EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — The town has hired an attorney to help protect its interests in a property tax abatement dispute with Great Lakes Hydro America, officials said Tuesday.
Lee K. Bragg, an attorney with Bernstein Shur of Augusta, will start work immediately assisting the town’s part-time assessor, William Van Tuinen, in the dispute, said Shirley Tapley, the town’s administrative assistant.
“It’s another pair of eyes,” Mark Scally, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said Tuesday.
The board voted unanimously to hire Bragg during a meeting Monday night.
Bragg’s services could cost the town as much as $50,000 over the next year as the dispute goes before the state Board of Property Tax Review, Scally said, but that’s worth it, given that the dispute involves the possible loss of at least $300,000 in property tax revenues.
Brian Stetson, general manager of Brookfield Renewable Power, the former Brookfield Power Co., which owns Great Lakes Hydro, requested an abatement of the company’s 2007 taxes in April due to “significant differences” between the town and state valuations.
East Millinocket, he said, valued the two hydro facilities the company operates in town at $36,475,000 — $14,995,000 higher than the state’s $21,480,000.
Stetson said the town taxes the power company based on 100 percent of its buildings and equipment and 65 percent of its dam structure being in the community. He said that amounted to an average apportionment of 81.1 percent of the company’s facilities.
Meanwhile, the state assesses 35 percent of all the company’s facilities as being in the Unorganized Territory. Adding the town’s 81.1 percent apportionment with the state’s 35 percent creates a total apportionment of 116.1 percent, Stetson said.
Selectmen voted 5-0 in June to reject the abatement request, saying that the company’s problem more properly lies with the state and not the town, which has assessed the power company the same way for more than 20 years.
“The town feels very secure in its facts,” Scally said.
No date for the state’s review has been set, Scally said.
The town has about $14,000 in its budget set aside for legal costs that it will try to make cover Bragg’s services until the town meeting in the spring, Scally said.
In other town business, Bruce McLean, executive director of Magic, an economic development agency once employed by Medway and Millinocket, met in executive session with selectmen to discuss a small business possibly moving into the town industrial park, Scally said.