Washington County commissioners tighten guidelines for loans, grants

Posted Dec. 18, 2013, at 7:01 p.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — Washington County commissioners have approved new guidelines for administering loans and grants to businesses under the county’s tax increment financing program.

The commission also approved a TIF grant and loan totaling $85,000 to enable the expansion of Tide Mill Creamery in Edmunds, which produces yogurt and soft cheese.

The commission asked Ken Daye, TIF program manager for the Sunrise County Economic Council, in recent months to propose new guidelines.

The new guidelines, approved by a 2-0 vote during commissioners’ Dec. 12 session, put more emphasis on loans — not grants — to start-up and existing businesses.

For example, the new guidelines limit grant amounts to $15,000 and to a lifetime amount of $100,000.

Putting a cap on grants means the funds will not “go out too fast,” Daye noted in briefing commissioners on his proposal. It also will achieve the commissioners’ goal to use more TIF funds for loans, not grants, he said.

The guidelines also establish a new time period for grants — at least one year and four years in cases where grant funds are invested in tangible property. During the grant period, the recipient must provide regular progress reports and verification of expenditures to county officials.

The guidelines also establish a new time period for grant recipients to file reports with the Sunrise Council about how they are doing with the funding. Instead of just one year, recipients will now have four years to provide feedback on how the grant funding affected their business.

The commissioners were concerned about the “lack of accountability” of previous grant recipients under the old guidelines, noted Daye.

Commissioners Chris Gardner and Vinton Cassidy voted to approve the new guidelines; commissioner John Crowley was absent.

Gardner and Cassidy also voted 2-0 to approve a $40,000 TIF grant for Tide Mill Creamery, which buys milk from nearby Tide Mill Organic Farm, and a $45,000 TIF loan in order to expand and diversify the creamery business. The company, owned and operated by Rachel Bell and her husband, Nate Horton, had applied for the funding before the commission requested Daye draft new guidelines for the TIF program.

The total cost of the expansion project will be an estimated $220,897, with the business itself investing $135,897.

According to Daye, the company plans to build a new 24-foot-by-44-foot creamery building and will continue steps to expand its product line. It will produce hard cheese, age products in a new cheese cave, raise and sell organic pork, and produce and sell a selection of sauerkrauts. The creamery business also will expand into production of cheese made with goat milk.

The expansion project will enable a few part-time laborers to increase their hours and require the addition of one full-time herdsman farming position.

Tide Mill Creamery received a $19,500 TIF grant in the spring of 2012 that was used to buy equipment to increase production and to make other improvements. Sales in 2013 increased by more than $20,000 compared with the previous year, according to Daye.

The county’s TIF district was created to capture tax money generated by the Stetson I and Stetson II wind farms in the Unorganized Territory near Danforth. The funds are available for grants and loans to people and organizations who want to create and expand businesses and other opportunities in the Unorganized Territory. The program is administered by the Sunrise County Economic Council.

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