Limestone residents OK tax deal for potato chip company

4 weeks ago

LIMESTONE, Maine — Limestone residents voted Tuesday night to approve a tax incentive agreement to help an Aroostook potato chip company bring a $55 million plant to town.

About 20 residents attended a special town meeting with select board members and Taste of Maine Potato Chip Co. founders Bruce Sargent and Jim Pelkey of Presque Isle. 

Taste of Maine announced plans in February to build an 80,000-square-foot potato chip plant at the Loring Commerce Centre. The company will bring about 75 jobs to the area, possibly expanding to 100 as production ramps up. It’s the first Aroostook County venture to join a group of businesses poised to revitalize the former air base.

Construction is expected to start in July

To spur economic development, Limestone can offer tax incentives to companies like Taste of Maine, Interim Town Manager Alan Mulherin said.

“What we are asking the community to do this evening is authorize the select board to negotiate on behalf of the town with Taste of Maine to establish a credit enhancement agreement that would essentially assist them in developing their operation out there,” he said. 

The proposed 30-year agreement would offer the chip company 10 years of tax-free operation, during which Limestone would reimburse Taste of Maine’s real estate taxes. Starting the next year, the town would keep 5 percent of the tax value, increasing annually until it reaches 100 percent by year 30, Mulherin said.

The 80,000-square-foot potato chip facility will be built at the site of the former Damon Elementary School on Northcutt Road. Plans also include an adjacent $1.2 million solar garden.

Permits have been filed with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, and once they are approved groundwork can start, said Sargent, who also owns Falcon Transportation of Presque Isle. Soderberg Construction of Caribou has performed site testing, he said.

Sargent anticipates the company will return $375,000 to $400,000 in taxes to the town in the first year.

The plant will start out with four kettles that will produce about 12 million pounds of chips, he said. 

“If everything goes in accordance with what we’ve planned, in two or three years we’re going to add on to the building to do a corn chip line plus another four kettles,” he said. “So that will add another $15 million to the project.”

The production plant is located within a proposed tax increment financing district on land that Portland-based developer Green 4 Maine wants to buy. 

TIF districts let municipalities use portions of property taxes for economic development. 

Limestone agreed in February to pursue tax incentives for Green 4 Maine, which already owns 450 acres at Loring. The developer plans to bring a $4 billion sustainable aviation fuel plant, along with artificial intelligence and aerospace facilities, to the former base. 

The developer could buy two more parcels, 512 and 395 acres, if they meet job creation and lease procurement goals as agreed on with the Loring Development Authority.

Town leaders will now meet with Taste of Maine to hash out terms of the credit enhancement agreement, Select Board Chair Randy Brooker said after the meeting. 

“They want to break ground in July [and] would start production with the 2025 crop,” Brooker said. “The equipment is on its way from Belgium.”

The agreement should be finalized within two weeks, Mulherin said.