Town Meeting Approves TIF Town Hopes Will Keep Vistaprint in Lexington
In a voice vote not quite close enough to count, Town Meeting members on Nov. 19 approved a tax increment financing proposal that would offer tax relief as an incentive for the company to expand.
With Town Meeting’s approval last night of a tax increment financing plan, Lexington took what supporters called important step toward convincing Vistaprint to keep its North American operation here for the long haul.
The plan, known as a TIF, offers 13 years of tax relief to Vistaprint and its landlord, Hobbs Brook, in exchange for an expansion to the Ledgemont campus on Hayden Avenue that could allow Vistapint to expand and generate more than $600,000 annually in real property taxes for the town.
According to estimates, property tax projections put the financial benefit of the Ledgemont expansion at about $7.8 million over 13 years, with the TIF offering about $1.2 million in tax relief to Vistaprint, an online company that provides customizable paper products and promotional materials.
But, when considering a TIF, Town Meeting members do not vote on a dollar amount, but rather a schedule. The Vistaprint plan offers 45 percent relief on incremental in year one, decreasing down to 2 percent in years 11, 12 and 13
The vote, taken twice by voice, was close, but not quite close enough for Town Moderator Deb Brown to approve a request for a counted vote when too few Town Meeting members stood in support of the call to be counted.
Supporters of the TIF suggested the loss of tax revenue was a modest and worthwhile tradeoff for convincing Vistaprint, a global company, to stay and expand in Lexington. Some suggested the revenue lost would be a wash, considering how long it could take to develop Ledgemont 3 without Vistaprint there as an anchor allowing Hobbes Brook to build on spec. It’s like the old “bird in hand” adage, one Town Meeting member said.
Opponents of the proposal attacked the TIF as a policy, and pointed out that approval of the TIF doesn’t guarantee Vistaprint will stay any more than voting it down would ensure the company’s exit.
“Instead of just viewing this as a relatively small investment in trying to keep them here, I think we’re also obligated to look at what the downsides could be,” said Edith Sandy, a Town Meeting member from Precinct 6.
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While Sandy and others who spoke about the TIF as a possibly precedent-setter that could encourage other businesses to seek—or even expect—property tax relief from the town, some supporters of the article argued the action could make Lexington more attractive.
“This is not about TIFs,” said Dawn McKenna, a Town Meeting member from Precinct 6. “It’s about a particular company that has a story that has value to the town of Lexington going forward.”
McKenna said Vistaprint came to Lexington from overseas, outgrew its space, moved across the street and now is looking for a little help as it plans to expand again. Working with the company would send the right message to domestic and international companies considering a move here, she said.
“Perception is reality,” said McKenna, “And we’ve been working hard to change the perception that Lexington is unfriendly.”
Check back on Patch later today for more coverage from Lexington's Nov. 19 special Town Meeting.