An artist rendering of what the 500-acre Scarborough Downs property would look like after a proposed redevelopment project. Credit: CBS 13 | WGME

The Scarborough City Council on Wednesday voted 6 to 1 in favor of a $2.25 million property tax break over 15 years for the proposed $50 million WEX employment center in Maine.

The credit enhancement agreement would return 17.9 percent of the property taxes WEX pays. The initial vote is the first of several approvals needed for the tax break.

The potential assessed value of the property is $45 million, which translates into about $838,171 in revenue for the town annually, according to town documents.

WEX said last Thursday that it plans to relocate its remaining South Portland operations and more than 1,000 employees to a 200,000-square-foot employment center at The Downs in Scarborough by spring 2022. The company last year moved its headquarters from South Portland to Portland, where it has two buildings that can accommodate 1,000 employees.

The move in 2022 would make WEX, which has revenues of $1.7 billion from its global financial technology services operations, the largest private employer in Scarborough and its second-largest single taxpayer.

The Town Council began the public review of the proposed tax credit in a first reading with public comments Wednesday. It plans to hold a public hearing on Feb. 5 and hold a second reading and final vote on Feb. 19.

Councilor Betsy Gleysteen was the lone dissenter in Wednesday’s vote.

“I take Mr. Divine at his word that this is required [for WEX to move here],” she said during the council meeting, which is posted on SCTV. She was referring to Ben Divine, the lead partner on the WEX project, who has said the tax break is needed for the project to proceed.

“But 60 percent of the town got hit with huge increases in their tax bill with reevaluation,” she said. “That is the reason for the sensitivity [over the tax break].” Last fall the town made large increases to property assessments in the first town-wide re-evaluation in 14 years.

She said councilors had to be sensitive to residents who can’t afford to pick up their medicines and see a big tax reduction being proposed for a large business.

However, the other six councilors pointed to benefits such as WEX being a catalyst for business in Scarborough and helping stabilize employment.

“This deal isn’t giving away the farm,” council chair Paul Johnson said. “It is an incredibly conservative deal. It will work for the town.”