GORHAM — A local developer says a referendum allowing the town to borrow $5.9 million to buy and develop industrial land should be invalidated because the town did not properly notify voters about the property tax impact.

Susan Duchaine of Design Dwellings said Town Council rules require notice of the tax impact, but the Nov. 5 ballot lacked that information for voters, who approved the referendum 1,378 to 1,016.

“There’s nothing in there about how it will affect their taxes,” Duchaine said.

“I would say it’s invalid,” she said of the vote.

Town Manager Ephrem Paraschak said in an email Monday to the American Journal that the board followed council rules. “A financial statement was included on the referendum ballot and the referendum is still valid,” Paraschak said.

Duchaine met with Paraschak Tuesday morning, she said. She said in an interview after the meeting that she would not be formally challenging the vote, but still considered it to be invalid.

Duchaine pointed out requirements in the Rules of the Town Council: “All orders approved by the Town Council that ask voters of Gorham, through referendum vote, to approve an expenditure of funds, shall include a statement advising voters of the estimated impact on property taxes of said expenditure.”

The ballot language stated that the total debt service is $7.4 million that includes interest of $1.5 million at 2.4% over 20 years. The ballot also said that “in order to offset initial taxpayer investment to the extent possible,” other revenue including future lot sales and tax increment financing might be used.

Duchaine wrote in a letter to town councilors Nov. 20″, “It makes no mention of the impact on property taxes. No amount of an increase or decrease in the mil rate.”

Voters approved the referendum to borrow $4 million to buy the 141 acres and up to another $1.9 million for design and infrastructure so the town can develop the property into industrial lots. The 141-acre property contains two parcels – a 93-acre site with Main Street frontage and a 48-acre site facing Libby Avenue.

The Town Council Sept. 3 unanimously 7-0 sent the referendum to voters. It also approved a purchase and sales agreement with M.P. Rines Trust that called for a $5,000 deposit and the deal hinged on voter approval in the referendum.

Proponents say a new industrial park would broaden the town’s tax base to ease the future burden on property taxpayers in the growing town. Paraschak said that a specific date for a closing on the real estate hasn’t been set but would likely come in mid-January.

Duchaine has a large, vacant land tract on South Street near the roundabout with the Bernard P. Rines Bypass, an area that could link a connector to the Maine Turnpike.

 

 

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