its county tax liability increases. New value sheltered in a TIF doesn’t count toward a municipality’s property tax value.

Bridgeo said the TIF for Gooch’s proposed development would shelter more than enough money so the city would not lose any tax revenue by granting the TIF. He said having a TIF also would help the project secure MaineHousing tax credit  funding through a competitive process and thus increase the odds it will be approved and built.

Luke said if the project doesn’t get tax credit funding, it won’t happen.

The other proposed TIF would help Augusta resident Adam Turner repurpose the former St. Mark’s Episcopal Church property. He bought it from the church in 2018 with the intent of saving the property and converting its parish hall into three apartments while turning the historic church into a community gathering space that could host performing arts, weddings, social justice gatherings and other events.

The proposal would return 69% of new tax revenue generated by the development to Turner, a projected $123,000 over the 20-year TIF lifespan. He still would have to pay the full tax bill and then be reimbursed by the city after he submits documentation that he spent funds on the project that contribute to the goal of preserving the redevelopment of the building.

At-large Councilor Jennifer Day said the dollar amount involved is fairly small, but the proposal would provide a way for the city to provide a hand up to a project that would likely be welcomed by the neighborhood around it.

“I think this is wonderful; obviously it has my support,” she said.

All councilors and Mayor David Rollins agreed to sponsor an order to approve the tax breaks, which will go to councilors for a vote at their business meeting, likely next week.

Turner said the apartments in the parish hall are nearly ready for occupancy, and income from rent of those will help fund repairs to the adjacent Gothic church building, which he said has a leaky slate roof, granite that needs to be repointed and lacks insulation.

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