Thursday, March 27, 2008

Officials briefed on w ind farm TIF

Sun Journal

By Ann Bryant , Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 26, 2008

FARMINGTON - Franklin County commissioners took a first look Tuesday at aspects of a tax increment finance district for TransCanada's proposed Kibby wind power project.

Committed to a public process for a TIF, Commissioner Gary McGrane told a packed commission meeting room that "the county is only at the beginning stages and no decisions have been made."

Commissioners, along with several town managers and others, were there to learn more about the proposal. The meeting was part of a tentative timeline that shows commissioners holding a public information meeting April 15 on the program prior to taking a vote on the TIF in May.

Greg Mitchell and Noreen Norton of Eaton Peabody Consulting Group, hired by commissioners in February to help them understand the TIF process, explained the elements of a TIF and gave examples of revenues, taxes and tax shifts if an agreement is reached on the Kibby and Skinner townships project.

TransCanada wants to build a 132-megawatt, 44-wind turbine project on Kibby Mountain and Kibby Range in northern Franklin County near the Canadian border. The project, with a value of $220 million, could be in operation by 2009.

The TIF would only be the second such district created in an unorganized territory.

TransCanada Energy Ltd. project manager Nick Di domenico previously told commissioners TransCanada was interested in entering into a TIF similar to a Washington County deal signed in 2007 with UPC Wind for the Stetson Mountain wind project.

While not opposing wind power, concerns were raised by Carrabassett Valley Town Manager Dave Cota over a potential loss of tax revenue to the county if a TIF agreement is reached.

"That revenue would otherwise reduce the property tax commitment to all 21 of the Franklin County towns and plantations," Cota wrote in a letter to commissioners.

He raised concerns over potential tax shifts and offered a demonstration of the reduction in county tax for each town if the TIF was not approved.

The increased tax revenue could mean that without a TIF, towns would pay lower county taxes. With it, county assessments to the towns remain the same, Norton said after the meeting.

"The question I've heard most was whether the project would move forward if there was no TIF agreement," said Ruth Marden, Jay's town manager.

Cost projections increased dramatically since the start of the project more than two years ago, especially in terms of the drop in value of the dollar compared to the Euro, said Di domenico. Some of generating equipment is produced in Europe, he said.

TransCanada's corporate board may make a decision on the project in May and will be looking for cost savings, Di domencio said. With a TIF, the project is more likely to be accepted, he said.

At a meeting to be held on April 8, time and place to be announced, TIF investment options and district boundary recommendations will be addressed.

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