With no objection and no public comment, the Gardiner City Council agreed at Wednesday’s City Council meeting to send the city’s proposed spending plan to a second and likely final read on June 24.

The proposed $6.3 million budget represents a 2.4% increase over the current year’s budget and it reflects spending cuts that the City Council had requested.

But a divided council opted not to approve a request for a credit enhancement agreement brought by the developers of Central Maine Crossing.

Central Maine Crossing is a 22.8-acre site located on Brunswick Avenue, less than a mile from the Exit 49 interchange on Interstate 295. The development is home to MaineGeneral Medical Center’s Express Care facility and Gardiner Family Medicine.

Last August, developers made a presentation to the Gardiner City Council to explain their plans for Central Maine Crossing, which is owned by Greg Farris and Steve McGee. Kevin Mattson is the developer.

Its sloping topography offers a view of the White Mountains and Mount Washington to the west, but it also presents a development challenge. To make parcels on the west and lower side of the property accessible for development, developers in August said they were seeking both a tax increment financing district and a credit enhancement agreement to pay for a road, underground utilities and a sewer and water pump station.

In February, the City Council approved forming the requested tax increment financing district for the project. The TIF district is a mechanism that allows cities and towns to shelter property taxes that are generated by new development in designated districts. That means any additional value would not added to the city’s total property valuation for state calculation purposes. That would preserve the level state-provided revenue like aid for education and revenue sharing from decreasing and its county tax liability from increasing.

But on Wednesday, city elected officials, in a rare split vote, declined to grant the credit enhancement agreement, which would have reimbursed developers for the cost of installing improvements over a fixed period.

But Mayor Patricia Hart said she couldn’t support the agreement at this time and not because she doesn’t want it to succeed.

“We have invested a lot of money across the street (in the Libby Hill Business Park) and at First Park and other econ development projects where there’s a hope of if you build it, they will come to fruition. Libby Hill tied up city taxpayers’ money for many, many, many years. I look forward to seeing new projects out there and credit enhancements when there are projects. But during this economic downturn and time of uncertainty when people have lost their jobs and lost a lot of income, I can’t say that a better, higher use of taxpayer dollars (is) to build a road when there’s nothing at the end of the road.”

District 1 Councilor Terry Berry disagreed.

“Municipalities are very poor at being in the real estate business. They don’t belong there, and they don’t do a good job. Developers do,” he said. “I do not find this particular project conflicts with our property that we own across the street. It’s a different kind of venue, and it’s a private developer. Every piece of property that ends up getting developed and sold in the city of Gardiner makes what is left worth more.”

The motion failed on a tie vote, with Hart, and councilors MaryAnn White, Marc Rines and Colin Frey voting against.

Hart said the coronavirus pandemic tipped the scale against the developers.

At the close of the meeting, Councilor Amy Rees said she was disappointed with the outcome of the vote.

“I respect everyone’s right to vote as they wish, but I am surprised at the CEA vote,” Rees said. “We worked with them for months and they did everything we asked them to.”

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