BELGRADE — Residents on Tuesday voted 277-198 to approve a tax break for a firm that proposes to build a natural gas pipeline through central Maine.

The proposal designates a tax increment financing district to help pay for construction of a pipeline from Richmond to Madison.

Meanwhile, there were reports Tuesday that some Belgrade residents received pre-recorded messages that encouraged people to vote against the tax break.

Selectwoman Penny Morrell said the automated message was illegal because the caller, a woman, didn’t identify herself.

“She said, ‘I’m calling about the gas line,’ but didn’t say who they are or who they were calling for,” Morrell said. “It was a woman’s voice. I have my suspicions, but it could be anybody, an alternative energy source or (someone at) the meeting worried about the environment. I said at the time (of the call) that’s illegal.”

Under state law that regulates so-called “push polling,” a person may not “authorize, commission, conduct or administer a push poll by telephone or telephonic device unless, during each call, the caller identifies the person or organization sponsoring or authorizing the call.”

John Fortier of Belgrade wasn’t happy with the call.

“I think it was clearly an effort to undermine the TIF vote being held today,” Fortier said Tuesday. “I think it was underhanded and a below-the-belt-tactic distorting a voting result.”

Kennebec Valley Gas Co. officials recently turned to Belgrade for an alternate route after Sidney voters rejected a tax break for the project.

Kennebec Valley Gas has recently agreed to sell its assets to Summit Natural Gas of Maine Inc., a subsidiary of a Colorado-based company.

Details of the tax breaks may have to be amended with Summit taking over the project, town officials said. Summit’s map for the pipeline also may deviate from the one Kennebec Valley Gas Co. shared with towns.

The pipeline was proposed to run about 10 miles through Belgrade via routes 27 and 11.

The TIF proposal is for a 15-year deal that’s estimated to total new investment of $9.3 million. Taxes are returned to the company in decreasing increments over 15 years; the town would get $26,226 a year in tax revenue for the first 10 years and $52,452 a year the last five years. Once the tax break is complete, the town would get about $131,130 a year.

Mechele Cooper — 621-5663

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