SKOWHEGAN — The Board of Assessors made it official Thursday, denying a request from Sappi Fine Paper North America to cut the property tax value of its paper mill on U.S. Route 201 by more than $137 million.

A document outlining the board’s decision, prepared by Portland attorney William Dale, who represented the board during discussions with Sappi, and Skowhegan’s assessor’s agent, Bill Van Tuinen, was signed by the three-member board. By law, the board’s decision must be submitted in writing.

Once signed, it will be sealed and delivered to Sappi and to the company’s lawyers at Verrill Dana in Portland.

“Good job,” board Vice Chairman David Summers said to Van Tuinen.

The company has 60 days from the board’s April 23 vote to appeal the decision to the Skowhegan Board of Assessment Review.

The tax abatement, had it been approved by the assessors, would have resulted in the loss of $2.3 million in revenue for the town. The board voted 3-0 on April 23 not to grant the abatement request, based on Van Tuinen’s recommendation.

The mill’s owner had offered a report from a New York firm that specializes in commercial property valuation in support of its bid for a tax cut.

As a formality on Thursday, Van Tuinen went over the high points of discussions and meetings with Sappi over the past six weeks.

“The conclusion is that, on balance, the assessors are of the opinion that there are so many legitimate and still unanswered questions about the (Sappi abatement) report and its accuracy that they are not dissuaded that the current assessment (by the town) is manifestly wrong, as is required to grant an abatement,” Van Tuinen read from the document.

He said the town doesn’t have to prove that the company’s assessment is wrong. Instead, the company has to prove that the town’s valuation is wrong, and it failed to do so in the eyes of the board.

Van Tuinen, assessors, representatives of the mill and attorneys have addressed various methods of figuring out what the mill is worth in multiple meetings. Most of the sessions, including part of last week’s meeting, were held behind closed doors because of laws protecting the confidentiality of some company information.

The town of Skowhegan has assessed the paper mill for taxation at $463,630,900. The company claims the property should be taxed based on a value of $326,343,426.

The difference — the amount by which the company says the valuation should be cut — is $137,287,474. Sappi’s estimate of the mill’s value is based on a study by Duff & Phelps Corp., the New York valuation firm.

Town Manager Christine Almand has estimated that Skowhegan could have been forced to refund $2.3 million in property tax overpayments if Sappi had prevailed in its bid for a further cut in the mill valuation retroactive to last April. The town already has collected the full tax bill from Sappi. A tax abatement can be requested only after all taxes are paid, Van Tuinen said.

In a prepared statement issued April 23, company officials said they will appeal the ruling.

Sappi filed a formal property tax abatement application in March with the town’s Board of Assessors, asking that the town lower its property valuation.

The request, filed by S.D. Warren Co., a subsidiary of Sappi and the legal owner of the property, followed months of negotiations between the town and the mill that last September resulted in a $100 million cut in the tax valuation of the mill.

Sappi claimed that reduction was not enough to reflect actual diminished value of the mill. Last year, Sappi paid $9.3 million in property taxes.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow


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