SKOWHEGAN — The Board of Selectmen now has funding to hire experts to help the town’s case as negotiations continue over a possible tax break for the town’s biggest taxpayer.

Town Meeting voters this week gave selectmen the authority to spend up to $300,000 for appraisal costs and legal fees in any revaluation of the tax assessment for the Sappi Fine Paper North America mill on U.S. Route 201.

Sappi is Skowhegan’s biggest taxpayer, paying 53 percent of all the property taxes collected by the town. Skowhegan officials and Sappi representatives have started talks on possible revaluation of the value of the mill in light of economic changes in the paper industry.

The vote, called a contingency by the town’s assistant to the Board of Assessors, Bill Van Tuinen, was unanimous, but came after considerable discussion at Monday’s meeting. The money may not be needed if the town and the paper company can reach an agreement on what the value of the mill and equipment, but residents agreed that having the money ready is a good idea, residents agreed.

“There’s a disagreement about what the value should be,” Van Tuinen told the audience, which numbered close to 100. “Both sides agree the demand for paper is diminished — the disagreement at this point is a disagreement of degree.”

Van Tuinen said if the current stalemate moves to a point where the paper company asks for an abatement, or refund, on previously paid taxes, the town will have the money to defend its point of view and pay for a fair appraisal of the mill.

He said negotiations are not a matter of public record, but assured taxpayers that the parties are “reasonably far apart” on how much the mill should be assessed.

The money, if approved by voters, would come from the town’s assessing reserve account.

Sappi’s Skowhegan real estate and personal property is currently valued at $567 million, according to town records. The company paid $9.3 million in property taxes last year, or about 53 percent of the entire tax commitment for Skowhegan.

David Summers, of the Board of Assessors, recommended passage of the article.

“We have to be prepared for lawyers from New York,” he said, and for assessors from other states who are coming to Skowhegan on behalf of Sappi.

In earlier voting at the Town Meeting Monday night, residents agreed overwhelmingly to take $1 million from town surplus accounts to offset taxes in the coming year, leaving $2.9 million in surplus to be used when needed.

The final municipal budget given final approval Monday, not including the county tax or the town’s share of school spending, comes in at $8,978,164.

The fiscal year begins July 1.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow

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