The long‑awaited Calais tax increment financing (TIF) district has been established, opening the door to economic growth. The district was approved at a city council meeting on February 23 following a public hearing.
According to City Manager Jim Porter, the district includes "much of the downtown and the DiCenzo lots" as it now stands, although it is possible to expand it to include other properties in the future. Businesses that are looking to open new establishments within the district or to expand their existing establishments are eligible to work with the city one‑on‑one to create individual deals that could generate tax breaks for the business while enabling the city to shelter funds specifically earmarked for economic development.
Jon Pottle of Eaton Peabody was on hand at the meeting to answer questions related to the TIF district. Pottle stated that the TIF only applies to new growth, not the existing tax base. He added that TIF districts cannot encompass more than 5% of a city's valuation. "That's not an issue here, but it may be for the future." Pottle said. The city's financial projections based on the created district are to have $350,000 of new taxable revenue every five years; at present, $280,000 of that goal has been met by the recently built Dollar Tree.
"Calais has talked about this for many years C we're moving forward with it," said Mayor Billy Howard. "It really gives us another toolbox of options. We need all the tools we can get to work with."
A public hearing has been scheduled for Thursday, March 23, to discuss the disruptive property ordinance. The ordinance pertains specifically to properties regarded as disruptive based on repeated complaints to the police department. After a certain number of complaints within a short time period, the ordinance gives police the ability to contact landlords of the property and levy fines if appropriate.
"This forces the landlord to take responsibility for the people they put in those properties," Police Chief Dave Randall said. He said that 99% of landlords are compliant already but that 1% have been negligent and uncaring about their tenants' behavior.
There are additional benefits to the ordinance, as Chief Randall explained. "Most of the places we have a problem with, it's more than just a rowdy crowd. There's usually junk on the lawn or garbage out back or fire issues. We all know how dangerous it is," he said, referencing a fatal fire in Portland. "It enables us to have a way to make sure people are safe so we don't have a tragedy in our city."
As a point of clarification, Chief Randall added, "We're not after landlords who are working with us. Just the ones who are just collecting rent. We want people to move here. We don't want people to move here and be sorry they did."
Funds from a heroin‑related arrest on King Street in December have been transferred to a reserve account earmarked for the police department. Over $4,000 in cash was seized in the operation, according to Chief Randall. The funds were transferred following Randall's warning that if the city did not act to claim the funds, they would simply go to the state instead.
A project to replace the 1886-era water main on Manning Street has been approved by the council. The council had previously approved a sewer project on Manning Street, and this would enable additional work to improve the water quality and eliminate dead‑end water mains.
Mayor Howard voiced his concerns related to having additional loans outstanding and said that he did not want water rates to go up. City Manager Porter said that rates are not expected to increase and added that the state considers the city to have low water rates. Payments for the water project will amount to $19,820 a year. These payments will be offset in 2020 by the completed payments to another loan that now amounts to about $20,000, according to Annaleis Hafford, vice president of Olver Associates.
Regarding tax‑acquired property, City Clerk Theresa Porter advised the council that she had received full payment of $4,408 for a property on McLean Street. Two other properties are in the process of repayment, one on Main Street and one on South Street. Four acquired properties have either received no response or the owner has relinquished interest. Porter recommended that those properties be put out to bid. The council agreed with her suggestion. Porter also advised the council that full payment has been received for a rental property from owner Alan Lyford and that the Bridges properties are in the process of repayment.
The council briefly revisited the topic of bowhunting and whether it should adopt an ordinance. City solicitor Arnie Clark advised the council that the city could not overwrite state laws, and any ordinance that was counter to the state would not hold up in court. He said that if the city wished to make certain areas off‑limits to hunting, it could act as a property owner and post "no hunting" signs in those areas. Councillor Marcia Rogers agreed with that suggestion and said that it should be done along the Riverwalk and other public areas. Clark pointed out that the Riverwalk may be protected already as a public walkway, but it was acknowledged that signs informing the public would be helpful regardless. The council expressed its agreement.
The Calais Rec 6‑8 cheerleading team has been approved to take a trip to the Six Flags Thrill Coaster cheerleading competition in Massachusetts on April 29. There are 15 cheerleaders on the team, and they will be accompanied by chaperones. The cheerleaders have raised the necessary funds for the trip on their own.
Diane Hunnewell has been named as the new president of the Calais Downtown Revitalization Coalition. The council welcomed the news.
The council gave specific praise to the collaboration between Calais Fire‑EMS and Downeast EMS on the recent incident at the Baileyville mill that exposed workers to toxic fumes. Councillor Eddie Moreside said that "it could have went bad real, real quick." Mayor Howard said, "It could have been a lot worse." City Clerk Porter quipped, "The horse could have died," referring to Bert, a horse that escaped its lot and ran into one of the ambulances during the incident. Bert suffered no major injuries, nor did any of the workers.