WESTBROOK — City councilors Monday gave preliminary approval to the sale of the final city-owned lot in the Westbrook Heights Business Park, a venture from 2003 aimed to diversify the tax base.

Councilors also gave final approval to pay an $83,000 IRS fine that resulted from a late filing and heard from Mayor Mike Foley on more measures the city will take to avoid similar mistakes in the future.

Natures Design Landscape, which is a city vendor and serves other clients in Maine and Massachusetts, is buying the last lot at the business park off Saco Street for $175,000. The company will move from Pershing Way off Bradley Drive to Westbrook Heights.

“It’s a really good company to keep,” Economic Development Coordinator Dan Stevenson said. “Companies are growing within the city. They are excited about this, we are excited about this.”

The sale means all nine lots owned by the city have been sold. The city bought the lots in 2003 from a company that originally planned to develop it.

“The primary goals of the city for this project was the growth of the commercial tax base and creation of employment opportunities with no cost to be borne by the Westbrook property taxpayers,” City Administrator Jerre Bryant said.

The current assessed value of commercial properties at the park totals nearly $13 million. Development of two more lots is in the permitting process.

“The businesses located in the park currently provide 335 jobs,” Bryant said. “With the sale of this lot, the revenue generated from lot sales will exceed the city’s cost of development by $170,000. This has proven to be a highly successful economic development venture for the city of Westbrook.”

The $83,000 late filing penalty owed to the IRS was related to Affordable Care Act paperwork for 2018.

“I have heard from concerned residents and wanted to add that Human Resources Director Stephen Field was not the HR person responsible, the director responsible is gone with the city,” Foley said. 

The amount of the penalty was based in part on the number of city employees, Foley said, and the IRS factored school employees into the equation.

Foley said the city is working to get the schools their own tax identity to avoid such large penalties should they arise in the future.

In the meantime, he said, all human resources staff members are being trained on the particular ACA filing and he will be contacting the city’s representatives in Washington about the city’s experience. He hopes to make them aware of the problem and possibly recoup some of the penalty money.

“The ACA was intended to help with health care, but I’m not sure it was designed to fine and penalize small cities and towns working hard and trying to provide the proper health insurance information,” he said.

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