MADISON — Residents voted overwhelmingly Wednesday night to abolish the Board of Assessors and transfer its duties to the Board of Selectmen.

The decision will allow selectmen, who are charged with creating a municipal budget, to access information that will inform them better in creating a budget, said Jack Ducharme, vice chairman of the selectmen. It was approved by a vote of 105-27 in a special town meeting at the Madison Junior High School auditorium.

“It’s important that the people who construct the budget have an idea of how much money we have to spend,” Ducharme said. “It connects the people who are making the budget with the revenue stream so we don’t have these surprises going forward.”

According to a 2014 Maine law, assessors are required to maintain confidentiality about assessments for a major taxpayer requesting a change in valuation.

That meant that while selectmen were budgeting for the 2014-2015 year, they didn’t know how much money they would be collecting in taxes from Madison Paper, a company that until last year made up 40 percent of the tax base, Ducharme said.

“A lot of people are concerned that this board is blaming the Board of Assessors for a reduction in value. I don’t believe it’s about assigning blame; it’s about the actions that were taken. The assessors were bound by the law not to reveal the information they had,” Ducharme said.

After selectmen learned that the mill’s value would drop from $229 million to $80 million, creating a $2 million funding shortfall in the town budget, a petition was circulated by a group of residents asking to abolish the board.

The petition, signed by about 350 people, was started out of frustration with the reduction and as a way to help the town better prepare a municipal budget, said Sam Gray, one of the residents who started it.

“It’s not personal. It’s the best thing for the town of Madison so we know how much money is coming in and how much is going out,” said Gray, who works at Sappi Fine Paper in Skowhegan. “There’s no way a paper mill can drop that much in one year. If it was $20 million, maybe people could accept that,” he said. “It doesn’t feel right to push this burden onto the town.”

Other residents at Wednesday’s meeting also said they thought that giving the Board of Assessors’ duties, including determining property tax values and making decisions on abatements, to selectmen would be a good idea.

“It’s not an attack on the assessors, but it puts the town at a disadvantage,” said Marc Leslie, 55, a private contractor. “Even if the selectmen can’t inform us of financial information, they’ll know if the money isn’t there.”

“I think we need to make the change and put control into the hands of selectmen so we can protect our property taxes,” said Dan Belanger, 58, a nurse.

“It’s not about fighting the Board of Assessors. It’s about the town fighting a bad law that has put us all in a really bad position,” said another resident, Renee Choiniere.

Some residents, including members of the Board of Assessors, did express opposition to the change, saying that the challenges facing the town in the wake of the mill devaluation would be the same, regardless of who was charged with the assessment.

“The value of the mill has dropped to the point that the mill is either going to keep running or it won’t run,” said Richard Bartlett, a member of the assessors. “They aren’t going to come to us again and say the value is too high, because there’s no value left to it.”

William Van Tuinen, assistant to the Board of Assessors, also urged residents to resist the change. “In my opinion the board has always worked productively, prudently and in the best interest of the town,” he said. “It’s not always easy.”

The change will take effect after the Town Meeting in June.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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