The people of Somerset County, particularly those in Madison and Anson, are still reeling from the sudden closing of UPM Paper earlier this year. The decision by the company to stop producing super-calendared paper in Maine meant the loss of more than 200 jobs and negative economic ripple effects that will be felt by everyone in the region for years to come. We are now concerned about what may be next for those who live in these two communities.

The reasons for UPM closing, and for all of the recent Maine paper mill closures for that matter, are numerous and complex. High energy costs are among the biggest factors. Somerset County is certainly not alone in this respect. Madison Paper Industries is the fifth Maine paper mill to close in a time period of a little more than two years. There are now just six paper mills operating in the state. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to the question of how these jobs and the paychecks that they produced will be replaced.

But while they were here, UPM provided good-paying jobs that showcased the excellence of Maine workmanship. The company made enormous contributions to the community, and when the decision was made to close, the company did the right thing in providing generous severance packages to laid-off workers.

But we have concerns about the company’s actions going forward. UPM is apparently attempting to significantly devalue the tax assessment for the properties in the two towns by tens of millions of dollars. If they are successful, homeowners would be on the hook for the lost revenue. By some estimates, it would raise the mil rate in Madison from $21 per thousand dollars of property value to $24. That means that the property tax for a $100,000 house would go up by an additional $300. Just four years ago that mil rate stood at just 16.75, meaning if UPM continues on this path residents of Madison would see an increase in mil rate of $7.25 over the past four years. People who have lost their jobs or have been indirectly affected by the mill closing would be most affected.

The sale of mill already faces enormous hurdles. UPM has attached numerous conditions to the sale that will make it nearly impossible for another paper company to locate in Madison and Anson. Part of those conditions forbids any company that would compete with UPM from buying the mill properties, meaning just about any company who would have interest in the company would be disqualified from the bidding process. The local community needs a chance to succeed in the future.

The facility in Madison is in great condition and could run for years. It would certainly be very attractive for a potential buyer if not for the restrictions put on the sale by UPM officials. In addition to the facility, itself, there is a dedicated and talented workforce that will be eager to get back to work. Despite the setbacks, Maine still has the best papermakers in the nation.

While we understand that it is perfectly legal for officials at UPM to apply for a tax abatement and to put whatever restrictions they want on the sale of the mill, we would like to see UPM reconsider their request for an abatement and allow more time to find a buyer for the mill. Considering the fact that Madison has been more than generous in the devaluation of the mill by tens of millions of dollars in the last few years, it would be appropriate for UPM to respond in kind. The facility in Madison is in great condition due to the stewardship of UPM and could be a productive mill well into the future.

It is also understandable why UPM doesn’t want a competitive paper manufacture in the mill. However it would seem that UPM could narrow the restrictions on the sale of the mill to allow other paper product manufactures to utilize it.

Sen. Rod Whittemore, R-Skowhegan, represents most of Somerset County in the Maine Senate. Rep. Brad Farrin, R-Norridgewock, represents part of Madison, Norridgewock and Solon. Rep. Tom Skolfield, R-Weld, represents Anson and 9 other towns and unorganized territory in Somerset County.

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