SCARBOROUGH —  Members of the public asked Scarborough town councilors to consider the benefits and opportunities a WEX, Inc office building might bring to town.

During the Town Council meeting Feb. 5, the community was invited to speak during a public hearing about the proposed Credit Enhancement Agreement, or CEA, for WEX Inc., an international company with roots in Portland that is interested in coming to Scarborough.

The council is expected to vote on Feb. 19 to approve the tax break that would span over 15 years, about $150,000 a year, $2.25 million in total — the town would still receive about $200,000 annual in property taxes from the WEX project. If approved, the company would construct a 200,000-square-foot office facility on the Downs property, accommodating 650 to 1,250 employees.

Council Chair Paul Johnson said that there was also to be a community round-table discussion on Feb. 13 at 6 p.m. in the Council Chambers for the public to ask questions about the proposed deal.

The majority of residents at the public hearing were in favor of the project and the CEA.

John Crasnick, vice chair of the Scarborough Economic Development Corporation, said that he was speaking on SEDCO’s behalf to endorse the deal.

“The area is zoned for projects of this scale,” he said. “The building will be within walking distance of both new and planned residential developments, providing opportunities for employees to both live and work in Scarborough. The project will create demand for existing businesses on Oak Hill as well as future demand for office detail and services in the new main street area of the Downs as well as on Haigis Parkway.

“WEX also provides an impressive set of employee benefits, invests heavily in their host communities and provides a reason for young graduates to stay in Maine, specifically in Scarborough, and will continue to invest in Scarborough as they grow,” he continued.

One resident, Carroll Gautreau, said that he wasn’t sure if he was in favor of the proposal yet. He isn’t sure if taxpayers will benefit or if other businesses will also expect tax breaks in order to move to Scarborough.

“It needs to be treated so the taxpayer ends with a plus at the bottom of the line for sure,” he said. “I think everyone should be treated on the same fair process and formula. There should be a qualification for any company — everybody should be treated the same. Before long, other businesses will come in and say, ‘Hey what about me? So-and-so got such-and-such.’ I think we have to make that scenario go away.”

Former Councilor Katy Foley said that she recognized this was a tough decision for the current Town Council, but she thinks that this vote is necessary in order to keep with the vision that she’d had when voting to approve the Downs development project.

“When I think back to my time on the council and some of the tough decisions that came before us, none being more difficult than the vote on the Downs itself, that was by far the most difficult personal vote I’ve had to take,” she said. “But when I did that, it was the big picture I was looking at. I was looking at 15, 20 or 30 years down the road, and for me when I think about that part of that vote, it was because of something like this opportunity.”

She said that the Downs should be given every opportunity it can receive to be a success for the town.

“This is not a cut-and-dry no-brainer, but I would encourage you to support this,” she said.

With the proposed average of $200,000 a year that this deal is expected to bring, the town’s educators, taxpayers and first responders will benefit financially, said Board of Education Member April Sither

“There are a number of compelling arguments made on both sides of the issue,” she said. “At the end of the day, there are always going to be hypothetical scenarios that can influence our decisions. Perhaps we can walk away on the deal and WEX will still come. Perhaps without WEX the Downs developers will apply for more residential units. Perhaps WEX will spur commercial growth for our town. Perhaps WEX will bring traffic to a complete standstill. All of these potential pros and cons have their merits, but they are also hypothetical. I’m asking the Town Council to make their decision not based on a laundry list of hypothetical (scenarios), which, as human nature dictates, we tend to pick and choose the hypothetical (scenarios) that pick our predetermined answer.”

If the company came to Scarborough it would give the town a chance to work collaboratively with a corporation in infrastructure improvements, said Jennifer Ladd, a member of the Scarborough Transportation Committee.

Sidewalks and roadways are aging, and the town has difficulty keeping up with improvements as funding from local, state and federal bodies isn’t always enough, she said. Besides updated infrastructure, WEX, Inc. would invite other types of public services.

“I would just echo a number of comments made previously about things like the opportunity this investment would bring,” said Ladd. “Things like advancing sustainable and alternative transportation methods. We really don’t have a strong bus network, for example, in Scarborough. It’s here but it’s not widely used. A large, anchoring corporate partner like WEX could be a catalyst for that and that would stand to benefit not only their employees but a lot of other people as well.”

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