Thursday, April 24, 2014
By Doug Harlow firstname.lastname@example.org
SKOWHEGAN -- More than $4 million in public and private investment has come to downtown Skowhegan, bringing 21 new businesses and 43 new jobs since the program Main Street Skowhegan came to town in 2005.
That was part of the message to Skowhegan selectmen Tuesday night, as program officials presented their successes in 2012, looked to funding in the coming year and to having a new executive director on board by January.
The group requested the town take $30,000 for the downtown tax increment financing district to fund the program each year for the next three years. The town has funded the program with $20,000 in TIF money in previous years.
"Your investment in us is working," program secretary Amber Lambke told selectmen. "You can't beat the return on investment."
Selectmen took no action on the funding request Tuesday night. The matter will be addressed at the next regular meeting, chairwoman Joy Mase said.
In her presentation, Lambke said one-third of the annual budget for the program comes from the host community, one-third from downtown businesses and one-third from community fundraising.
"All Main Street communities in Maine become designated with a pledge for their towns to cover one-third of the operating budget," Lambke said. "Our general operating budget runs between $75,000 and $85,000 a year with salary, office and mandatory national conferences."
The mission of the Main Street program is to improve and maintain downtown as the heart of Skowhegan, focusing on organization, promotion, design and economic revitalization.
Lambke described the downtown TIF is a "pot of funds that grows as the valuation of downtown properties increases." The TIF takes the change in value and "captures" the property tax on the change and directs the money into the TIF fund for use in the downtown.
Since Main Street Skowhegan was designated in 2005, the valuation of downtown properties has increased 350 percent, Lambke said. The amount of money going into the TIF has increased from $23,000 in 2006 to $79,000 projected for the coming year.
The downtown TIF so far has supported the new River Front Trail, security cameras for downtown businesses and the engineering for municipal parking lot improvements. The downtown TIF must be spent on downtown improvements, Lambke said.
"Skowhegan is leading the state's Main Street programs in the number of volunteer hours that we invest, the number of rehab projects that we have completed and the numbers of jobs created in total," she said.
Lambke said Main Street Skowhegan also has begun serving as the fiscal agent for downtown projects, including landscaping at the Somerset Grist Mill, which Lambke owns, downtown art walks and worksite wellness programs at downtown businesses.
"Because Main Street is a non-profit, we can accept tax-deductible grants and donations from individuals and foundations and pass them on to projects that help fulfill the mission of downtown revitalization," she said. "We accepted $282,000 in charitable grants on behalf of projects to improve the downtown in 2012."
Lambke said the Skowhegan board is working with the Maine Downtown Center, the governing body for the state's Main Street programs, to find a new director. Former Executive Director Jennifer Olsen, who came to Skowhegan in March 2010, took over the top job at Waterville Main Street earlier this year, replacing Shannon Haines.
Lambke said there are candidates who have applied for director's positions at other programs in Maine and might be interested in the Skowhegan position.
Doug Harlow -- 612-2367