SKOWHEGAN — The Skowhegan Board of Selectmen on Tuesday night unanimously rejected a request from the town of Jay, which was asking for $2,500 to help with lobbying costs related to legislation on decreases in tax valuations of paper mills.

Selectwoman Betty Austin reminded the rest of the board that they had met a year ago and agreed they didn’t want a lobbyist.

“None of us wanted to hire a lobbyist,” she said.

The 5-0 vote Tuesday confirmed that.

The Madison Board of Selectmen, at its regular meeting Monday night, voted to take no action on the same request, Town Manager Tim Curtis said Tuesday. Curtis said selectmen thought the town had done its share through the efforts of assessor’s assistant Bill Van Tuinen.

Curtis said Madison selectmen instructed him to respond to Jay by saying that “we feel as the town of Madison that our in-kind contribution was the efforts of Bill Van Tuinen on behalf of the towns of Madison and Skowhegan because he really crafted most of the wording of the legislation that Jay kind of piggy-backed on once it was introduced.”

Van Tuinen also testified in legislative hearings on the bills in Augusta, Curtis said.

Jay Town Manager Shiloh LaFreniere said in an email to officials in Madison, Skowhegan and East Millinocket that Jay was looking at a “very significant invoice” for the lobbying that the town has done on two bills in the Legislature.

“Since this was essentially done on behalf of all of our communities, I need to ask if your boards would consider contributing to the costs,” LaFreniere wrote.

LaFreniere said even $2,500 from each of the other towns would help.

The Portland-based law firm Preti Flaherty provided the lobbying service. According to lobbyist records on file at the state, Jay has paid Bruce Gerrity, of Preti Flaherty, and his team $10,868 to date. The numbers reflect lobbyist expenses through June. The July numbers won’t be made public until Aug. 17.

One of the bills, L.D. 281, proposes that the state make a one-time exception to the current education funding formula for the three communities because of recent reductions in tax value of more than 15 percent each. Another bill, L.D. 282, would have amended the law permanently, but it failed to pass in a June vote.

It takes the state up to three years to recognize a change in valuation, which according to town officials in each community means they would be losing out on valuable school funding.

The first bill has been carried over to the next legislative session, said Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, who sponsored the bill. Because state tax valuations trail local valuations by two years, Madison and Skowhegan would continue to lose money they could be receiving from the state. Education subsidies are based on the average state valuation over a three-year period, so the effect would be longer for the school districts.

L.D. 281 asks the state to make exceptions to that rule for the communities, which face large reductions in municipal valuations.

The bill notes that from 2013 to 2014, the value of Madison Paper Co. was reduced by $149,700,000, representing 65 percent of its taxable value. The value of the S.D. Warren Co., which is Sappi Fine Paper’s parent company, has been reduced by $100 million, representing 18 percent of its taxable value.

Before their values were reassessed, Madison Paper Co. represented about 40 percent of Madison’s tax base, and the S.D. Warren Co. represented about 53 percent of the tax base of Skowhegan, the bill notes.

The bill would modify the 2015 state valuation of Madison Paper Co. to $80 million and value the property of the S.D. Warren Co. at $463,630,900.

The measure also would affect School Administrative District 59 in Madison and School Administrative District 54, which includes Skowhegan, Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Smithfield and Norridgewock.

Complicating matters, Sappi has filed an appeal of the town’s denial of a requested tax abatement. If the appeal is successful, it could lower the value of the mill further.

The appeal was filed June 17 with the town’s Board of Assessment Review.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow


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