2018-01-25 / Front Page

Plan for extra tax on downtown no longer a priority

By Grant McPherson Staff Writer


Property owners and community members met recently to discuss if there was any remaining interest in forming a Downtown Improvement District, which would tax downtown property owners more to provide additional services in the downtown. Heart of Biddeford’s Executive Director Delilah Poupore said that after the increase in last year’s property taxes, the prospect of imposing another tax was not popular among downtown property owners. (Grant McPherson photo) Property owners and community members met recently to discuss if there was any remaining interest in forming a Downtown Improvement District, which would tax downtown property owners more to provide additional services in the downtown. Heart of Biddeford’s Executive Director Delilah Poupore said that after the increase in last year’s property taxes, the prospect of imposing another tax was not popular among downtown property owners. (Grant McPherson photo) BIDDEFORD – Few downtown property owners attended informational meetings at the Heart of Biddeford office to discuss forming a Downtown Improvement District, even though the city council is unlikely to take up the measure in the next year.

The meetings were held in the morning and afternoon on Friday, Jan. 19 at the quasi-municipal nonprofit’s Main Street headquarters. Delilah Poupore, the organization’s executive director, facilitated both meetings. David Flood, Alex Fabish, both downtown property owners and Ward 7 Councilor Michael Ready attended the morning meeting. Engine Executive Director Tammy Ackerman and downtown property owner Jim Brady attended the afternoon meeting. Poupore posted the meeting notice on the Heart of Biddeford’s Facebook page, emailed it to 66 downtown property owners and included it in the Heart of Biddeford newsletter which is sent to about 2,000 recipients.

Poupore organized the meetings to gauge interest in a Downtown Improvement District, which would collect additional taxes from downtown property owners to fund services in the downtown above and beyond what the city already provides. City Manager Jim Bennett said there has not been a discussion of the district in the city council since the decision to spend $27,500 from the Industrial Park Tax Increment Financing District last year for hanging and boxed flowers along Main Street as an example of what a Downtown Improvement District could fund. The district could also fund downtown events, more extensive snow removal, marketing campaigns and a trash clean up team among other things. The expected tax during the first transitional year would have been 49 cents per $1,000 of value on top of every downtown property owner’s tax bill. The tax was to appear on the July 2018 bill.

Ready said he was not officially representing the city council at Friday morning’s meeting, but that the council decided implementation of a Downtown Improvement District would not be a priority for 2018. If a district is formed, the momentum will have to come from property owners, he said. Poupore said she did not have any more meetings planned to discuss a downtown improvement district.

“For at least a year, it’s not going to be on the agenda,” Ready said. “This is not going to be pursued unless with a huge buy-in from the group living under that. It’s not something we are intending to impose.”

Poupore said she had worked with a group last fall to specify what a Downtown Improvement District would look like, but the conversation ended once property tax bills, issued in October, were between 20 to 50 percent higher than the previous year.

“People said, ‘Who right now is in a position to say please tax me more,’” she said.

Poupore said that in Portland and Bangor, which both have versions of downtown improvement districts, property owners were the driving factor behind the district.

Fabish, 34, said he feels he’s one of the younger property owners in Biddeford. He owns 32 Alfred St. and 13 Bacon St. He said he is interested in a downtown improvement district as long as property owners have a say in how the district operates.

“The perception of Biddeford has changed quite a bit,” he said. “It’s still cheaper than Portland or Portsmouth. There’s definitely more of a draw and I like what’s going on here. I mean, it’s a noticeable difference in the past five years. I wouldn’t be 100 percent opposed to having it if there is control by property owners, if whoever is paying taxes here is able to pinpoint a few things, shortcomings to be dealt with or enhancements in general.”

Ready said if a district were formed, he would want the money to stay in the downtown and not be put in the general fund. He gave the example of taxing a certain neighborhood more because police spend more time there as something he would be against.

“If we have an area of the city that has a problem, we’re not going to tax that area differently,” he said. “Those are the kinds of things I don’t want to see paid for out of this thing. We will address those as needs come up.”

He also said businesses should take care of their own marketing and that he didn’t want the city to be responsible for marketing the downtown.

“I don’t want the city telling me how to run my business,” he said. “Portland does a lot of marketing I think. I don’t want the city involved in that.”

Portland based developer Jim Brady purchased the former courthouse building at 27 Washington St. last year. He said he’s almost completed the first phase of interior remediation and will look for a tenant to fill the space soon. The purchase was his first in the Biddeford market and he said he’s hopeful it will be a good investment. Capitalizing on Biddeford’s college town status is one way to attract businesses and visitors, Brady said.

“I’ve got a high school age daughter and we’ve been on a lot of college tours,” he said. “What the local community is like is a major part of that. Successful towns trying to grow are often out promoting themselves in other communities to attract businesses and people there.”

When Poupore said some people in Biddeford feel that the downtown only benefits those who own property there and so they should be the ones to pay for improvements, Fabish said that a thriving downtown benefits the whole community.

“Ask any property owner in Portland, those property values have gone up since Portland exploded in the past 10 years,” he said. “Maybe it benefits disproportionately, but if a city has a nice downtown, like Kennebunkport, tell me it doesn’t make just about everything out there more valuable. Countrywide, go anywhere, Buffalo, New York or Haverhill, Massachusetts, old mill towns are coming up. It’s not specific to Biddeford. Throughout the whole country, a demographic shift is occurring. How well are we going to ride that wave?”

“Or be ahead of the wave?” Poupore added.

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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