MADISON — Town officials in Madison and Skowhegan agreed Thursday night to reach out to leaders in other parts of the state about working together on legislation to help them overcome the effects of drops in taxable value at paper mills, while local state legislators pledged to continue helping and working with them.

The two towns have already joined together to support draft legislation that was submitted to the Legislature last month by Rep. Jeff McCabe, D- Skowhegan. The legislation proposes that the state recognize the local valuation of Madison Paper Industries in Madison and Sappi Fine Paper in Skowhegan in 2015 and that the state amend the current law governing school subsidies.

Both paper mills recently underwent tax assessments that produced large drops in taxable value, with Madison losing more than 20 percent of its tax base when the value of Madison Paper Industries dropped from $229.7 million to $80 million. Skowhegan also lost $100 million in value at Sappi Fine Paper. Both towns experienced a rise in property taxes as a result.

Earlier this week the Maine Board of Tax Appeals turned down separate appeals by both communities asking the state to recognize the new valuations in 2015, according to Bill Van Tuinen, who works in the assessor’s office in both towns.

State tax valuations currently trail local valuations by two years, which means that Madison and Skowhegan will continue to lose extra money they could be receiving from the state next year in revenue sharing and education subsidies. The full amount of educational subsidies the towns could be receiving from the state would not be realized for at least three years, since education subsidies are based on the average state valuation over a three-year period. The draft legislation asks the state to make exceptions to that rule for communities that face large reductions in municipal valuations.

“Our purpose in coming together tonight is just to get an update on where we are, who is taking care of what and what needs to be done to move this process forward,” said Jack Ducharme, vice chairman of the Madison Board of Selectmen during Thursday night’s meeting. He spoke to members of the Skowhegan Board of Selectmen as well as local legislators McCabe, Sen. Rod Whittemore, R- Skowhegan, and Rep. Brad Farrin, R-Norridgewock.

A large part of the discussion centered around whether the two communities in Somerset County should reach out to other mill towns around the state and seek their collaboration on legislative efforts.

“All of these towns are in the same situation. If we can fix it or at least bite off a small piece, that’s important,” McCabe said, speaking not only about Madison and Skowhegan, but also about the communities of Bucksport, which saw the closure of the Verso Paper Mill earlier this year, and East Millinocket, where the decline of the Great Northern Paper Company has taken its toll on the community.

Madison Selectman Paul Fortin asked whether other mill towns such as Jay, Lincoln, Madawaska and Rumford would benefit from legislation.

“Even if they don’t have these concerns today, it is likely they will down the road,” Fortin said.

Skowhegan Town Manager Christine Almand said she would contact town managers in other mill towns around the state and call on them to contact their state legislators about the issue.

During the discussion, Skowhegan Selectman Donald Skillings also asked whether the proposed legislation should be expanded to include not only paper mill towns, but other Maine communities in which a single business or industry makes up a large part of the tax base.

“Don’t we want to look past the paper industry and at other enormous industries? There have to be other incidents like this in Maine,” he said.

There are other industries and communities in Maine that could benefit from legislation that would equalize state and local valuations at the same time and change school funding, and the paper industry is a good place to start, McCabe said.

“The paper industry is one thing a lot of people understand,” he said. “There are a lot of elected officials that have spent time in the paper industry, and a lot of people can’t believe these drops in valuation, even at successful paper mills like Sappi.”

It would be at least a month before testimony would be heard on the proposed bills and in the meantime the legislators said they would work to refine the drafts.

“I want to thank you for meeting with us. We need the help in Augusta,” Skillings said.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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