MILLINOCKET, Maine — A Town Council suggestion has led to a new state law that allows tax break money once diverted only to economic development projects also to be used for all-terrain vehicle and snowmobile trails.
The new law, which grew from a bill proposed by Rep. Herbie Clark, D-Millinocket, might also allow tax increment financing proceeds to be used for recreation centers such as what Lincoln officials want to build, Clark said.
“We changed [existing state laws] to ensure that TIF funds might be used to ease some of the pressure towns face in maintaining these [trail] systems,” Clark said Tuesday. “It can be quite expensive.”
Tax increment financing is among the state’s leading tools for aiding economic development. When a town sees an increase in valuation created by an investment, it also experiences a reduction in its share of state revenues and an increase in county taxes.
A TIF allows a town to “shelter” the new valuation from the calculations of state revenue sharing, education subsidy and county tax assessment, in effect creating more money for the town. TIF agreements usually run 20 years.
In the past, the money that a town gained through a TIF had to be invested in community economic development projects, such as industrial parks or infrastructure improvements that aid businesses.
The law stemming from Clark’s LD 539 allows TIF money to go toward the “planning, design, construction, maintenance, grooming and improvements to new or existing recreational trails determined … to have significant potential to promote economic development, including bridges that are part of the trail corridor, used all or in part for all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles, hiking, bicycling, cross-country skiing or other related multiple uses,” according to mainelegislature.org.
An amendment to the bill, which Gov. John Baldacci signed into law earlier this month, allows recreational trails or other recreational efforts boosted by TIF money to be located outside TIF districts.
Town Manager Eugene Conlogue was pleased at Clark’s efforts, although they will not likely benefit the bridge the town will build. Clark and Conlogue see huge potential benefits to the Katahdin region from ATV riding, one of the uses the bridge eventually will facilitate.
“Increasing recreational opportunities is one of our legitimate economic development goals, and certainly the expansion of recreational opportunities is happening,” Conlogue said Tuesday.
Clark said the new law likely would allow TIF money to go to recreational efforts beyond trails. He encouraged local officials to contact the state Department of Economic and Community Development to see exactly to what the law also could apply.
Local businesspeople and sportsmen have long complained that the area’s lack of an ATV trail system has deprived the Katahdin region of economic benefits similar to what it reaps from snowmobiling. The Katahdin region is among the nation’s finest areas for snowmobilers.
To answer this, the region’s recreation proponents are working with landowners to get their permission to create a multiuse trail for ATV riders, bicyclists, bird-watchers, campers, hikers, snowmobilers and other recreationalists that would connect northern and southern Maine through the Katahdin region. The area lacks an ATV or multiuse trail system.
The new state law will help create funding to allow the trail to be built, Conlogue said.
A key element of the proposed trail system is a bridge that will be built west of town near Green Bridge over the Penobscot River’s West Branch. The bridge project is out to bid. Bids should be returned within a few weeks, and construction is likely to begin by September, Conlogue said.