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Caribou City Council approves TIF expansion, discusses broadband options

CARIBOU, Maine — On Monday, Caribou councilors unanimously approved amending the city’s Downtown Tax Increment Financing District on Monday, thus expanding the number of businesses eligible for tax incentives.

The original Downtown TIF District was created in 2006, with a 30-year limit on incentives. With the council’s vote, a proposal for a new district will be sent to the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development for final approval by March 1.

By changing the district, the city will expand the number of eligible businesses to include The Par & Grill Restaurant and Guerrette Farms on Carroll Street and businesses that are part of the Caribou Light Industrial Park.

TIF agreements allow business owners to receive a portion of the increased assessed tax value after development is completed. The city also receives a portion of the assessed value that is determined by councilors.

Businesses located within TIF Districts are eligible for certain city grant programs, including the facade improvement grant.

A public hearing for the TIF amendments was held during the council’s Jan. 24 meeting, but no members of the public spoke for or against the changes. Before voting, Councilor John Morrill praised the expansion as a positive economic development move.

“This [TIF District] is a valuable tool for the council and I hope it brings more economic development to the community,” Morrill said.

In other business, the council heard a presentation from Tim McAfee, CEO of Pioneer Broadband in Houlton, on how to bring a dark fiber network to the city that could provide high-speed internet, phone and cable TV services to all businesses and homes.

In August 2021, Caribou councilors approved using $159,000 in American Rescue Plan monies to fund an engineering study. The study, conducted by Pioneer Broadband in partnership with the Business Investment Group, looked at city maps to determine how many homes are underserved by internet providers.

Based on those maps and 2010 census data, Pioneer Broadband determined that 5,150 businesses and homes would be eligible for a dark fiber network. The study showed that at least 2,250 households in more remote areas of the city receive less quality internet service compared to those in the business district and nearby neighborhoods.

“Those people have been left out for decades,” McAfee said. 

He explained that a dark fiber optic network would connect all residents to a central network that the Caribou Utilities District would own. The city would choose a network operator and allow various internet service providers to sign up customers.

All retail providers would be the primary contact people for customers and would resolve all service issues with the network operator, McAfee said.

McAfee’s presentation was one of many that Caribou councilors heard from local internet providers. Spectrum and Consolidated Communications presented at past meetings.

The council has not chosen a company to build the dark fiber infrastructure. After a question-and-answer session with McAfee, councilors decided to discuss the matter further at their next council meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 14, in the council chambers at 25 High St.

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