East Machias to reconsider denial of support for Washington Academy loan

Posted March 31, 2011, at 2:08 p.m.

EAST MACHIAS — A special meeting to reconsider a letter of support for Washington Academy has been set by the selectmen for 11 a.m. Monday, April 4.

“I believe we can work things out,” Chairman Kenneth “Bucket” Davis said Thursday.

Davis did not say the board had made a mistake when they voted unanimously Tuesday not to provide WA with a letter of support, but he admitted that the move had upset many East Machias residents. He said it even had prompted one resident to take out nomination papers to run against Davis in the coming elections.

WA requested the letter as part of a financing package. The letter would have indicated that the town supported WA’s efforts and did not encumber the community with any financial liability.

“We want to mend things and get on the right track,” Davis said.

Davis said he agreed to call the special meeting after Richard Gardner, president of the WA board of trustees, contacted Davis on Wednesday and urged reconsideration.

The letter is key to a loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that could ensure financing for a $2.9 million loan through Machias Savings Bank as part of an ongoing expansion project which includes a new fine arts and wellness center and a new septic system. The funding also would be used to refinance two dormitories at the private high school’s campus.

Participating in Tuesday’s meeting by conference call, Milton Ross, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development loan officer who is handling WA’s request, told the selectmen, “Without a letter of support from the town, the government is unlikely to make the loan.”

Also at that meeting, Selectman Will Tuell said he was opposed to providing support because the the private, not-for-profit school is exempt from paying property taxation. Referring to the USDA loan that would save WA between $500,000 and $700,000 in interest costs over the life of the loan, Tuell said, “If you can save a half-million dollars, you can help shoulder the tax burden in this town.”

Tuell suggested the school agree to give a percentage of its savings back to the town to lower taxes and asked WA to voluntarily pay taxes on its dormitories, which he called hotels.

The board’s refusal to show support for WA highlighted a tense relationship between the private school and the community that some say has gone on for decades. At the meeting, some complained about some students’ objectionable behavior, which they said includes walking in the roadways and littering.

Others, however, pressed the selectmen for support, pointing out that the problems with students were minor and that meetings among WA, the local school board and the selectmen could go a long way toward mending problems.

Gardner suggested a series of public forums to allow these problems to be addressed.

“Rather than have animosity, let’s try to work together,” Gardner said.

The meeting will be held at the town office building.

“We need to have the original motion and second withdrawn,” Davis said. “We want a smooth meeting.”

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