Houlton to move forward with $1.6 million sewer, water expansion to attract business

Posted Feb. 25, 2013, at 6:57 p.m.

HOULTON, Maine — Despite the business that was the catalyst for the project deciding not to move to town, town councilors have decided to go forward with plans to extend water and sewer service on a section of U.S. Route 1 known as North Road.

Last June, voters decided to spend $1.6 million in tax increment funding to extend water and sewer lines on the roadway. That section of Route 1 was designated a few years ago as a tax increment financing development district to help capture taxes from increasing property values and use them to promote economic development in the area.

North Road has grown into the town’s major economic corridor over the past decade and business owners came before the council a number of times asking it to extend water and sewer services for their benefit. The town saw a need and eventually designated North Road as a TIF district and forged an agreement with Houlton Water Co. that began the extension process.

In 2011, Houlton Water Co. expanded sewer and water service up to 331 North St. using some of the TIF district funds for the $425,000 project.

One of the major reasons for the project was the relocation of a business onto North Road. The deal eventually fell through, however, and the business did not set up shop in Houlton.

During a council workshop Thursday evening, Chairman Paul Cleary asked the councilors if they still wanted to go through with the project. The town has taken out a $1.6 million bond that will be paid back in 20 years.

Engineering work has been completed on the project and it is ready to go out to bid. Town Manager Gene Conlogue acknowledged that there are no major water and sewer customers on that section of the North Road now but said he supported the project moving forward. He said that tax revenue generated through the TIF zone would help pay off the debt. He advised asking the Department of Economic and Community Development to increase the life of the TIF zone from 20 to 30 years so that revenue can be generated longer and applied to the bond payments.

Cleary was hesitant, saying that he felt the town could get itself in trouble by spending money on such a large project with no guarantee that businesses will come to the area and want to tie into the extended water and sewer line.

Conlogue said he felt that the best way to encourage economic development was to have infrastructure in the ground for interested businesses to access.

“I understand the need to invest, but it’s a hope and a prayer,” said Cleary, adding that it was similar to the “if you build it, they will come” strategy.

Cleary said he felt it was risky and he didn’t want it to come back and hurt the taxpayers.

Councilor John Fitzpatrick said that the town created TIF districts specifically for projects such as extending water and sewer services and wanted to do the project.

Councilor Sue Tortello agreed.

“We have an area not moving forward because there are no water and sewer services,” said Tortello. “It’s easier to do it now and not have a business there than to try and lure a business to the area without it. I know it’s a lot of hopeful thinking, but it’s not unplanned hopeful thinking.”

There is $200,000 in the TIF account now, according to Conlogue.

Councilors eventually opted to move forward with the project.

The expansion will bring services from Tractor Supply Co. to just south of Currier Road.

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