Friday, December 13, 2013
Joanne King has been involved with the redevelopment of the Brunswick Naval Air Station ever since it was designated for closure in 2005.
King, chairwoman of the Brunswick Town Council, says she has tried to stay optimistic about the efforts to replace the estimated 4,800 jobs and $330 million in annual income that left the region when the Navy pulled up stakes last year.
But she isn't optimistic anymore.
"They need a different process for redevelopment," King said. "It is totally flawed. It just doesn't work."
King's comments will likely reverberate in Brunswick and in state government, both of which have a financial -- and political -- interest in a successful redevelopment. But they may not surprise those who have monitored the increasing tension between the town and the agency that's supposed to make the 3,300-acre Brunswick Landing an economic engine.
This week, the Town Council voted 8-1 against a 30-year agreement that would have returned $12 million in property taxes to the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, the quasi-public agency that's implementing the base reuse plan.
Steve Levesque, director of the authority, said the decision caught him off guard. He told the Portland Press Herald on Wednesday that the tax increment financing plan is critical to funding infrastructure projects that will attract businesses.
Councilors who voted against the deal cited uncertainty in potential changes to state laws for tax increment financing.
King said Thursday that the decision was also rooted in town officials' feeling that Brunswick doesn't have a voice in the redevelopment process but is being asked to assume the financial risk.
"The way it's set up right now, the town of Brunswick is in a position to get fleeced and not have any say on anything," King said. "The (redevelopment authority) is set up to run by itself and needs our fiscal assistance. It's just not logical."
In April, Brunswick officials began pointing fingers at the LePage administration, including Economic Development Commissioner George Gervais.
Their ire was directed at legislation the administration tucked into Gov. Paul LePage's updated state budget, requiring Brunswick to authorize tax increment financing that would return $20 million in property taxes to the redevelopment authority.
The legislation was discovered by Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, who serves on the Legislature's budget committee. During deliberations, Katz asked whether Brunswick knew about the proposal. It didn't.
Gervais said Thursday that the administration wasn't "trying to do anything sneaky."
"It was a solution to what I thought was a potential issue in the redevelopment of the base," he said. "I wanted to ensure that (property tax) revenues within the boundaries of the base were used for redevelopment efforts there."
Behind the scenes, officials in the administration and the redevelopment authority worried that Brunswick's leaders were having doubts about authorizing the tax-sheltering agreement.
Feeding the uncertainty was a longtime disagreement about Brunswick's representation on the authority's board.
The legislation that created the authority empowers the governor to appoint 10 of the 11 members, plus the commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development.
State law prevents elected officials from serving, but King said the appointments are still political -- too political.
The LePage administration, and the Baldacci administration before it, have denied that Brunswick is under-represented. So does state Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, whom both administrations have consulted before making nominations to the authority.
Gerzofsky notes that five Brunswick residents are on the board. "Brunswick has had far more representation than other impacted communities," he said.
But King and other town officials say Gerzofsky has interfered with efforts to get Town Manager Gary Brown on the authority. Gerzofsky, who introduced a bill last year that would have prohibited town managers from being appointed, doesn't deny it.
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