STANDISH – After announcing a town meeting vote on an application for a 30-year development program in Standish Corner, the Standish Town Council has decided to revoke the meeting and vote on the application itself on Feb. 11.

The development program application would turn 688 acres of the Standish Corner (routes 25 and 35) area into a tax increment financing (TIF) district, a legal designation meant to provide funds for public infrastructure projects in town through increased municipal revenues derived from new commercial development.

According to an estimate by Ron Epstein, an attorney with the Portland-based firm Jensen, Baird, Gardner & Henry, the proposal could increase municipal revenues by $20 million through a 30-year period starting on July 1. In Maine, there are 437 TIF development districts. If the council approves the application, it will be submitted for approval to the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development. There are some 130 parcels in the 688 acres.

The proposal does not include a credit enhancement agreement, an often-controversial provision that allows the town to share new tax revenues with a developer. State law requires that a TIF application be approved at town meeting only if it includes a credit enhancement agreement. According to Town Manager Gordon Billington, the town planner accidentally forwarded a boilerplate warrant for a TIF that included a credit enhancement agreement to the town clerk, who then posted it on the town’s website.

On Jan. 28, the council voted to rescind the town meeting warrant for the TIF application. A public hearing on the application will be held before the council vote on Feb. 11.

The TIF district would allow the town to shield increased valuation derived from new commercial development in the district from state formulas that increase county taxes, and decrease municipal revenue sharing and state aid to education. The property within the Standish Corner district is valued at $31.7 million, or about 3 percent of the town’s total property value.

According to Billington, the new revenues accrued through the TIF district would be held in a dedicated reserve account. According to the application, funds from the account could pay for road improvements, traffic lights, streetlights, sidewalks, a community center, a street grid system, underground utilities, or an economic development corporation, among other eligible expenditures. Town officials believe that such public improvements could attract new businesses and jobs to Standish Corner. The funds can be exclusively spent outside the TIF district, Epstein said.

“It does not have to be spent in the TIF district,” he said. “There are several different categories of eligible expenditures. The easiest and clearest is to spend it in the district, and I think in the case of this development proposal the anticipation is that most, if not all, of the money would be spent in this district.”

At a public information session on Tuesday, Epstein and the council fielded questions on the TIF from more than 80 Standish residents. According to Billington, the council had notified the public of the session in response to complaints about a lack of transparency by Dan Kasprzyk, a member of the newly formed Standish Watchdog Group.

In an interview, Kasprzyk said that the Town Council had tried to ram through a decades-long development program without sufficient time for the public to understand or comment on the implications.

“We have no clue what we’re signing,” Kasprzyk said. “And once we sign it, we’re done. Why are you going so fast? What’s the rush? Why don’t you teach us about it?”

At the information session, which was originally intended to be a council workshop, resident Carolyn Biegel asked the council to clarify its priorities for new, TIF-funded public infrastructure projects.

“I would feel a little more comfortable if we had more specifics in mind of what we wanted to fund, with the funds that would be sheltered and identified,” Biegel said. “Then I think it’s something that everybody could know ahead of time, be excited about and watch it all unfold and come to fruition.”

Councilor Lynn Olson said that the council had no set plan for how to use any new revenues.

“I don’t think there’re any plans currently,” Olson said. “The idea of what we do know is that at least two businesses are looking to build and come to town in that area so the dollars can be sheltered. We can’t spend it on anything and everything. It is limited. And if we look to spend the dollars, it has to be part of the standard budget process. So it’s more of the idea of we know these new businesses are coming.”

The Planning Board has received an application from Family Dollar, according to Billington. Pam Slattery-Thomas questioned whether the jobs associated with new commercial development in Standish Corner would provide a living wage.

“When you’re talking jobs, that sounds very good, but at $6, $7 an hour, how beneficial is that really?” Slattery-Thomas said.

“To an unemployed person, it could be extremely beneficial to have a job,” Olson said.

Councilor Louis Stack questioned how much commercial development would be required to raise $20 million in new revenue. If the valuation of Standish Corner increased by $1 million, he said, the town would net $12,000 in increased property taxes.

“That’s not very much,” Stack said. “We’re talking about a lot of development here if we’re going to start talking about a lot of expenditures for infrastructure.”

Resident Dave Call expressed concern that the TIF district would vastly increase commercial development in Standish Corner.

“I don’t think there’s anybody here that really wants another North Windham in Standish village,” Call said. “I hope not. I moved over here because I like it quiet.”

According to the Standish Village Corner Design Master Plan, the area has “the potential to become a model of responsible and creative commercial growth.”


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