2016-06-10 / Letters

Selectmen candidates

To the editor:

It’s nice to see a contested election for Kennebunk’s Board of Selectmen this year. I watched the May 18 candidate’s forum and one thing was clear to me: Whoever is elected needs to study up on TIF districts, and fast. With the possible exception of incumbent Richard Morin, none of the candidates seemed to fully understand how they work.

The way that TIF districts have been used in Kennebunk, virtually no additional tax revenue has been created that would not have existed without them. They simply segregate certain commercial property tax revenue into accounts that are restricted in how they can be used. In exchange, the town gets a benefit in our education funding from the state that is equal to about 1 percent of what we put into the TIF account. It’s a similar concept to an individual’s 401K, Health Savings Account, etc. … except that the benefit is far lower than what is typical with those mechanisms.

All four selectmen candidates either stated or implied that our use of TIF districts allows the town to undertake infrastructure without impacting the tax mil rate. This is false. If anything, the opposite is true: Because revenue in the TIF accounts is restricted to certain uses, spending that does not qualify places a greater burden on the general fund, where the TIF district tax dollars would have gone if we had not created those districts.

Whether the use of TIF has ultimately been good or bad for the town is a difficult question to answer and deserves more and better discussion than it has received. But residents should be asking how it is that we can have a field of candidates whose experience includes the budget board, board of selectmen and Economic Development Committee and who apparently do not understand the TIF mechanism that they have voted on or advocated for? Why has town administration supported the repeated public claims of selectmen, the Lower Village Committee and the Economic Development Committee (among others) that the use of TIF allows spending without impacting the mil rate?

Whoever sits down at the board table in July needs to study up on the arithmetic.

John Costin

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