OXFORD — On a 44-11 vote, town meeting attendees approved a tax incrementing financing agreement Monday night that covers the site of the future Oxford casino and other business property along Route 26.
Voters also agreed 44-10 to amend the existing TIF for Walmart from 12 to 30 years to help pay for debt incurred from developing a water line project.
The new TIF must be submitted to the state by the end of the month and approved by state officials.
“We know it’s not perfect but we have nothing to hide with this,” Town Manager Mike Chammings said after more than an hour of questions and debate. The focus was on whether the proposed TIF was being pushed through at a special town meeting for the benefit of the casino and whether it would benefit the town as a whole.
Tax increment financing allows a municipality to shelter itself from paying more to the state and county government on property that increases in value, as the casino property is expected to. The town can use the extra funding it gets from property taxes to finance improvements.
“The plan is based on speculation and will not benefit the town as a whole,” Mary Taylor of Portland said. The owner of a large tract of land along Route 26 said, “If you do not own property on Route 26, you will not benefit.”
Taylor told voters that TIFs are used across the country by cities and towns who are trying to bring business into their communities. “It’s already here. We don’t need the TIF,” she said, referring to the future Oxford casino.
Taylor said every dollar that goes into a TIF fund is a tax dollar taken from the general fund. She said the increased tax base from the casino and other businesses should go into the general fund to take care of the infrastructure in town and to create more opportunities, such as recreational facilities, for Oxford residents.
Other residents questioned how the lack of a TIF would affect the tax rate and school budget.
Oxford resident and SAD 17 board Chairman Ron Kugell told voters that without the TIF, school cost will rise substantially.
“If we don’t have this your school assessment will skyrocket,” Kugell said.
One person asked that the vote be delayed until annual town meeting in June, but the majority of voters rejected that request on a 12-37 vote.
The town borrowed about $1 million from developer Bob Bahre for the project. Another $500,000 was given to the town by Black Bear Development, the casino developers. If the TIF district proposal failed to gain voter approval, payment for the work would have to come out of the town’s share of casino revenues.
Officials said that in addition to paying back Bahre, the money generated from the new TIF will, in part, allow the town to pay back the cost of a $1.5 million expansion of the town’s water line up Pigeon Hill to the casino and a 500,000-gallon water tank.
Bahre said after the meeting that he was pleased with the vote. “There will always be a few people who disagree,” he said.
Chammings said he expects the state to approve the TIF. “We’re very optimistic it will pass,” he said.
Officials said voters’ approval to extend the TIF for Walmart could help pay for extending water service down Pottle Road and throughout the nearby residential area in the north end of town.