SKOWHEGAN — The town has hired a new attorney in the Sappi Fine Paper property tax appeal case after a lawyer from the law firm representing the paper company was hired by the firm representing the town, creating an apparent conflict of interest.

Skowhegan Town Manager Christine Almand said selectmen this week agreed to hire David Silk, an attorney with Curtis Thaxter of Portland.

The conflict of interest arose when lawyer Charles Katz-Levy left the employment of Verrill Dana to work for Jensen Baird Gardner & Henry, the law firm representing the town. Verrill Dana represents the paper company.

Katz-Levy did some work at Verrill Dana related to the Sappi tax abatement request to the Skowhegan Board of Assessors.

William Dale, at Jensen Baird, was the primary counsel for the town in its tax abatement hearing.

“The change in employment creates a conflict situation in allowing William Dale to continue to represent Skowhegan,” Almand wrote in a memo to the Board of Selectmen.

S.D. Warren, a subsidiary of Sappi, denied a request for waiver of the conflict issue, meaning the company would not allow Katz-Levy to work with Dale.

Almand said Friday the switch has been an inconvenience to the town, but they welcome Silk, with whom Bill Van Tuinen, the assistant to the town’s assessors, has had some experience. Almand and Van Tuinen interviewed Silk and brought their recommendation to hire Silk to the Board of Selectmen. The Board of Assessors also recommended Silk, Almand said. Silk earned a bachelor’s degree in government from Colby College in Waterville in 1981 and a law degree from the University of Maine Law School in 1985. He specializes in alternative dispute resolution, real estate and administrative law, as well as estate planning, probate and litigation.

“It is Bill’s opinion from seeing David in action that he will represent the town well and that they can work very well together with a work product that is superior to what either of them could achieve individually,” Almand wrote to selectmen.

Selectmen voted Tuesday night to accept the recommendation to hire Silk.

The Board of Assessors denied a request in April from Sappi to cut the property tax value of its paper mill on U.S. Route 201 by more than $137 million. The board voted 3-0 on April 23 not to grant the abatement request, based on Van Tuinen’s recommendation. 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.

Almand has estimated that Skowhegan could have been forced to refund the $2.3 million in property tax overpayments if Sappi had prevailed in its bid for a further cut in the mill valuation retroactive to April 2014. The town already has collected the full tax bill from Sappi. A tax abatement can be requested only after all taxes are paid.

An appeal to the town’s Board of Assessment Review also was denied.

The paper company since has filed an appeal of that ruling with the Maine Board of Property Tax Review. Almand said that appeal was filed Oct. 26. The town received the document on Oct. 30.

The town will respond to this latest appeal in the coming days, Almand said.

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]


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