Most people’s eyes glaze over before they finish reading the phrase, “tax increment financing.” But for Milton finance director Sarah Macy, hers light up with excitement.
“TIF is the single coolest thing to happen to economic development in the state of Vermont,” she said.
Macy plans to spread that gospel this summer in preparation for a November special ballot that will ask voters to change the town core TIF spending plan to build a new signalized intersection along Route 7. They’ll have an opportunity to weigh in on the idea at a May 1 public hearing.
If she’s already lost you, Macy can catch you up quite quickly, starting with her No. 1 talking point: Although the ballot item will ask voters to approve $1 million in debt, it won’t increase their taxes.
TIF districts help build public infrastructure like roads, water and sewer lines and, in this case, a traffic light to spur growth. TIF then takes a snapshot of all property values in said district, called the original taxable value. When the town core TIF was formed in 2008, this amount was $124 million.
Towns borrow to fund projects that, when built, encourage development and boost the tax base. This increase, called the increment, pays off the original debt.
But towns have just 10 years from the district’s start date to incur debt. So when Macy realized 2018 is fast approaching, she was spurred into action.
Each TIF district has a financing plan, or a list of projects and their estimated costs. Already, Milton’s town core TIF has generated $38 million in increment, more than enough to pay for its completed projects and those in the works, Macy said.
These include the $3.6 million town core sewer project and $189,000 Bombardier water line, both approved in 2011, and the upcoming estimated $3.6 million fix to the Middle Road-Route 7-Railroad Street intersection, colloquially called the “hourglass” project.
It’s also set to pay for the “M4D” project, for which voters approved $2.4 million to improve streetscaping from the Milton Diner to the Clark Falls Dam.
Macy’s draft change request, though, removes one project in exchange for the traffic light: a $1.3 million plan for a new road from Bombardier Drive to Centre Drive and from Centre to Middle Road. The project is somewhat hampered since a solar array now stands in its path, she said.
Though the selectboard agreed to keep them on the list, other projects seem unlikely. These include $4 million to reconstruct Main Street, a $1.8 million multimodal facility and a $580,000 signalized intersection at Route 7 and Rebecca Lander Drive.
Macy didn’t see much development potential with the above. So before town manager Donna Barlow Casey’s departure, the two came up with the signalized intersection to enhance what Macy calls the “southern gateway,” or the unofficial entrance to Milton’s business community.
Macy acknowledged all this build up for a traffic light might seem like a letdown, but said it could accomplish many of the town’s goals.
For one, it could nearly immediately spur development. The light is positioned between the Milton Mobile Home Cooperative and the empty field between Sears and SNAP Fitness, a parcel with a $17 million development plan just waiting on a traffic light to pull the trigger, town documents say.
Owned by Mike McCormick, the plot is already engineered for a traffic light with local and Act 250 approvals, planning director Jake Hemmerick said.
However, the mixed-use planned unit development might have to be adapted if the planning commission’s draft bylaws are approved, Hemmerick said. The bylaws – honed during the interim zoning period – designate the zoning district as commercial-only. The town will hold a public hearing on the draft regs in June.
The light would also slow traffic between it and the next light, at Route 7 and Bombardier, a location Macy said is really the only safe place to cross the road.
Some of the TIF plan’s extra funds are proposed to buoy the hourglass project, slated for construction in 2020.
“At the 11th hour, we have to be brutally pragmatic about how we approach this,” Macy said. “It’s my personal goal here to make this TIF be like the Cinderella story of TIF.”
But there are a few steps before Macy’s TIF fairytale can come true.
The first is the May 1 public hearing, required for any financing plan change. If the selectboard approves the change, she must next submit the so-called substantial change request to the Vermont Economic Progress Council, an independent board that manages the TIF program. That must be done by May 5 to be on VEPC’s May 30 agenda.
VEPC has up to 90 days to issue a decision, and from there, the town would start the process of warning a special vote for November.
Macy admits it’s a quick turnaround but said the TIF plan is vitally important for Milton’s future, especially when combined with the M4D and hourglass projects.
“It’s a generational opportunity to change the face of Milton,” she said. “We’re going to change the look, the feel, the flow of this town without raising your property taxes. That’s not going to happen again.”
The Milton Selectboard will host a public hearing on the substantial TIF change on Monday, May 1 at 6 p.m. in the town offices community room.