Selectmen from Skowhegan and Madison agreed to meet with their state legislators to see if they have a chance at getting any property tax relief from the state.

The neighboring towns of Madison and Skowhegan, each with a paper mill as their largest property tax payer, are looking for ways to band together and shore up their finances as the paper industry declines as a whole and leaves the communities strapped for cash.

The boards of selectmen from Skowhegan and Madison met Monday night in Madison to discuss ways to work together in the wake of revaluations of mills owned by Sappi Fine Paper North America in Skowhegan and Madison Paper Industries in Madison that significantly lowered the property taxes the towns may collect from the companies.

Madison Paper, which was assessed at $229.7 million in 2013 and makes up about 40 percent of the town’s property tax base, was revalued this year at $80 million.

Sappi Fine Paper North America mill in Skowhegan, which was assessed at $567 million and paid 53 percent of the entire tax commitment for Skowhegan in 2013, was revalued this year at $463 million.

Town officials from both communties said the state valuation doesn’t currently reflect the drop in market demand for paper which effectively devalues the mills.

The state valuation is the basis for determining school subsidies from the state and the amount of county taxes to be paid, and it is a big part of the formula for allocating state revenues to municipalities. A higher state valuation means that more funding for education comes from municipal property taxes and less from the education subsidy from state taxes. Also, the higher the state values the property, the more the town contributes to the county tax and the less they receive from the state in municipal revenue sharing.

The two selectboards considered whether to hire a lobbying firm to help them seek legislation to revise school spending formulas and lower the local property tax burden in the two communities, but after seeing a $24,000 price quote from a lobbying firm, the selectboards decided to first meet with their state representatives and senators to talk about the possible legislation.

Skowhegan Selectman Donald Skillings said he felt it was unlikely that a lobbyist would be able to get all the house and senate districts to agree to legislation that would redistribute the tax burden of just two towns.

“While I agree the state statute is flawed … I guess I’m a little leery of this lobbyist,” said Skowehgan chairman Newell Graf. Graf said they should meet with their legislators first “before we jump in and start writing checks.”

The town officials agreed to try to arrange a time when Madison and Skowhegan selectmen could meet directly with their state legislators.

Along with the possible legislation, the towns also considered whether they could reduce expenses by joining together in areas such as firefighting.

Shawn Howard, fire chief for both Madison and Skowhegan, said that in the three months he has represented both towns as fire chief, he has seen ways that the two could come together for joint savings.

Selectmen asked Howard to come up with 12-month, three-year and five-year goals for ways the town departments could come together and save by Feb. 1. Suggestions included group purchasing, group training and better standardization.

Howard said that while he is in favor of consolidating, he said any plans should also keep in mind that the firefighters take pride in their identity as firefighters for their respective towns. He said any plan should balance individual identity with consolidation.

“I think it has to be at a pace that’s comfortable,” he said.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252

ksc[email protected]

 


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