A ballot asking Milton residents to approve $3.1 million in tax increment financing-funded projects easily passed at the polls 681 to 163 for Tuesday’s special ballot.
The measure saw a 10 percent turnout: Of Milton’s 8,289 registered voters, 845 cast ballots, including 113 absentee votes, town clerk Sheryl Prince said.
A second “housekeeping” article on the ballot passed 697 to 144 to issue an $800,000 capital improvement note for the “hourglass” TIF project, previously approved by voters in 2012.
The results were a relief to Milton Selectboard chairman Darren Adams, who sees the vote as an opportunity to change Milton’s image.
“This is great news for the town being able to move ahead on some much-needed projects,” he said. “I’m excited for Milton.”
The vote was Milton’s last shot to use TIF, a tool allowing towns to retain municipal and education tax dollars to bond for public infrastructure projects to stimulate growth. The town only had a 10-year window – which closes March 31, 2018 – to incur debt.
TIF bonds are repaid with the increased property tax value created by said growth and do not raise taxes.
The latter was a misconception the town tackled at a pre-vote meeting Monday night. A handful of residents gathered at the municipal offices community room to question the ballot.
“It sounds scary in a lot of ways, but again, I don’t think we can emphasize enough that the $3.1 [million] we’re asking for is what we know the TIF is already capable of paying, and that’s if nobody ever built anything,” Adams said.
After the vote, Adams called it “one of those rare moments in government’s history where you’re not going to raise taxes.”
A passed ballot means the town can move forward with three projects officials say will improve Route 7’s safety, aesthetics and economic development potential.
The biggest piece will allot $2 million for an “hourglass” design at the troubled Route 7-Railroad Street-Middle Road intersection, a state-ranked high crash location.
The design will build two new roads to connect to Route 7, bisecting properties that currently house the North Country Saloon and Dance Works Academy.
The town will enter negotiations to purchase the saloon’s property from owner Sotos Papaseraphim, town manager Don Turner told the Indy earlier this month, and the additional $2 million in TIF will help acquire those rights-of-way.
Another $1 million will build the “southern gateway,” a four-way signalized intersection across from Milton Mobile Home Cooperative that will open the parcel between the old Sears and SNAP Fitness for development.
The remaining $100,000 will be allocated toward sidewalk and streetscaping.
All told, the TIF money will build two new traffic lights, news that made Milton resident Maryann Lynch groan.
“I just hope there’d be a turning lane for these intersections so traffic won’t back up,” she said after Monday’s hearing. “Maybe they’d be timed in such a way we’re not sitting there for a long period of time at each one.”
Lynch thinks the hourglass design is “odd” but said it could improve safety, a benefit echoed by resident Jennifer Maynard. A runner, Maynard said it sometimes takes 15 minutes to cross the busy Route 7.
Adams acknowledged the traffic lights could be viewed as obstacles to getting through town, but traffic – uncontrolled by signals – is the true obstacle.
“You might have that one poor person who’s just trying to make a left turn,” Adams said, citing a common commuting complaint. “This should, by the way, make it safer for pedestrians to cross the street. Anybody knows who drives that portion of Route 7 knows it’s pretty pedestrian unfriendly.”
Adams noted the intersection has been discussed for more than 25 years, and it’s only now that monies are lined up to fix the problem.
Selectboard vice-chairman Ken Nolan said Catamount Industrial Park shows what TIF can accomplish. In the ’90s, the town bonded for a new sewer plant and sewer lines that made development there possible.
Today, the park’s latest tenants are well-known names: Bove’s, Vermont SportsCar and Old Dominion trucking.
“You talk about the jobs, the amount of tax base that’s grown – that’s an example of what can happen if you do this right,” Nolan said. “We’re trying to do the same type of thing on Route 7.”
Developer Michael McCormick, representing his father, Hubert, already has plans once the traffic light goes in. His family has a mixed-use planned unit development approved that could include a full-service restaurant.
Pressed for details Monday night, McCormick would only say the “major chain” is “very interested in the area.
“We’re hoping the traffic light will allow that agreement to be finalized and bring it to that location,” he added.
Amy Cook, Milton Artists’ Guild member who served on the town’s Improvements Committee, said the streetscaping will create a sense of place in Milton and will draw businesses to town.
In the end, Lynch pledged her support.
“I hope it turns out the way they want it to,” she said.
Adams is hopeful work could begin as soon as next year.