Council will study plan to borrow $1.55 million for downtown improvements

LACONIA — The City Council last night referred a recommendation of the Downtown Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District Advisory Board to borrow $1.55 million to its Finance and Public Works committees for further review. A series of projects would be financed by the borrowing.

Speaking for the committee, Kevin Dunleavy, director of parks and recreation, told the council that "a lot of thought has gone into these (project) priorities," adding that "all will help the economic development of downtown as a whole.

The committee recommends investing $275,000 to improve the gateway to downtown at the Main Street Bridge, $400,000 to extend the WOW Trail between Main Street and Fair Street, $25,000 to add signage and kiosks to the riverwalk and WOW Trail, $181,000 to connect the Main Street Bridge to the riverwalk at the Landmark Inn, $121,800 to extend the riverwalk through the Walgreen's property, $200,000 to create a pocket park where Water Street joins Pleasant Street and $300,000 to carry the riverwalk from behind the old police station up to the Church Street bridge.

Dunleavy said that the committee recommends borrowing $1,550,000 against the annual revenue to the TIF account at an estimated interest rate of 4.249 percent over 20 years to fund the projects. He said that the TIF account has a current balance of $311,353 and projected revenue of $173,687 in 2014 and an additional amount each year thereafter for a total of $4,250,212 during the next 20 years. When the debt is retired, assuming no further borrowing, the TIF fund would be left with a balance of $2,080,123.

City Manager Scott Myers told the councilor that the revenue coming in to the TIF fund is sufficient to service the proposed debt and, within a reasonable time, support another borrowing.

"I'd like to leave a little time to digest this," said Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3), chairman of the Finance Committee, calling for "more dialogue about priorities." He said the council should consider "what might be some other things attract new businesses to the downtown. We want to make sure," he continued, "we've thought about things that might come up."

Dunleavy said that while he understood and encouraged dialogue "we want to get the ball rolling and complete the projects and reap the benefits."

Lipman replied that he was not seeking to delay the projects, but only to weigh the priorities.

However, Councilor Brenda Baer (Ward 4) wondered why the pocket park where Water Street joins Pleasant Street was included when, she recalled, the council rejected the project at an earlier meeting. Lipman appeared to share her memory. Baer also questioned spending $400,000 on a section of the WOW Trail, which prompted Councilor Matt Lahey (Ward 2) to remind her that phase one of the trail was built largely with private funds and the volunteer fundraising efforts continue. "We're helping those who help themselves," he said.

The Finance and Public Works committees, together with the Downtown TIF Advisory Board, will review the recommendations and report to the City Council.

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 that district. There are two TIF districts in the city, one downtown and another in Lakeport, and a third under consideration at The Weirs.

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.