BAILEYVILLE, Maine — The Town Council is going to have to do more than sharpen its pencil to tackle this year’s municipal budget; it is going to have to go after it with an ax and make huge cuts or pass the cost of doing business on to local taxpayers.
A shift the past few years in the business climate in this mill town has caused a dramatic change in how budgets are prepared. People are worried.
“We have serious financial problems and we can’t continue the way we have continued,” Dottie Johnson, chairman of the Town Council, warned Wednesday.
In years past, Baileyville was the envy of other communities with three mills picking up the bulk of the town’s taxes. At one time, the Atlanta-based Georgia-Pacific Corp. was paying nearly 90 percent of the town’s taxes. Then Georgia-Pacific closed two of its mills and sold its pulp and paper mill to the Montreal-based Domtar Corp.
In 2007, Domtar announced it was shutting down its paper machine, leaving only the pulp side of the business. More than 150 people lost their jobs.
Last year, Domtar asked for and received a $50 million break in its personal property valuation.
The company recently requested another decrease in valuation. “Their tax [assessors] have come up with a figure quite a bit lower than what we have them valued for,” she said. “They would like us to get closer to that figure.” Johnson declined to say how much the company had requested, saying the two sides were in negotiations.
Meanwhile, the town hopes to cut $500,000 from its municipal budget and is asking the school department to make similar cuts. “We have either to cut services or pay more money to have those services,” she said.
Everything is on the table, Johnson said.
While town officials are scrambling to do more with less, the school department may benefit because as the town’s valuation drops, school state subsidies increase.
But that does not mean the schools will get everything they request. The town still has to pay. “Most towns that have a school do have to, in fact, raise additional local [funds] to make up the balance,” Union 107 Superintendent Barry McLaughlin explained last week. “Last year, Baileyville voters raised an additional $250,000.”
The school budget also is being examined carefully. McLaughlin said the school board hopes to make cuts that won’t affect instructional programs.
“Seldom do we totally eliminate anything and our goal has been to minimize the impact on the teacher in the classroom that is teaching the kids,” he said.
Johnson’s message to residents: “I would like to say to the senior citizens, most of whom are paying the taxes, that we are going to do what is right by them,” she said.