City Council will look at using downtown TIF funds to leverage larger projects

LACONIA — After hearing a presentation of the improvements to the streetscape around the Main Street bridge over the Winnipesaukee River this week, the City Council has begun to consider a more expansive approach to projects within the downtown Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district.
Tax increment financing allows municipalities to delineate TIF districts, then apply a portion of the future tax revenues that accrue from the increase in assessed value generated by new construction, expansion or renovation of property in the district to finance public improvements by either paying cash or servicing borrowings, within it. The boundaries of the downtown TIF district enclose an area roughly ringed by Fair Street, New Salem Street, Church Street, Union Avenue and Court Street. The district included 287 properties spread over 145 acres, which together represented a total assessed value of more than $70-million when the district was established in 2004.
With the reconstruction of the Main Street bridge scheduled to begin next spring, the TIF committee presented a plan for enhancing the area at the foot of Main Street, which represents a major gateway to downtown. The concrete fronting the parking garage on one side and Sawyer's Jewelry on the other would be replaced with brick pavers and both areas would be landscaped, using local materials, like granite and timbers, and plantings. There would be seating areas and pedestrian lighting. The improvements would be designed to accommodate the eventual extension of the riverwalk through the intersection.
The cost of the improvements would be approximately $455,540, depending on the quality and price of the materials used.
Finance Director Donna Woodaman told the council that the balance in the TIF fund was $311,000 and another $173,000 would be added to it at the close of the fiscal year on July 1 for a total of $484,000.
City Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3), chairman of the council's Finance Committee, questioned the wisdom of applying virtually the entire balance of the fund on one project in the absence of a comprehensive plan for improvements downtown. "I want to see the entire plan," he said, "to see what we would be giving up."
Councilor Matt Lahey (Ward 2) suggested that the balance be used to service a borrowing to finance a more expansive project, not limited to the immediate vicinity of the bridge. He said that the impact on downtown would be much greater than making a series of incremental improvements as funds became available.
City Manager Scott Myers said that the TIF would generate at least $173,000 annually, enough to service a borrowing of about $2-million with a reasonable term.
Planning Director Shanna Saunders reminded the council that a timely decision on the proposed improvements was necessary in order to incorporate them into the design and reconstruction of the bridge.